By: Paula Sellars, M.S.W., Author/Director, Stewards of Children
Safe adults are the first line of defense against child sexual abuse (CSA). In fact, the adults in a child’s life are most responsible for whether sexual abuse occurs because adults are most capable of the judgment and skill that CSA prevention requires.
Understanding how sexual predators groom children is actually quite nuanced. Reducing the opportunity for sexual abuse in organizations takes planning and knowledge. Talking to children about their body boundaries in an age appropriate, non-scary way is a skill.
These skills don’t simply come with being an adult.
A safe adult is a trained adult.
In the early days of tackling child sexual abuse as a society, our instinct was to teach children to try to prevent it.
“Run,” we said. “Tell someone.”
“This kind of touch is good, this kind is bad.”
We hoped that by educating our children, they could ward off sexual abuse, or at least sound the alarm that it was happening.
But we have to remember that a child having to exercise this learning means he’s already a target at best, or already sexually abused at worst. A child need not “run” unless someone is already threatening her. She doesn’t have to “tell someone” unless something bad has already happened.
Yes, educating our children is critical to a movement to end child sexual abuse, but this what is called secondary prevention. Secondary prevention aims to lessen the impact of an injury that has already occurred.
Today we’ve learned a few things, and we’ve become a lot more proactive. We know that adults are the first line of defense – a primary line of defense. Primary prevention aims to prevent an injury before it occurs.
In the case of CSA prevention, this means knowing what sexual abuse is and how it takes place.
It means eliminating isolated, one-on-one interactions with children.
It means empowering children to talk to us fearlessly, and us talking to them about safe personal boundaries and sex.
It means recognizing signs and reaching out, skillfully, to kids who show those signs.
And it means reacting responsibly to disclosures by a child, discoveries of sexual abuse, or suspicion of boundary violations by our peers.
On August 30 at 10/9c, TLC will air “Breaking the Silence,” a documentary filmed in partnership with Darkness to Light and RAINN that examines the issue of child sexual abuse from the perspective of its survivors and those working to protect children. As an adult, you can watch this documentary and understand what it means to be a primary line of defense for the children you love.
Will you join us?