By Joyce Prusak
Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
In September, Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center conducted nine forensic interviews, four medical exams for children, and 16 children received therapy. Coffee County sees more cases of child abuse compared to other counties.
To prevent child abuse and to ensure children would let you know if someone tries to talk with them or touch them in an inappropriate way, it’s important to have honest conversations with your children and to build trusting relationships.
Tell your children their private parts are special and ask them to let you know if anyone tries to touch their private parts. Use proper names (vagina, penis) for private parts. We teach children the proper words for nose and ears, so, why should their private parts be called differently than their actual names? If you use proper names, it will be easier for children to describe an incident if someone approaches them in an inappropriate manner.
Start these conversations as early as children are able to talk and understand – it’s never too early. Be clear and specific. One way to describe the areas no one should touch is by saying, “No one should touch the areas covered by your bathing suit.”
I recommend approaching the subject of sex when the child is about 7 or 8. It may seem like it is too early, but it’s not. Use language that’s easy to understand, and you don’t have to get into details. It’s important to begin these conversations early because if you are the first person your children talk with about this topic, your children will know they can come to you for more information later when they have more questions.
Tell your children they can speak with you about anything and you will believe them. Teach them it is okay to say “no” if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, even when that’s a family member or a friend. Let your children know they don’t have to hug or kiss people, even family members, if they don’t want to. It’s really important to teach children healthy boundaries.
Talk with your children about the difference between surprise and secret. Let them know that while surprises might be fun, secrets are not good. Tell your children they shouldn’t keep secrets from you. Ask your children to let you know if someone wants them to keep a secret from you.
When you have conversations, avoid phrases such as these: “Don’t let anyone touch you. Don’t let anyone see your private parts.” By saying “don’t let,” we’re placing the responsibility and the burden on our children. And if your child has endured abuse, he or she might be afraid to tell you, thinking, “I let it happen, so it must be my fault.”
Say this instead: No one should touch you. No one should ask you to see your private parts. By using these phrases, we’re letting children know that whatever happens, the adult carries the responsibility and children are not to blame.
To ensure children in our community stay safe, learn more about child abuse prevention. Visit www.coffeecounycac.org, follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media, and sign up for a Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training session. Thanks to a grant awarded to the Coffee County CAC, we are able to offer child abuse prevention training free to community members.