Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
Category Archives: Teaching Children about Childhood Sexual Abuse
One of my favorite quotes is by Frederick Douglass who said,
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Please keep these two things in mind when you begin to think, “it’s just too hard to talk with my kids about sexual abuse”.
Here in the USA, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse before they turn 18…don’t let your child be another statistic, don’t let them become another David, or Linda, or or or…
They need your strength and guidance…you CAN talk with them and they will be grateful you did!!
If you’re finding it challenging to talk with your kids, please read this post for some guidance:
Our great friend Boz Tchividjian’s latest blog post is a MUST READ for parents! After you read the interview, please see how the article we wrote in 2012, “How To Talk With Your Kids” brings up many of the same EXTREMELYimportant points and shares so many COMMON GOALS regarding talking with our children about sexual abuse. This just reaffirms to me the importance of all of us working together to protect our children from sexual predators. We simply cannot convey this message often enough, nor can we talk with our children too much about their safety.
One of the many challenges parents and guardians have in protecting those in their care is how to educate younger children about sexual abuse. Not only can the topic be incredibly uncomfortable to bring up with 5-year-old, but most of us simply don’t know how to do it in an effective and non-traumatizing way. As a result, oftentimes these critically important conversations never take place. My dear friends, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, have written a beautifully illustrated book that gives parents and caregivers the tools to have these necessary conversations in a manner that will effectively empower little ones without fear. I am thrilled to be able to post this interview with Justin and Lindsey as this God Made All of Me is released on Monday. I hope that this interview will be an encouragement and help to parents and caregivers as they seek ways to protect their little ones from abuse. Enjoy. – Boz Boz: Thank you both for joining us for this important conversation about God Made All of Me. Who should read this book and why?
Justin & Lindsey: We highly recommend that parents and caregivers of 2 to 8 year-old children should read this book. We wrote it as a tool so they can explain to their children that God made their bodies. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.
Boz: Why was it important for the two of you to write a book about empowering children against abuse?
Justin & Lindsey: Parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes.
Justin & Lindsey Holcomb
Our hope is that parents and caregivers will use this book as a tool to help protect their child from sexual abuse in a way that is not frightening. We want parents and caregivers to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm children. While we know that actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and have the confidence that parents and caregivers will support them. That is why we used the storybook approach.
Boz: What are your respective backgrounds and how did they prepare and qualify you to write this book?
Justin & Lindsey: We have two young children and wrote the book we needed for them. Lindsey was a victims’ advocate at a sexual assault crisis agency and a case manager at a domestic violence shelter. In both settings, she dealt with the issue of child sexual abuse. Lindsey also earned a Master in Public Health.
Justin is a minister and teaches courses on recognizing, preventing, and responding to abuse for seminaries. Also, when Justin was younger he was abused by an extended family member. So, this topic is not just professional but also personal.
Boz: What do the statistics about child sexual abuse tell us about the importance of tackling this topic with our kids?
Justin & Lindsey: Child sexual abuse is much more prevalent than most people realize. Also, offenders are usually not strangers. They are often people who are known and trusted by both parents and children. For example, one research study found that 34 percent of assailants were family members, 58 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.
Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday. Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age three and under, 28 percent are between ages four and seven, 26 percent are between ages eight and eleven, and 36 percent are twelve and older.
Boz: I have found that many parents want to have this conversation with their children, but are too uncomfortable to talk with them about specific body parts, etc. Others are apprehensive about frightening their child. How can parents address these concerns in order to have this critically important conversation with their children?
Justin & Lindsey: We are convinced that a major reason why parents don’t have these conversations is the “embarrassment factor.” They feel awkward talking about private parts to their kids so they avoid the conversations.
However, to teach children about sexual abuse it is important to explain about private parts. Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to understand the concept of private parts.
To teach about sexual abuse offenders, it is important to teach your kids about “tricky people.” Tricky people are grown-ups who ask kids for help or tell kids to keep a secret from their parents. It is really important to let your children know that even adults that they know and love can hurt them. Repeatedly encourage them to talk to you if any adult ever hurts them or makes them feel bad or uncomfortable, regardless of whether that adult is a family member or dad’s best friend. Also, teach your kids not to do anything or go anywhere with any adult at all, unless they ask for permission first.
