We bury our heads in the sand, tune out the truth and pretend that all is okay in the universe, when it isn’t. How could it be okay when so many children are targets of sexual abuse? The stats are staggering; 90 per cent of the perpetrators are people your child knows and trusts (US Department of Justice). There is no stranger danger here. Globally, approximately 18–19 per cent of women and eight per cent of men disclose being abused as children (UNICEF, 2014).
According to the Child Sex Abuse Prevention and Protection Center:
• 30 per cent of child sexual abuse is never reported.
• 70 per cent of all sexual assaults (including adults) occur to children under 17.
And it gets worse. With the advent of technology, TA-CSA (technology-assisted child sexual abuse) is on the rise. This is a topic unto itself, which I will explore in the next column.
How do you prevent this? Our children are powerless, innocent and vulnerable. We need to give them their power back. There needs to be no confusion on what is right and what is wrong. Our children need autonomy and they need their rights to be outlined clearly. And, like everything, their relationship with the world and with themselves begins with their relationship with you — their parents. Here’s what we can do:
1) Always ask for your child’s permission before you kiss or hug them, when they’re old enough to respond.
I have gotten a lot of pushback about this from parents. That’s my child and I’m going to kiss him/her/them whenever I want! I can’t help myself. I understand. It’s really hard for me to resist my absolutely adorable son. But I do. Why? Because it is HIS body. I want to give him the biggest gift: the ability to say NO. No matter how much someone loves him or he loves them, it is still his body, his rights, and his choice. If over 90 per cent of the perpetrators in this world are people your children know and trust, then they need this knowledge even more urgently. Love does not give someone rights over you. And all of this begins with you. So, please, always ask your children for permission no matter how adorable they look. I know it’s hard but it is vital. Always operate in black and white.
2) Never leave them alone with male staff or relatives
You may have had a houseboy or driver for several years that you trust blindly. But here’s the thing: how well do you know anyone? It’s proven that most perpetrators are male. Do not send your children to school alone with a male driver. Do not allow anyone to tickle them or play with them in a physical manner. Let there be NO confusion about what is right and what is wrong. Remember: black and white.
3) There shouldn’t be any sleepovers till your children are old enough to leave on their own.
I don’t believe in sleepovers for young kids, unless you are at the sleepover too. There is absolutely no need. Why? This gives rise to confusion. It opens up the grey area. You don’t know who is trustworthy and who isn’t. There are boundaries that absolutely do not need to be crossed. If you’re at the sleepover, then great. Otherwise, it should be a hard no, especially if the house has male staff. Always operate in black and white.
This is an extremely difficult topic to write about or even acknowledge. The problem is chronic and prevalent and our children’s lives are at stake. It’s important for us to wake up and see what is right in front of us. Our children need us.