As parents, we are always teaching our kids what to do and how to act. As children get older, the lessons may change or become more detailed and driven more by questions the kids may have. The conversations can be difficult for parents to start and equally difficult for children to hear. I can remember teaching my kids to hold hands and look both ways before crossing the street, don’t put gum they find on the sidewalk in their mouths and clean as you go in the kitchen. I have also made a point of having conversations that can be a little uncomfortable: sex, politics and religion. Dinner conversations at my house can be intense, but also full of love and laughter.
One conversation that has been ongoing is that we are in charge of our bodies. Everyone, including adults, need permission to be in your space. If I ask if Olivia wants a hug and she says no, then the answer is no. She is in charge. If I ask Ben if he wants me to rub his back and he says yes, then I rub his back. This concept can be vital when a child is touched in an inappropriate way. The concept of ownership may help a child disclose what happened.
Harlan and I use the right words for body parts, and we do it without giggling or making a big deal: penis and vagina. No one giggles when they say stomach or brain, do they? We believe that teaching the correct vocabulary is important because this also empowers a child. The U.S. Center for Justice agrees that using the right words for body parts can help when a child has questions about their bodies or if the child needs to talk about something important.
A “parenting policy” we have is that if the children have a question or want to tell us something important but don’t want to talk face to face, they can write it down and leave it under our pillow. So far, we have gotten quite a few “I love you” notes.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. With these numbers in mind, how many kids are in your child’s classroom? Rebecca has a class of 24. According to the statistics, if all of the students were girls, there will be six girls sexually abused. If all the students were boys, then four boys would be sexually abused. The number of children being sexually abused is terrifying.
It is also believed that the incidents of abuse are only reported approximately 30 percent of the time. Let that sink in for a minute…
Stranger danger is a great thing to teach kids, however, the person that is more likely to sexually assault a child is an adult who is already part of that child’s life. In 2010, 25 percent of the female victims of rape/sexual assault were victimized by strangers (CDC). That means that in 75 percent of the cases reported, the girls were abused by people they already knew.
There is so much emphasis on talking to our children that as adults we can forget to listen and really hear when our children talk. Should your child ever come to you and tell you about someone touching or hurting them, the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center (518-447-5500) is an excellent resource. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7: Telephone: 800-656-HOPE (4673), online chat: online.rainn.org and Español: rainn.org/es. Also, the child’s pediatrician can set you on the correct path. The thought of our little ones needing these services is not something we can even imagine. “This only happens to other people, other families, other children” is not a mindset that helps anyone. Reaching out for help is not weakness. Reaching out doesn’t make you a bad parent. Knowing that, if necessary, there will be someone in your corner is empowering. Your child needs to know that you are in their corner as well. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. NEVER.
Some people have it stuck in their heads that children frequently lie about being sexually abused. The rationale is that all kids lie and have overactive imaginations. However, the actual number of children who falsely report a sexual assault or abuse is less than 10 percent.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure what the questions are most of the time. The trust of a child should never be exploited or abused. As a parent, my children are everything to me and I would die for them.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 9-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.