Monday, December 19, 2011

Keeping our Children Safe

Below is an email I received through one of the community groups I belong to. I do not know the writer personally, but feel that in the spirit of her message we should share it with as many nurturing adults as we can. Please take the time to read it, think about it, and share it. 

Dear Friends and Community Members,

The recent events at Penn State have reminded me that we must be vigilant, educated and prepared to take action to prevent and/or stop the sexual abuse of children.  We all want to protect our children, but many of the most caring and concerned parents are not fully educated about the realities of child sexual abuse.  Sadly I personally know far too many people who have been through this type of trauma and the effects are life long.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have worked with many people of all ages who have suffered at the hands of abusers and too often they bear the burden in silence.  So I decided that I wanted to share some information regarding the prevalence, prevention, intervention and treatment of children suffering from sexual abuse.  

When it comes to the safety of children, silence is not an option.

This is a very disturbing issue so we may prefer to think, that we are careful and our kids are safe, but tragically no one can ignore this issue.  So I am asking everyone to please take an uncomfortable 10 minutes to read this difficult information and look matter in the eye.  Bringing this matter into the light is the only way to protect our children.  The more we know and children know, in age appropriate ways, the more likely it is that we can prevent and/or quickly discover and put an end to any type of sexual abuse.  If you feel you know all of this, please take the time to refresh your knowledge and maybe learn something new.  I am hopeful that this information will help you take steps in your daily life which will support the safety children.  Also please forward this email to other people or groups who work with children.

This email includes:      
Information about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, what to look for, how to prevent abuse, what warning signs to look for, and where to go for help if you are concerned or have discovered abuse.  There are important resources and links at the end of the email.

Thank you,
"We live in a beautiful, safe neighborhood. None of these children could be victims of sexual abuse, right?"

In fact, IT IS HIGHLY likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused. 

•    Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. This means that in any classroom or neighborhood full of children, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse. 
•    nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under. 
•    The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old. 
•    Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight. 
•    50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are under age twelve. 
•    Most child victims never report the abuse. 
•    Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood. It is also likely that you know an abuser. The greatest risk to children doesn't come from strangers but from friends and family. 
•    30-40% of children are abused by family members. 
•    As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts- abusers frequently try to form a trusting relationship with parents. 
•    Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children. 
•    People who abuse children look and act just like every one else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children. 
•    Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools. 
One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. And even then, most failed to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend or family member. Many parents may have addressed the issue of "strangers" approaching their children but most abuse happens with people the child knows and trusts. Very often parents do not give their children skills to deal with this, or how to deal with child and child play that has gone past normal. 

What Are Some Things That Adults Can Do to Help Prevent Sexually Harmful Behavior Between Children?

Set and respect physical boundaries.
Model caring for your own body, and teach children how to care for theirs. Educate your child about their own body and about their “private parts” (body parts that are covered up with a modest bathing suit). Let your child know that they can set personal physical boundaries that feel comfortable to them. Make sure that all members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping, and other personal activities. As adults we are responsible for modeling the boundaries we want our children to honor. Even young children should be respected and their preferences accommodated when possible

Encourage children respect boundaries.

Create environments at home and in your social groups where children will see that emotionally or sexually aggressive behaviors are no tolerated and that hurtful behaviors are challenged. Teach children to value respectful interactions. 
Much of what young people see in the adult world ignores or even ridicules the importance of treating others respectfully and of demanding the same for oneself. Highly sexualized images in advertising, music lyrics, video games and films can sometimes make it difficult for adolescents and  even young children—to distinguish between innocent experimentation and sexually harmful behaviors. 

Demonstrate to children that it is all right to say “no” and that they need to accept “no” from others.
Teach children when it is okay to say “no”—for example when they do not want to play, or be tickled, hugged or kissed. Encourage them to always speak up if someone acts in a way that makes them uncomfortable, even if they were unable to object or to say “no” at the time. Let them know that if they feel uncomfortable with a touch, to trust their feelings and that it is OK to talk about this. Teach them they can tell a relative or friend "no" and that if the other person does not respect this that they can talk about this. Teach and practice with them saying "no" in a strong way. 
Teach children that it is "not appropriate" for adults or other children to act in a sexual way with them. Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch and give them the proper terminology for their body parts. Talk about the difference between “good touch vs. bad touch” with words and phrases your child can understand.

If your child does not want to hug or kiss grandma or grandpa, don’t force them to hug or kiss people they don’t want to. It’s sending the wrong message to children, and teaches kids to ignore their confusing or uncomfortable feelings to the point where they do it anyway. You still can teach them the appropriate way to greet by having them walk up and say the greeting with eye contact. 

Teach children that they must listen to and accept others’ boundaries and privacy.  When a child tells them they do not want to be tickled or hugged that they need to respect this. 

Stay aware of how children are interacting with one another.
Be alert to the warning signs that your child, or another child or young person, may be acting in ways that make it difficult for other children to set a limit, or in ways that are sexually aggressive or abusive. Seek information and help as soon as you feel uncomfortable. Don’t keep it a secret.

