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10 Reasons Not to Discuss Child Sexual Abuse in 2012
I have heard them all. I have heard all the reasons why parents don’t discuss child sexual abuse prevention with their children. I have heard them so often that I can recite them by heart. As the new year approaches, I decided it would be a good idea to memorialize the top 10 reasons for not discussing the subject. I invite you to add any that may have been omitted.
- Children are seldom victims of sexual abuse. Actually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by the time they are 18. Consider those numbers for a moment. They are shocking and devastating. Those figures alone should motivate parents to seek out prevention strategies.
- This kind of thing doesn’t happen where we live. Actually, child sexual abuse has no socio-economic boundaries. It doesn’t care if you are black or white, rich or poor or what religion you practice. It can creep in when you least expect it.
- We don’t let our children go near strangers. Actually, 93% of all child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child and trusted by the parents. Even if a child is never around strangers, he or she could be victimized by a neighbor, a coach, a religious official or family member. Parents who teach only stranger danger are doing a disservice to their child.
- My child is not old enough for this discussion. Actually, the appropriate age to discuss child sexual abuse prevention is when a child is three years old. The conversation can start as simply as “Did you know that the parts of your body covered by a bathing suit are private and are for no one else to see or touch?” Continue the conversation by explaining to the child that he should tell Mommy, Daddy or a teacher if someone touches him on those private parts. Be sure to include any necessary exceptions for potty training, hygiene and doctor visits.
- I don’t want to scare my child. Actually, when handled properly, children find the message empowering and are not frightened at all. Parents do not refrain from teaching traffic safety for fear that their child will be afraid to cross the street. So too should we address the subject of body safety.
- I would know if something happened to my child. Actually, child sexual abuse is difficult to detect because frequently there are no physical signs of abuse. The emotional and behavioral signs that may accompany sexual abuse can be caused by a variety of triggers.
- My child would tell me if something happened to him. Actually, most children do not immediately disclose when they have been sexually abused. Contrary to a child who falls down and runs over to tell his parents, a child who has been sexually abused is likely being told not to tell anyone because no one will believe him, that people will say it is his fault, that the disclosure will cause great sadness in the family and that the behavior is their little secret.
- We never leave our child alone with adults. Actually, children can be sexually abused by other children. The very same lessons that can help prevent children from being sexually abused by adults, can keep them safe from other children. Teach children what touch is appropriate and what is inappropriate, teach them the proper terminology for their private parts and teach them who they can talk to if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- I don’t want to put thoughts in her head. Actually, there is no data to indicate that a child who has been taught about child sexual abuse prevention is more likely to fabricate that they have been sexually abused. According to Victor Vieth, director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, “Children do lie, but seldom about being abused. All human beings can and do lie, but it’s hard for kids to do it about sex. They can’t lie about something they have no knowledge of,” he said, “and children don’t learn about oral sex on Sesame Street.”
- It’s not going to happen to my child. Actually, as the statistics reveal, child sexual abuse is so pervasive that it could happen to any child. This reason is the catch-all. Educated, loving parents have actually said this to me. If one were to ask any parent whose child has been sexually abused if they thought their child would ever be sexually abused, I can guarantee each one would say no. No one wants to believe this could happen to their child. We need to stop denying that it could happen and recognize that there are ways to prevent it from happening. Make the decision to talk to your child about sexual abuse prevention in 2012. It could be the greatest gift you ever give them. Have a safe and healthy New Year.
Jill Starishevsky is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Outside the courtroom, Jill’s fondness for writing led her to create The Poem Lady, where she pens personalized pieces. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, a children’s book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching 3-8 year-olds their bodies are private. A mother of three, Jill is also founder of HowsMyNanny.com, a service that enables parents to purchase a license plate for their child’s stroller so the public can report positive or negative nanny observations.
From the Prevention Institute: Reporters can do better: Media coverage of Sandusky trial amplifies shame/silence of sexual abuse
Reporters can do better: Media coverage of Sandusky trial amplifies shame/silence of sexual abuse
People are still talking about Penn State. This week, a judge released the timeframe for the events leading up to the trial of former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. His arrest last November triggered a wave of news coverage. But what is the media coverage saying, and how might it affect the public conversation as Sandusky’s trial moves forward?
A new study, Breaking news on child sexual abuse: Early coverage of Penn State by the Berkeley Media Studies Group, commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women analyzed the first nine days of coverage. The study found gaps in reporting that should be fixed so that news coverage reaches past a single case to investigate how to prevent child sexual abuse, including what institutions can do.
The Bad News
There is room for journalists to improve their coverage. For one thing, though more than half of the news and general coverage introduced the idea that Penn State University bore institutional responsibility for the abuse, the great majority of the coverage focused on Sandusky’s culpability. As we discussed in an earlier Huffington Post column, coverage that focuses on the ‘bad guy’ misses the point that institutions were using their power to silence the scandal and were in large part responsible for the sexual abuse continuing and the large number of victims.