Boz: What are some of the mistakes parents make when talking to their children about their bodies?
Justin & Lindsey: A common mistake parents make is not taking with their children about their bodies and body parts. Parents cannot afford to wait on this conversation with their children and the conversation needs to be often. Use the correct words for your children’s genitalia so that they can identify if something happens as well as not have confusion over their bodies and the parts that God created. Promise them that they will never be in trouble and can talk with you about anything anytime. It is so important for us to remember to listen to our children when they tell us things even if it is something small so they will feel comfortable telling us the big things that happen in their lives. Check in with your kids often about people in their life. Ask them how their babysitter or teacher or coach makes them feel so you can gather if they feel safe around them or worried.
Boz: Some parents may believe that it is enough to simply read this book and tell their children to let them know if anyone ever touches their private parts? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Justin & Lindsey: This book is a great start, but it is not enough to read it once and tell children to inform parents if they are touched inappropriately. Talking about private parts and appropriate/inappropriate touch is not a one-time conversation that you get done so you can move on to something else. This book is a tool for the larger responsibilities that parents have. Instead of having “THE talk” and being done, parents need to keep the conversation going, invite questions, and keep lines of communication open.
In addition to personal safety training, parents must become vigilant, educated, and aware of potential risks and threats to their children’s safety.
Boz: What are some facts parents need to know about child sexual offenders? Also, what and how much should they tell their children about offenders?
Justin & Lindsey: Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim. Also, most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.
Dr. Anna Salter, a psychologist who has been studying sexual offenders for decades, states it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”
Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.
Boz: What advice do either of you have for parents who want to create an open environment in their home, so children always feel comfortable talking to them about issues related to their sexuality or body?
Justin & Lindsey: We remind parents that some people are out their looking to prey on our children. We have a duty to protect and prepare them for the world and to fight for them. By talking with them candidly (and again developmentally appropriate) about their bodies, we are setting up safe guards around them.
Boz: As you both write and speak about child sexual abuse, what are some of the unique challenges facing the Christian community about how to better understand and respond to this issue?
Justin & Lindsey: Too often the churches ignore physical, sexual, emotional, and even spiritual child abuse, despite the prevalence of abuse within faith communities. Even worse, Christians have often unwittingly contributed to the suffering of victims because of a failure to protect children and adequately respond to disclosures of sexual abuse. Too many don’t do background checks or have effective child-centered safeguarding policies and procedures.
Additionally, clergy and lay leaders often overlook the many needs of those within their congregations who are adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Pastors don’t discuss the issue of abuse and how the Gospel can bring hope and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse. Even worse, some blame victims for the sin done against them.
Boz: Where can parents turn if they have any questions regarding this topic or if they simply want additional resources on issues related to sexual abuse or on how to most appropriately address this subject with their children?
Justin & Lindsey: GRACE has helpful material available on the site as does the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.
Boz: What a thrill it was for me to learn that you both dedicated this book to GRACE. Thank you!
I’ve had the privilege to serve on the board of GRACE for a few years. We admire the work GRACE does in empowering the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse. The ministry of GRACE is important and has helped so many.
Justin is a minister and teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Lindsey now works at home, but previously served as a case manager at a sexual assault crisis center and a domestic violence shelter. Learn more about Justin at http://www.justinholcomb.com and follow him at @justinholcomb. Follow Lindsey at @lindseyholcomb.
Day 4 of our week of fundraising – Not Short But VERY IMPORTANT
My thought process behind not setting a “dollar goal” for our fundraising week was in the belief that those inclined to give would give as much as they could. And for those who didn’t realize fundraising was our primary way of getting the monies needed to operate Together We Heal, it would explain the need. Evidently either things are still too tight or the amount needed isn’t clearly understood. I’m thinking a little of both but more so the latter. So with that in mind I’m going to better clarify what is needed.
Last year, in order to pay for therapy that wasn’t done pro bono, to travel to give presentations and workshops to educate parents, guardians and others on how to better protect children from sexual predators, to keep the website and all our online presence up and running, to work on reforming statute of limitation laws, and more events and behind the scenes work than would be read if I itemized them all; we needed in excess of $5,000.
