I”ll be honest, I wanted to create a fun playful article—but volunteering at a sexual assault clinic reminds me everyday how children and even infants are subjected to sexual assault and domestic violence far earlier than we dream or acknowledge. As the #MeToo movement has shown, child sexual abuse can happen anywhere, at any time. Here’s what I recommend we tell our kids—sons and daughters alike.
I recommend discussing what constitutes an appropriate and inappropriate touch—despite who it originates from, be it their parent, sibling, cousin or coach.Talk them through about what the next steps should be if inappropriate touching happens. These are the three steps kids can do in these situations that I’ve learned from my volunteer work: Stop, walk away and tell somebody.
Remind your kids that they can (and should) feel comfortable saying “Stop!” to a touch, gesture or even a word that feels weird, inappropriate or misplaced to them. Verbalizing their dissent is an empowering first step.
2. Walk Away
The next step is to walk away from the person that has initiated this contact or conversation. This leads them to safety and to a way of processing what might be happening and figuring out how to possibly prevent it from happening again.
3. Tell Someone
This is extremely important: if an inappropriate situation occurs, instill in your kids they need to tell someone they trust. I recommend you have your kids list out all the people who they trust are; this could be their parents, teachers or another adult friend. Something I also recommend you discuss is what to do if the person they tell does not believe them, trust their story or dismisses outright as an overreaction—keep telling that story to other trusted people until feel heard, validated and safe.
I have also had many children who have disclosed an assault story to me. Hearing this can be pretty upsetting, even as a parent or trusted adult—but this child has turned to you for help. Here’s how you can handle assault disclosures from kids (or anyone, really):
1. Trust Them
Trust what they’re saying. Resist the urge to solve or fix or dismiss, but trust and affirm what they’re feeling.
2. Provide Support Options
Support them through whatever options they may want to take. If they want to drop out of football practice, support it. This is very little to do with you and a lot more to do with how they feel in that environment, so support their decisions. If you ever need to talk about sexual assault or domestic violence with someone, call an assault hot line today. These are confidential and go a long way towards helping you process or talk options with a trained empathetic person.
3. Safety Plan
Always talk about what they can do if the situation ever arises and how they can try and remain safe as much as they can.
All this to say stay safe, everyone. It’s important we talk to our children about these topics, because as much as we’d like to believe these things don’t happen, sexual assault and misconduct are pervasive. The least we can do as responsible parents is to support and hold our loved ones through the journey.