I was quick to clean up the mess. I vacuumed. I scrubbed. I tossed. It felt good to get rid of that dirty little secret. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I was glad that I had pulled out the drawer and discovered something that needed my attention.
Hidden in some of our homes are disgusting little secrets, but not behind drawers. Right under our unsuspecting noses children are hurting. Often they do not know how to talk about what is happening to them. They may not have the words. They may doubt their feelings. No one has told them what to do and they have no experience to lean on.
When a child is sexually abused, their innocence is violated as well as their privacy and their personal space. The abuser is often a family member or close family friend, someone the child knows and trusts. Imagine the dilemma for a child who has been taught to respect authority and be obedient, when a trusted person asks him/her to do something that doesn’t feel right. Most children do not have tools to deal with this awful situation.
The child may feel guilty. Abusers feed that guilt by saying, “you will get in trouble if you tell.” The child may feel confused and frightened. Where can children turn for help?
We can do better. We can give children accurate information. We can give children tools. We can teach children that they are in charge of their own bodies and that no one has the right to touch them inappropriately. We can tell them which parts of their bodies are private. We can teach them that abuse is not okay, and that is not their fault. We can encourage them to tell if someone touches them inappropriately.
The statistics are frightening. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before they are 18. Many will never tell. Most children know their abuser. Only about 10 % are abused by strangers.
What can we do? How can we turn fear into hope? How can we make a difference? Here are some ideas for giving your kids a fighting chance against an abuser.
- Give kids lots of experience in making choices. Help them learn to trust their feelings. A child who is always told what to do may not know how to stand up for him/her self in a difficult situation.
- Empower kids. Talk things over with them. Help them learn to problem solve and negotiate. Give them responsibilities. Kids with confidence and skills may be less likely to allow themselves to be victimized.
- Be a safe person for your child to talk to. Do you over react? Can they tell you anything? If you sweat the small stuff, they may not feel comfortable telling you about abuse, because abuse is not small stuff. Does your child feel that you are on the same team?
- Model modesty. Let your kids see by example how to show respect for their bodies. Close doors when dressing and using the bathroom. This sends a clear message about what is appropriate and gives children guidelines that they can use when confronted with behavior that is inappropriate.
- Talk to your kids about sexual abuse. Teach them that they are in charge of their own bodies and no one has the right to touch them inappropriately. Teach them that their bodies are sacred. Teach them to say no to anyone who violates their trust, and always to tell.
Be a good listener. Give your child lots of opportunities to talk to you and always believe him/her. Make certain your child knows that you are there for him/her.
Notice when something doesn’t feel right. I didn’t expect to find a dirty little secret behind my vanity drawer, but cleaning it up was the right thing to do. If you find a dirty little secret, don’t cover it up. Don’t close the drawer without cleaning up the mess. Have courage and take appropriate steps to protect and support your child. Remember, abuse is never the child’s fault. Never.