And the need increases every week, every month and will certainly increase for 2015 as more survivors learn of the aid we provide at free of charge to those who either can’t afford it or that don’t have access to insurance to cover the costs.
We are setup on the same premise as St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital; we don’t turn anyone away based on money. If they don’t have it, we find a way to get therapists to donate time or raise the money to pay for it. Which brings us back to today.
We need your help to continue the work we do. We cannot without your help. Because of your gifts, lives have been changed and saved. This is no exaggeration. Survivors of CSA need your help. Children need your protection. And with your help we can and will continue to do all of these things and more.
We are setup the way we are because this is what saved my life. Because someone was willing to help me when I had no money or ability to pay, help was given to me when I needed it most. I was able to finally address the struggles and issues that were destroying my life. The sexual abuse I suffered as a child was eroding what little was left of my life. So now, Together We Heal is doing the same for others. But we genuinely need your help. When we started there were just a few survivors asking us for help. Those days are long gone. We now have survivors from all over the world and we work with therapists and Counselors on three continents. And this happens because of your previous donations. As we grow, so grows the need for more funds. Please give so we can help more, serve more and protect more.
Thank you all so very much
Please go to our website and find the SMALL “donate” button at the bottom. The big donate button isn’t working right now but we’re working on it. Also, you can send a check to:
Together We Heal, Inc.
2336 NE Rustic Place
Jensen Beach, FL 34957
Just make the checks to “Together We Heal, Inc.” We are an official 501(c)(3) so your donations ARE tax deductible!
Well everyone, we’re coming upon the time of year when all of Together We Heal’s annual “bills” are due. It’s also the time of year I dread the most. Not because of the bills necessarily, but because I’m forced into a position to do something a hate doing…asking for donations.
Unfortunately the work we do doesn’t take place free of charge. I could go into the list, and will do so if anyone wants an itemized list, but rather than bore you with the details, please know the need never ends.
We have survivors of childhood sexual abuse who need counseling, a website that requires money to operate and travel expenses to give presentations and workshops. These workshops help to educate the public on all matters of CSA, the grooming techniques of sexual predators and how to keep our children safer from them.
We are not setting a “goal” we are going to trust that the amount needed for the upcoming year will be met by what your heart says to give. I can tell you that lives have been are continuing to be changed because of what you’ve given in the past. And with the holidays just around the corner and many events planned for 2015, the need will only grow.
If you will, please go to our website and find the SMALL “donate” button at the bottom. The BIG donate button isn’t working right now but we’re working on it. Also, you can send a check to:
Together We Heal, Inc.
2336 NE Rustic Place
Jensen Beach, FL 34957
Just make the checks to Together We Heal, Inc. We are an official 501(c)(3) so your donations ARE tax deductible!
I would not ask if we didn’t truly need. And as I said, I hate doing this but it’s necessary for us to continue the work we do to help survivors, change the laws protecting predators and prevent childhood sexual abuse. Thank you in advance for any amount you can give!
This month, Stefanie Zucker, the Managing Director at http://www.pediatricsafety.net and all the fine folks there are running a series of ours focusing on the protection of all children from sexual predators.
This is the first of a two part series on sexual predators written by David Pittman, the founder of Together We Heal, Inc. – an organization dedicated to helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). We are running “How to Talk with Your Kids About Sexual Abuse” now, right in the middle of back-to-school, because now is when many of us may need a reminder the most. As we hand our children over to teachers and coaches and after-school caregivers and tell them to “listen to the teacher” and “do what the coach tells you”, we NEED to make sure we have first taught them when it’s ok to say NO. That secrets are not ok…that their bodies are their own and no one can touch them without their permission. We need to remember that 90-95% of CSA occurs at the hands of someone that is known, trusted and often loved. Hopefully by sharing this now, we will keep one more child safe.
Please be sure to view their amazing site that has so much important information on keeping all of our children safer. And what they offer isn’t just about sexual abuse, it has to do with all matters concerning child safety. So please do yourself a favor and look at the material they provide and pass along to ALL parents or guardians you know! Pediatric Safety is an AMAZING organization doing GREAT work!