Where are the survivors? The survivors themselves were almost entirely absent from the coverage. Instead, former head football coach Joe Paterno dominated- the news talked about him more than any other figure, and the coverage was overwhelmingly laudatory. In fact, the coverage was over three times as likely to discuss the consequences of the allegations for Paterno, as it was to talk about the consequences for the survivors.
Where was prevention? Finally, and perhaps most critically, solutions to child sexual abuse and discussion of prevention were virtually non-existent in the coverage. Stories like this are important for opening up the issue, but news coverage is still are not yet talking about ways to prevent children from being abused, and how institutions themselves bear responsibility for perpetuating–or reducing–incidents of child sexual abuse.
The Good News
Sports reporters get the story. The news coverage of the Sandusky case attracted many sports writers to the issue, some of whom were likely covering the topic for the first time. Almost one half (48%) of the initial coverage appeared in the sports sections. Child sexual abuse shouldn’t just be relegated to the crime section – especially when coaches and other sports professionals are involved.
Much reporting calls a rape a rape. Though Sandusky and his lawyer notoriously tried to downplay the allegations with phrases like “horsing around,” most of the news avoided repeating this minimizing language, and instead used phrases like “rape,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual assault.” In cases of child sex abuse, when the news media doesn’t “soft pedal the enormity of the abuse perpetrated,” readers have a clearer picture of what the survivors experienced, and may better understand why prevention is critical.
Reporters–and their sources, advocates for prevention–can do better. The media spotlight won’t shift from Sandusky and Penn State anytime soon: journalists and advocates can take advantage of this opportunity to work to improve the coverage of child sexual abuse, and expand it to push for policies that will institute prevention.
Reporters can keep the issue on the sports pages and elsewhere in the news. The Penn State scandal is just the most recent and public instance of a crime that happens every day, one that, according to the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, “flourishes in secrecy.” To help end that secrecy, keep the spotlight on the issue beyond the current news cycle. Explore other sports stories on child sexual abuse: Investigate what coaches, teams, and schools are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen in their institution. Reporters need to shine a light on our accepting environment, expose the norm that child sexual abuse is an every day occurrence, and cover institutional and policy changes that would better support victims and penalize cover ups. Their stories need to show that young people are more important than sports heroes.
Advocates can release their comments to the media quickly. Many of the statements released by advocacy groups did not appear in the media until well after the first week of coverage and therefore could not be quoted by journalists as the story broke. If prevention advocates want to contribute to breaking news, they will need to respond faster and let reporters know what sorts of information and insights they can bring to a story.
Advocates and reporters can push for solutions. Advocates can suggest policies and programs that can shift the focus to prevention. Reporters can talk to advocates, researchers, policy makers and others in authority and push them for answers to these and other important questions about how to prevent future abuse. Reporters should ask: “What can we do to prevent another Penn State?” “What are communities already doing?” Media coverage of the tragedies that occurred at Penn State has helped open unprecedented and vital conversations about child sexual abuse. As the story continues to unfold, journalists and advocates have a unique opportunity to shift the conversation to what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The mission of PAVE and Security on Campus’ Shatter the Silence! mobile application is to not only Shatter the Silence! that shrouds survivors of sexual and dating violence, but also to prevent this violence from occurring by quipping users with knowledge, skills and services through interactive multimedia tools. PAVE and SOC have just submitted this mobile application into Vice President Joe Biden’s Apps Against Abuse Challenge. Please note that this is just the prototype. Most of the content has not yet been added, but the description below outlines what the finished product will look like.
PAVE is a national nonprofit that works to shatter the silence of sexual violence. With over 35 chapters and affiliates, PAVE’s work has been featured on CNN, the Today Show and in TIME. For this mobile application titled “Shatter the Silence”, PAVE has partnered with Security on Campus, which is a leading national nonprofit geared to the prevention of college and university campus crime, and crime victim assistance. PAVE and Security on Campus came together for the September 2011 “Safe Campus, Strong Voices” Campaign, which focused on victim empowerment, prevention, bystander intervention, and providing tangible tools for both men and women on over 30 college campuses to work together to create a safer campus, free from sexual and dating violence.
PAVE and SOC’s mobile application to Shatter the Silence of Sexual and Dating Violence, is multifunctional. The application allows us to provide not only emergency assistance, but also a complete learning center to educate users about the issues involved in sexual and dating violence. It also connects users to PAVE and SOC’s websites for up to date news feed and featured articles about the issues. Additionally there is a college campus specific information and resource hub where users can read, listen to and watch survivor testimonies to learn how others recover from the trauma of violence. This module also gives users the chance to upload and share their own experiences with violence.
Specifically, Shatter The Silence features a “one click” approach to emergency services, where people experiencing a threatening situation can access through the click of a button 911 services, the RAINN Hotline to get immediate support from trained violence intervention specialists who can also connect them to local advocate services, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and a help feature that sends a pre-programmed message with your time and location to pre-designated contacts. Along these same lines, PAVE and SOC have partnered with Glympse to incorporate geolocation functionality so users can “Share their Where” in potentially dangerous situations with trusted friends and family.