Monitor play dates with young children

Yes, sometimes we want our children to go off and play for hours but children need to be monitored. When young children close the door we need to be aware of what is going on behind the door. Make it your policy that the door stays open and/or  check in often and assess the situation. If clothes are coming off (not just to change into dress up) and staying off- the children need to get their clothes back on, be reminded of what is appropriate play and be back  in sight of the parent. 
Know that inappropriate sexual play can be two females just as it can be between a male and female. 

Talk with children, and listen to what they have to say.
Let your young child know that they should not worry about telling you anything, even if it seems like the parent would get mad. Adults and adolescents who sexually abuse children usually rely on secrecy. They often try to silence children and to build trust with adults, counting on them to be silent if they are confused. The first step to breaking through this secrecy is to develop an open and trusting relationship with your children. This means listening carefully to their fears and concerns. It is important to talk with them about sexuality, offer accurate answers to their questions, and to be comfortable using correct terms for parts of the body. You can say to your child, "If someone asks you to keep a secret that you feel uncomfortable about it, you can share it with me, we can talk about it and  I will not get mad with you for telling me." 

Take sensible precautions when other people are caring for your child
Be thoughtful about whom you choose to care for your children. Find out as much as you can about baby-sitters and don’t leave your child with anyone you have doubts about. If your child is unhappy about spending time with a particular person, talk to the child about his or her concerns.

Regularly remind children of other trusted adults whom they can talk to

Sometimes the child or young person whose behavior concerns us is a close family member or the son or daughter of a friend. In those situations, it may be especially painful for us, as parents and caregivers, to admit what may be happening. It may be even harder for a child to tell that someone the family cares about is harming her or him. An adult outside the immediate family is often in a better position to acknowledge concerns and to take protective actions. Let your child know that not only can they come to the parent -but name other people the child can go to if they need to talk to someone. 

Know the warning signs of possible childhood  sexual abuse
Showing unusually aggressive behavior toward family members, friends, toys, and pets
Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
Engaging in persistent sexual play with friends, toys or pets
Has new words for private parts
Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal 
Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
Indicating a sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person
Having symptoms indicating evidence of physical traumas to the genital or anal area.
Beginning wetting the bed. 

Learn where to go, who to call and how to react
If a child discloses sexual abuse - you want to respond calmly and listen to what the child has to say. If you react with anger, disbelief or shame your child may  shut down and feel even guiltier. Don't panic. Listen, encouraging  the child to talk without asking  leading questions, and thank the child for telling you as it must have taken courage to speak on such a matter.

Then it is critical to seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. By getting support early on you can help  stop the continued emotional trauma related to secrecy and shame. 

If you suspect that child is being or has been abused make a report to  Child Welfare Services. Make the call. You can choose to be anonymous if you wish . Take action in all cases of suspected child sexual abuse. 
To report child abuse and neglect, call the 24-Hour Report Line at 240-777-4417  
Child Welfare Services - 240- 777-3500, Main, TTY 240-777-3556

If you or your child is a victim of sexual abuse VAAP can connect you to support services. 
Montgomery County Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VASAP)
1301 Piccard Drive, Suite 4100, 
Rockville, MD 20850
  240-777-1355 weekdays
  240-777-4357 24-hour crisis line
  240-777-1347 TTY
  240-777-1329 FAX

Break the Cycle of Silence
If child sexual abuse is part of your history, do not keep silent. By breaking the cycle of silence, you will break free from the trauma you carry within you and begin an important healing process. And you will help protect other children from suffering the way you did. There are 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America today.
Much of the information presented here is from the Stop it Now and Darkness to Light website They are useful links to explore and educate yourself. 

On the sites you can read about examples of what is appropriate play and what is not, the signs of abuse and more. Please check them out. 

Michel Martin the NPR host of Tell Me More recently did a segment on " Teaching Kids about Sexual Abuse, Its OK to tell"

Stop it Now

Darkness to Light
For additional information, please contact: 
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
3615 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Phone: (202) 966-7300
Fax:  (202) 966-2891 
15757 North 58th Street
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
Phone: (480) 922-8212
Fax: (480) 922-7061
TDD: (800) 222-4453
Toll Free: (800) 422-4453
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Children's Bureau/ACYF
1250 Maryland Avenue, SW
Eighth Floor
Washington, DC 20024
(703) 385-7565
(800) 394-3366
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
Charles B. Wang International Children's Building
699 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 274-3900
Fax: (703) 274-2200
Toll-Free: (800)-843-5678
National Center for Victims of Crime
2000 M Street NW, Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 467-8700
Fax: (202) 467-8701
TTY/TDD: 1-800-211-7996 
Email: gethelp@... 
National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC)
Administrative Offices
210 Pratt Avenue
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
Phone: (256) 533-5437
Fax: (256) 534-6883
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street, NW
Suite 406
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 544-1034
Fax:  (202) 544-3556
Toll-Free:  (800) 656-HOPE (4673)

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