Recently I had the pleasure of having breakfast with my friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. I’m so thankful for the friendship he and I have developed and while talking he gave me one more reason to be thankful. He brought to my attention something I had not given enough consideration. It’s from his insight this article originated.
We were discussing the reasons behind why I didn’t say something about my abuse and why other survivors don’t tell or speak up while the abuse is occurring. During the conversation I told him something my mom had said to me. He stopped me and said it was important and to say it again.
He asked if there had been any indications to anyone that the abuse that was happening. I told him about one man in my life who had been a positive, male role-model for me. When I was about 13, he was talking with my mom about my abuser (but at this time no one knew) and said, “there’s something that’s not quite right about that guy spending all this time with those boys. I can’t put my finger on it but I know there’s something that’s just not right.” To which my mom said, “If something were going on with David, he would tell me.”
It’s those last four words that bears repeating…“he would tell me”.
My mom and I have a strong and healthy bond. Because my dad was not in the picture for the first 23 years of my life, it resulted in mom and I having lots of time together and the opportunity to forge an incredible relationship that we still have to this day. I would go so far as to say it’s an uncommonly good relationship as parent/child relationships go. I remember while growing up, most of my friends saying at some point, “I just can’t talk to my mom or dad about…”. I never had that issue with my mom. We were always close and always talked about everything. I remember telling her when I had sex for the first time. I told her about the first time I used drugs. When I got arrested for said drugs, it was my mom I called to bail me out. So it’s clear you can see I’ve felt comfortable enough in telling her about the good, the bad and the ugly.
All except for one thing.
And sadly it’s that “one thing” that has resulted in the majority of the misery, struggles and pitfalls of my life.
The point I’m trying to make, is that if I had such a difficult time telling my mom about the abuse, when we were so close, how much more difficult is it for children who don’t feel as close to their parents or feel the freedom to talk with them about anything and everything? Neither my mom, nor anyone else knew about my abuse until 2006.
It’s a mistaken belief that I think most parents have. They believe, as my mom did, that if there were something wrong, their children would let them know about it. Or as I said earlier, “he would tell me”.
It’s a tragic error of belief and one that I hope to reeducate all parents. No matter how close you are, or how strong your relationship, if your child is being sexually abused, it’s almost impossible for them to tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you love them any less than other parents. It’s just beyond description how hard it is for those of us who were abused to tell anyone.
The reasons behind the “why” are as many and varied as there are individuals. We’ve discussed them previously here on the TWH blog and will do so more in the future. But for the discussion today, it’s not about the “why”, it’s about acknowledging a false assumption and correcting it.
As I said, my mom genuinely believed if someone were hurting me, I’d tell her. After all, when a student picked on me, or in one case, when a teacher was being hateful to a friend of mine with a speech impediment, I told her about that. So she had no reason to believe otherwise. Except for one important thing, back in the 70’s and 80’s, nobody talked about Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Back then, all we were told was, beware of strangers and “stranger danger”. It turns out, “stranger danger” is almost a myth. 90-95% of CSA happens at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and/or loved by the child. And because no one was taking about it, there was no “Oprah’s 200” , or organizations like SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Together We Heal.
Due to this lack of information and groups whose entire existence is to help survivors of CSA, parents didn’t know what signs to be looking for or signals that their children might be sexually abused. “Grooming” was a term reserved for haircuts and keeping your appearance neat. Now we know better. But sadly, parents are still waiting until it’s too late to discuss CSA with their kids. This is not a one-time conversation to have when they’re 15 or 16. By that time, it’s more likely any abuse has already occurred or is still ongoing.
In order to give your child the best chance to remain safer from sexual predators/pedophiles, parents MUST start young. They must start young and have it become a “normal” part of the routine questions asked of the child’s day. How was your day? How was school? Do you like your teachers? Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone touched you in a place they shouldn’t? And educating your child on what is appropriate touching is essential to the conversation.
Obviously, depending on the age of the child, there are age-appropriate terms and verbiage. But the questions need to be asked, the conversations need to take place, and all of this needs to be done EARLY and OFTEN. If not, we leave our children susceptible to the ploys of predators. We now have plenty of books, pamphlets and resources on how to have these talks with children of all ages. So please take advantage of the information my mom didn’t have, of the resources I didn’t have available. Do this so you lessen the chances of your children enduring the torture, abuse, rape, and resulting decades of emotional, mental and physical struggles. Do this so your children don’t become another statistic like I did, another 1 in 6 boys or 1 in 3 girls.