It is important to note that all of the call features on the application can be accessed with TTY so that any hearing impaired users will be able to access support services.
In addition to emergency services, the application provides a learning center to educate users about different aspects of sexual and dating violence. First it encourages users to review the myths, facts and statistics to help them realize how many people are effected by sexual violence. Then it provides a section on how to be prepared, to know your risks and threats and how to protect yourself against them. The Be Prepared section incorporates the Glympse functionality and includes information about alcohol related sexual violence.
Next the learn section provides a check list for survivors about what they should to after an assault, how they should seek help, and a discussion of what it looks like to report an incident of sexual violence. This check list will be duplicated in the emergency section, and also includes links to the RAINN hot line.
Another important aspect of the learning center teaches users how to support a survivor if one should disclose to them. It is proven that how the first person a survivor discloses to reacts will greatly affect their healing process. This module of the learning center equips users with skills to help users provide a safe space for survivors. The module includes a straightforward video PSA that PAVE created for America’s Most Wanted online “Safety Center.”
Additionally, the Learning Center uses interactive quizzes and multi-media educational tools to teach users how to engage in bystander intervention and how alcohol and drugs exacerbate the prevalence of sexual and dating violence. The interactive quizzes are a teaching tool to help users assess how much they know about the issue of sexual and dating violence and also ascertain whether or not they have been assaulted, because often times a victim has a hard time understanding what has happened to them. Additionally there is a quiz through which to evaluate the health of your own dating relationship.
The learning center uses audio, video and text to disseminate the information so that all kids of learners and users will be able to get the most information as possible.
Also, Given the gravity of the information provided in the Shatter The Silence application, there will be an icon at the top right of every page of the application to disguise the screen and protect the users autonomy when in public.
Shatter the Silence: Survivor Testimony and Sharing Center
Part of PAVE’s mission is to encourage survivors of sexual and dating violence to speak up and speak out about their assaults. Sharing their stories not only unites and empowers survivors everywhere to know that they are not alone, but it also helps the individuals healing process by giving them a voice to take charge and help prevent violence from happening to others. The Survivor Testimony section includes written, audio and video testimony from individuals throughout the country that have a story to tell. PAVE Founder Angela Rose even shares her own story here. Testimony is not just in the form of story sharing. Survivors often share poetry, music, art and video they have created as an outlet for dealing with their traumatic experiences. There is also an opportunity to listen to the inspiring prose of renowned slam poet Steve Connell and the music of award winning actress Angelica Page, who have both shared their voice through the art of sound and word.
The Survivor Testimony module is interactive. Not only can users watch, read and listen to other’s testimonies, they can share their own story but uploading an audio, written or video testimony. This section also offers a community forum through the blogfrog.com that allows users to discuss the testimonies or any issues of sexual violence in an open forum. The forum will be moderated by PAVE and SOC so as to prevent any malicious or triggering content.
The PAVE Today module connects users to PAVE’s interactive up to date website. The module connects to PAVE’s social media streams from Twitter and Facebook so users have the opportunity to get action alerts for things like signing a petition or getting involved in arts based poster or post card campaign. They also get PAVE’s newsfeed which boasts several articles a week discussing current events in the sexual violence prevention world, such as new techniques, breakthroughs, and legal battles being faced by survivors. Access to the website allows users to access even more content for learning how to prevent sexual and dating violence.
Security on Campus
The Security on Campus module similarly connects users to SOC’s website. However, it also provides college aged students with information about their rights on campus. Sexual and dating violence is even more prevalent on college campuses. This module starts the discussion about what that is and provides specified preventative information for tailored to the college demographic.
The last module the Shatter the Silence mobile application is the Get Involved section (this section has not as of the date of submission been built into the prototype). The Get Involved module lets users know how they can teach others how to prevent sexual violence. This section recapitulates other sections, like the sharing and uploading their own testimony and getting involved in the blogfrog community forum, but also teaches college students how to start a sexual and dating violence prevention student organization on their campus and teaches users how to do interactive arts based awareness campaigns in their communities.
Finally the Shatter the Silence application will be continually updated with the most up to date, professionally vetted information and prevention techniques. As social media functionality expands, so will the app. Both PAVE and SOC are committed to popularizing the app so it reaches as many potential users as possible. Both PAVE and SOC have regular speaking engagements on college campuses that reach as many as 2000 students in a single meeting. Additionally we plan to network through our chapters and affiliate organizations, at our many conference appearances, our websites and social media outlets. This easy to use, interactive application will do wonders to educate Americans, especially those that are in the target, college aged, population, to prevent sexual and dating violence from occurring in their own lives and the lives of others. Please vote for PAVE and Security on Campus’ mobile application to Shatter the Silence of sexual and dating violence!