Over the last few years I have worked with an incredible sexual abuse prevention team.
They provide training for schools, community centers, and governmental organizations, help families out of tragic situations, and provide counseling to victims. The work they do both turns your stomach to lead and lights a fire in your heart – it is unspeakable tragedy but there IS hope.
They have opened my eyes to how every single person in the world can either add to a culture of child sexual abuse, or dismantle it. Our very words can help prevent children from abuse.
Here are a few phrases I’ve learned from them:
“That’s your vulva!”
We mustn’t let our natural prudishness around anatomical terms for private parts get in the way of our children’s knowledge about their body.
It does take some getting used to, but after a few awkward hiccups my family and I have become proud members of Team Vulva for several reasons!
Prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Laura Palumbo, explains how children who know and use the correct anatomical terms discourages perpetrators. In the event of abuse, knowing the correct anatomical terms helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.
It can help to explain to those close to you your motivation for using these terms. Particularly as it is inevitable that your toddler will eloquently ask Nana, “Do you have a penis or a vulva?” at the dinner table.
We teach our children that STOP is a serious, red light word that will be listened to by everyone.
When our children are at play and someone says STOP we will intervene to make sure it is honored. When we are wrestling or tickling, if our children say STOP, even through their giggles, we will immediately cease. They nearly always scream GO! a few seconds later but meanwhile they are discovering that only they get to say what happens to their bodies, and if they are not comfortable with something, their STOP is meaningful.
When we stop kissing, tickling, and cuddling when our children request it we are empowering them in that moment. However, it also acts as practice, a role playing, for if something more serious occurs. They are well versed in saying STOP to someone bigger and more powerful than them and they will feel able to use it when it really counts.
We don’t have secrets in our family, just surprises. Surprises differ from secrets as they are things that are kept quiet momentarily, and revealed to everyone in time.
The term “secret” comes up again and again in the stories of child sexual abuse victims. A culture of secrecy is one of the foundations that perpetrators require and seek to establish.
Make it your aim that the word “secret” rings alarm bells in your children’s ears. Remind them constantly that “we don’t have secrets!” and that if anyone ever shares a secret with them that their mom or dad get to hear it, too.
“Did you feel safe?”
In this powerful blog post a mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse, describes how when she was a child her own mother used to meet her after a party and, in front of her perpetrator, ask her if she was a good girl, if she did as she was told.
We need to change the way we talk to our children after events.
Ask if they felt comfortable. If they felt safe. If they had any bad bits.
Of course, these questions have to happen as part of a whole conversation where they get to tell you about the chocolate cake fight, and the boy who hilariously strung party hats all over his whole body and chased the dog.
If we strive to keep open channels of communication with our children we can ask them, “Did you feel safe?” knowing we will get an honest answer.
“High five, wave, or hug?”
Lucy Emmerson, of the Sex Education Forum, suggests that children shouldn’t be forced to kiss relatives as it’s important for children to learn that their bodies are their own.
Instead of saying, “Kiss Aunty goodbye!” ask how your child might like to say goodbye. It might be with nothing, a smile, a wave, a high five, a hug. I am a huge advocate that children must never be forced to show affection, yet our children almost always opt for full blown hugs and kisses. I guess this is because they tend to love all the people we hang out with, and they see us willingly showing affection to them. However, they know that only they get a say on what happens to their bodies. They know they will never be forced.
Every so often there is a little awkward moment but I simply let it be, and then call the relative later and explain how important it is that children know their bodies are their own.
I live in a country where one in three girls are sexually abused by the time they are 16. I am willing to put up with a little awkwardness if it protects them from becoming a tragic statistic.
Will you consider adopting these phrases in your family? Do so and know you are doing your bit to create a world where children can thrive.