We have the information now. And now children can trust they will be believed. It’s time to back up all this talk with action. It’s time to prevent childhood sexual abuse and catch these sexual predators/pedophiles before they do any more damage. But it begins at home, it must begin early, and don’t think for one second, “he would tell me”…
The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.
I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.
7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches
Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.
This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.
I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.
Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.
Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.
Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.
Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.
Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.
Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.
Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.
Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.
Let’s begin this transformation today…
This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.
It’s difficult to pick up a paper, turn on the news or open up a web browser these days without seeing the latest pedophile/sexual predator whose been caught having destroyed the innocence of another child or multiple children. As my colleagues and I talked about what we had found or tried in discussing this issue with others, we came across many opinions. Some of which we dismissed, but a few we found had both merit and impact. With this in mind, we set about to cooperatively put together a guide of sorts to help each other, our peers and parents concerned on how to present this topic to the various people and children in our lives.
Together, we decided the best way to accomplish this goal was by combining the best ideas in one place. It is our hope you will take this information to heart and apply it to your daily lives with the intent of protecting all our children, alleviating some of the fears of talking about this delicate topic and put sexual predators on notice that we are on to their methods and are arming each other and our children with the most powerful of weapons…knowledge.
Chris Anderson, the Executive Director of MaleSurvivor.org, gave the following guidance to parents on speaking with their children.
“Parents need to realize that educating their children about sexuality and maintaining and protecting proper boundaries has to be a regular part of their interactions with children.
Having “the sex talk” once when a kid is about to enter adolescence isn’t sufficient, and in all likelihood leads to more children being at risk because parents don’t want to educate their own children about sex, making it all the more easier for perpetrators to manipulate and misinform their targets.
WE need to encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, and all those involved with youth to think about planting the seeds of awareness, compassion, and protection over and over and over again. Conversations about what constitutes healthy, non-manipulative relationships as well as appropriate physical and social boundaries need to be a regular part of the experience of children.
There is NO reason whatsoever that ANY parent can justify not giving their children age appropriate, correct biological terms for body parts. Penis, vagina, and anus are not dirty words.
Any adult who seems to be overly desirous of taking a child one on one should be carefully screened by parents. Who are they? Why do they want to spend so much time with a child? What are they really looking for?
Parents who empower their children to say No when they don’t feel comfortable around someone or doing something are doing the right thing. Children should not be “forced” to give hugs and kisses to relatives, they should be encouraged to say whether or not they want to.
Serial perpetrators will often screen out children who have been taught these skills because they are looking for the “soft” targets who are more easily manipulated.
The vulnerability that makes kids so easy to manipulate is borne of their need for attention and affirmative parental bonding. It’s all too easy for many parents to try and find ways to encourage their kids to leave them alone and entertain or distract themselves. Too often, this actually leads children to seek what they are not getting from their parents from others who know all too well how to manipulate a child into doing what they want.
Perhaps the last point is that grooming thrives where secrecy, shame, and ignorance are in full effect. Any parent that encourages their children to always disclose when they feel uncomfortable about someone or something, AND who makes it clear that the child will never be in trouble for doing so is already doing a great deal to protect their children. ”
This is obviously valuable advice. So we thought, what about the folks who find it challenging talking to either their children or even peers about childhood sexual abuse? How can we help them overcome or work through it? The folks at Samaritans.org had an amazing piece on just this issue.
How to Start a Difficult Conversation
Often people want to talk, but wait until someone asks how they are. Try asking open questions, like ‘What about happened about…’, ‘Tell me about…’, ‘How do you feel about…’
Repeat back what they say to show you understand, and ask more questions.
Focus on your friend’s feelings instead of trying to solve the problem – it can be of more help and shows you care. Respect what they tell you. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice. Let them make their own decisions.
1) How do I start a conversation with someone I’m concerned about?
You might feel that you don’t know how to help someone, because you don’t know what to tell them or how to solve their problems. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, sometimes people who think they have the answers to a problem are less helpful. Don’t forget that every person is different, so that what worked for one will not always work for another.
