Child s*xual abuse prevention is difficult under the best of circumstances. But if you are a survivor of childhood abuse, that path may – at times – seem too painful to navigate.
In her Beyond Surviving podcast, Rachel Grant – a child sexual abuse recovery coach – and I dig in to practical ways to minimize the risk of abuse, how to recognize the warning signs of abuse, and how to respond to a disclosure, discovery, or suspicion of abuse. And, how this plays out with someone who has experienced childhood trauma themselves.
I recently got a text from a friend of mine. (We’ll call him Sebastian.)
I practically did a jig when I read Sebastian’s text. He and his wife are long-time friends…almost like family…so they know what I do for a living and we have had many conversations over the years. When I called him to talk about his question, he said, “See…I have learned some things from you through the years!”
Conversations matter! You hear me repeatedly ask (beg?) people to talk about child sexual abuse prevention. Now you can see why.
It creates community and reduces a sense of isolation that can come with youth protection (all the cool kids are doing it!);
It shows anyone who has ill-intent with your children that this is not something your family sweeps under the carpet; and
We can actually learn from each other!
Back to the story…
“How do I communicate with this high school girl?” I honestly felt the angst in his question.
Let’s keep it simple…include her mother. “Of course!” exclaimed Sebastian. “Of course!”
Text the girl and ask for her mom’s cell number so you can create a group text. Then take a screenshot of said text so you can show (if ever needed) the content of your only 1:1 conversation with her.
Then start the group text explaining that because ‘girl’ is a minor, you’d like to include her mother in all conversations. That way the girl, her mom and you are all on the same page moving forward.
Not so much. You have no idea how much pushback I get on this policy/practice from organizations and coaches. Nobody ever has a good reason not to do this, other than…it’s not how they have always done it.
There shouldn’t be any out-of-program communication between coaches and minor athletes, and if there is program-related communication, make sure it isn’t 1:1. Include the whole team or your assistant coach or a parent.
If you are uncomfortable asking this question out-of-the blue, I have a few suggestions for you; feel free to pick whichever one most resonates with you.
Please don’t be. Your most important job is protecting your child; not making a sports organization administrator comfortable.
So? For some people, these conversations never become ‘comfortable’ so we have to figure out how to step through our discomfort to do what we need to do for our child.
The best organizations have such a policy and are happy to answer this question.
If they don’t have a policy on coach and minor athlete communication? Then they probably don’t have any athlete protection policies & procedures, which is an entirely separate blog. This is the opportunity to let them know this is important to you and it’s something you will look for next season or next enrollment.
And, parents…whether the organization has this policy or not, please make it a family rule that if an adult ever reaches out to your child, they are expected to loop in mom or dad. They don’t have to make a big deal about it; they just add you to the communication. This should be the rule if your child is 6 or 16 years old.
When you’re ready, let me know when I can help your family, organization or community protect our youth with Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Training or Youth Protection Policies & Procedures.
The first step in teaching children about Body Safety is the foundational message of “YOUR BODY BELONGS TO YOU.” We can start using those words and modeling that behavior at any stage of a child’s development…it’s never too early and it’s never too late.
We can use the infant years as the time to introduce this message/philosophy. For example, when you change your baby’s diaper you can say, “I’m going to wipe your penis right now, to get it clean.” Or, “Is it okay if I wipe your penis now to get it clean?” He/she/they won’t understand your words or your deeds, but they will eventually recognize a pattern which will become a family habit…a way of doing things.
It’s also never too late to introduce the message to your children…whether they are toddler, school-age or high school. If your child is young enough, you can just start introducing this message and modeling the behavior without any explanation. If your child is middle school or older, try saying something, “I read something today that I really like and I want to share it with you…”
How do you reinforce this Body Safety message on an ongoing basis?
Don’t make your children hug and kiss anyone they don’t want to. Anyone.
If your child is upset, ask him/her/them how they would like to be consoled. Ask if they would like you to hug them. *Sidenote: I understand that this might sound or feel awkward, but I promise you it’s not. My daughter doesn’t like hugs and I’m a BIG hugger! When she is sad or upset, I actually ask her if she wants me to hug her. Sometimes she tells me ‘yes’ and sometimes she tells me ‘no.’ It defeats the purpose if I’m causing anxiety for her when I’m trying to console her.
If you are a coach, ask your athlete if it is okay to spot them a certain way or touch them a certain way to adjust a movement.
So, what are you waiting for? You can start today!
Want more tips to prevent child sexual abuse in your family or organization? Email me at email@example.com to schedule a call or follow me on Instagram @tobystarkpreention.