2) Find a good time and place
Think about where and when to have the conversation before you start.
Choose somewhere where the other person feels comfortable and has time to talk.
3) Ask gentle questions, and listen with care
You might feel that you don’t know how to help someone, because you don’t know what to tell them. But you shouldn’t tell them anything. Telling doesn’t help. The best way to help is to ask questions. That way you leave the other person in control. By asking questions, the person you are talking with finds his or her own answers.
4) The more open the question the better
Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the most useful. Questions like:
When – ‘When did you realize?’
Where – ‘Where did that happen?’
What – ‘What else happened?’
How – ‘How did that feel?’
Why – be careful with this one as it can make someone defensive. ‘What made you choose that’ or ‘What were you thinking about at the time’ are more effective.
At Samaritans, we call this style of conversation active listening.
5) Find out how they feel
Don’t forget to ask how this person is feeling. Sometimes people will talk you through all the facts of what happened, why it happened and what actions they are thinking of taking, but never say how they actually feel. Revealing your innermost emotions – anger, sadness, fear, hope, jealously, despair and so on – can be a huge relief. It sometimes also give clues about what the person is really most worried about.
6) Check they know where to get help
If someone has been feeling low for some time it is probably a good idea that they get some support, whether it is through talking to someone like a counsellor or getting some practical help.
Useful questions you might ask them include:
‘Have you talked to anyone else about this?’
‘Would you like to get some help?’
‘Would you like me to come with you?’
Or, for someone who is reluctant to get help:
‘Do you have someone you trust you can go to?’
‘If it helps, you can talk to me any time.’
You can also suggest to your friend that the following sources of help may be useful:
The Good Men Project
7) Respect what they tell you, don’t pressure them
8) If they don’t want help, don’t push them. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice.
It’s usually better for people to make their own decisions. Help them think of all the options, but leave the choice to them. Being there for them in other ways, like through socializing or helping with practical things, can also be a great source of support.
9) If you say the wrong thing, don’t panic
There is no perfect way to handle a difficult conversation, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it didn’t go as well as you had hoped. If you feel able to, put things right: “Last week I said … and I realize now that was insensitive so I’m sorry. What I meant to say was …”
10) Show you understand
Ask follow-up questions and repeat back the key things your friend has told you, using phrases like ‘So you’re saying…’, ‘So you think…’.
11) Look after yourself, and talk to someone too
Hearing someone else’s worries or problems can affect you too. Take time for yourself to do the things you enjoy, and if you need to talk, find somebody you trust to confide in. If you promised not to tell anyone else, you can call us, and we’ll keep it private. Don’t take on so much of other peoples’ problems that you yourself start feeling depressed.
In addition to Chris’ message to parents, we chose an article published by David Pittman of Together-We-Heal.org – It’s a straightforward, 7-step process for parents to speak to their children about sexual abuse. Interestingly enough, you will see some similar advice, and it’s clear this is no accident. Both men are survivors of childhood sexual abuse and having been through such a traumatic time in their lives, it makes sense they would have similar advice on how they wished they had been counseled as kids.
How To Talk With Your Children About Sexual Abuse
I was once given some advice from a person much older and wiser than myself: “If a child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to get the truth.” There is, however, a way to present truth in a way that neither scares the child nor impedes their ability to openly communicate with the adult about “delicate” subject matter.
The following is a combined list of different suggestions on ways to talk to your children about sexual abuse. The sources for this information are Together We Heal, The Joyful Heart Foundation, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, FamilyWatchDog.com, The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s: Convicted Sex Offender Web Site, as well as my own personal recommendations based on personal experience.
1) Start Young
Talk openly and often with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Keep in mind that if you discuss sexual development with your children appropriately from a very young age, they will not be embarrassed by the subject matter and will be less vulnerable to the grooming tactics of many child molesters.
Children who do not have their curiosity satisfied do not stop asking, they simply start looking elsewhere for their answers. After all, who do you want educating your children about sex and sexuality…you or their friends and Madison Avenue?!?
Starting young is not damaging. Parents believe that somehow it is inappropriate for them to be discussing such things with young children. If a child has a curiosity about something, it does not damage them to know the truth. Truth is never wrong! Truth is never damaging! While they are young is a healthy time for children to know the answers. It is the best time. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is waiting until the teenage years to address issues of sexuality.
Rather than trying to wait until a time when you are beginning to lose control of your children, confront the issues now. Make sure you spend the first 12 years of your child’s life laying out a stable framework for your children to build their ideals and morals from. Don’t wait until they are 13 and riddled with urges to start addressing the issue of healthy sexual relationships.
The key to this is what my friend and colleague, Rachel Grant, calls “normalizing” the conversation. What we mean by that is, for example, a “normal” talk with your child would be, “how was practice today, or do you need any help with your homework?” So just as normally as you bring up those topics, so also ask them, “Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable at school today?” “Has anyone approached you or touched you in a way that made you feel upset?” The more normal you make the conversation, the more likely they are to open up to you and talk about it.
Instill these concepts when they are young. Confronting the tough issues and encoding the morals you would like your children to have as a foundation begins at birth, and that includes sexuality.
2) Use Proper Terminology
Use proper names or semi-proper names for body parts (penis and vagina), and phrases like: private parts are “private and special”. Research shows that children who know the proper words for their body parts are less likely to be sexually abused than children who are not. Teaching a child that body parts are so embarrassing and shameful to talk about that they need silly nicknames makes it much more likely that a child will not tell you if someone touches them inappropriately. When a child knows the proper names, it puts a predator on notice that there is an atmosphere of openness and dialogue in a home and that if they harm your child, it is more likely to be discovered and disclosed.
Take the time to rehearse with your spouse/partner or any adult that will give you a truthful critique and be patient. This is not the time to rush through or skim over the parts that make you feel uncomfortable. Just imagine that if you have a difficult time talking with the adult, what will it be like when you talk with your child? Gather resources from organizations such as Together We Heal, Stop It Now, RAINN, Stop Abuse Campaign, Survivors Chat, MaleSurvivor.org, etc., and make notes or an outline.
Do whatever makes it easiest for you to remember the topics and keep yourself on point. Throughout the talk, your child will be asking questions that will take you in various directions so it is essential that once you answer the question you get back on track. Also consider that you may not be able to address all questions at once. Be honest with your child if they ask you a question that you do not have the answer. Tell them the truth. Let them know that you need to find the answer and let them know later.
4) No Secrets and No Private time with Adults/Children
Teach your child not to keep secrets and that no one should ask your child to keep a secret from you. Teach your child that there are happy surprises which we are going to tell people about soon (like birthday presents or the ending to a story your brother is reading), but that we don’t have secrets that we’re not allowed to tell and we don’t keep secrets that make us feel sad or worried.
Avoid one child‐one adult situations. 90% of all child sexual abuse occurs in situations where there is only one adult and one child present. When a child is going to have one on one time with an adult, attempt to schedule that time in observable places (like parks and restaurants). Ask your child about how things went when they were alone with an adult, child or relative. Listen for specific details and watch your child’s mood.
5) Create a “Safety Team” or “Safety Network”
Help your child create a list of their trusted adults. Give your child a copy of their list. Make sure their support “network” peoples’ phone numbers are by the telephone with and in a place that your child has easy access to. Once you and your child have made a list, let all the people on your child’s list know that they are part of this emergency network. Let them know your child has your permission to contact them and ask them if they are comfortable with this responsibility.
Let your child know that you will not be upset if they go to anyone on this list when they are scared or confused. It is very common for children to feel that they cannot speak to their parents in spite of a parent’s attempt to ease this fear. The majority of children who report sexual abuse do not report it to their parents. Sexual predators often tell their victims that what is happening is the victims’ fault; that they will get in trouble, that they will be taken away or that their parents will stop loving them and will hate them. Molesters who are related to the child also scare them into silence by telling them that no one else will take care of them if they go to jail. It is very important to talk with your children and reassure them of your unconditional love and remind them of all the people who care about them. When you take away an offender’s ability to keep his victim silent, you take away his/her power.
6) Explain How Your Child is Helping
Avoid scary details. Use language that is honest and age appropriate. Explain that no one should touch a child on the parts of their body that are covered by their bathing suit. Also let your child know that there are exceptions to this situation such as mommy or daddy helping a young child bathe, diaper changes or a doctor examining a child with their parent present.
When discussing sexual abuse with younger children, refer to sexual predators as adults with “touching problems.” These people can make “secret touching” look accidental (such as tickling or wrestling) and they should still tell you even if they think (or were told) it was an accident. This is a way for a young child to understand that an adult has an inappropriate behavior without giving your child nightmares or age-inappropriate details about what the “touching” might entail.
Tell your children that people who have touching problems need special help so they don’t continue to have problems or get into trouble. Don’t describe it as a sickness and don’t say that “bad” people do this, as most of the time the “bad” person is someone who seems good or is known to the child. Do not use words like pedophile, predator or pervert; but rather, refer to “touching problems” instead as this gives the child the ability to judge and tell you about the behavior without the understandable confusion that arises when the perpetrator is someone they love or care about.
Finally – And this step might be the most important…
7) Create a form letter that explains how you have discussed with your child/children about the issue of childhood sexual abuse and list the people in their safety network. Give a copy to each adult in your child’s life and on the list.
By notifying all of the adults in your child’s life (family, friends, teachers, coaches, and parents of your child’s friends), you have in effect warned most potential predators in your child’s life that they will be caught should they target your child for abuse or inappropriate behavior. Sex offenders generally target children where the risk of getting caught is sufficiently low. By doing this, you are telling any would-be offender that your child is prepared and as parents you are involved. If you find it challenging to create your own form letter, we have provided two templates on the together-we-heal.org website. Please feel free to print them out to use.
My hope is that you will take these tips and begin the dialogue with your child/children. Remember this also…talk WITH your child, not AT your child. Together we can work to give your children the BEST possibility of NOT being a statistic. (1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls are molested and/or sexually abused/raped by the age of 18).
If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.
One more important piece of guidance. As Joanna Schroeder of The Good Men Project pointed out to us, instead of encouraging the person to call the police to report suspicions, it’s better to contact Child and Family Services, The Department of Children And Family Services (or whatever title that department goes by in your community). Police often won’t even make a report of suspicions, and really they don’t have the training or experience to necessarily know what to do with that kind of a report. And when they do, it is likely that they would suggest your friend contact CFS as it is. If an actual claim of abuse is made, please go immediately to your local authorities to report the crime.
There is an important reason for reporting as soon as possible. From the time the crime is committed, a clock is ticking. That clock is called the Statute of Limitations. In most states, if a crime is not reported by the ages of 18 to 23, the predator will walk away scot-free. Predators know this and it’s why we urge all victims to come forward as soon as possible.
We hope you will find this material to be an invaluable tool to keeping yourself, your friends and family and your children educated and armed with the power to combat pedophiles and sexual predators.
Friday the 9th, 2014 I was honored to be on the radio with hosts, Tom and Bonnie Liotta. Bonnie and Tom are committed to a world wide humanitarian movement to heal, unite and empower families and communities by bestowing them with the tools necessary to strengthen our standards, ethics and values while raising the next generation. They founded and lead an organization called “Creating Champions For Life”.
We discussed the importance and tools needed to protect our children from sexual predators.
I’m proud to announce Together We Heal is the sponsor for this amazing event in Sarasota, Florida on March 15th, 2014.
This is a one day event, a dynamic celebration of fatherhood. Hosted by NFL and TV Reality Star Hank Baskett, and Tampa Bay 10 News Anchor Reginald Roundtree. With VIP Special Guest NFL Star Plaxico Buress and more celebrity dads to be announced, plus other amazing speakers, experts; This collaborative event will celebrate, raise awareness, educate and inform fathers just like yourself about “real” dad parenting for the 21st Century!
Here’s your opportunity to hang out with inspiring and committed dads and experts who want dads from all walks of life to share and learn more about what truly unites us all – being the best father you can be.
I will be giving my presentation on “How To Talk with Your Kids about Childhood Sexual Abuse” and providing the accompanying Childhood Sexual Abuse forms to use to help better protect your kids from sexual predators. It’s an easy to follow, 7-step process that any dad/parent can follow to approach this delicate topic with your kids.
Make sure to get registered now so you don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn from some great dads and dedicated advocates and experts.