Got Moxie? Summoning the Courage to Intervene

Categories: Take Two For Prevention

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As part of our Two Minutes for Prevention series, Stewards of Children® author Paula Sellars provides additional insights and experience about the topic covered in the video below. 

This Two Minutes for Prevention video could be pretty discouraging. The news of it may even make you mad.  ‘Make you want to blame the messenger.

But the fact remains that 90% of children who are sexually abused know their abuser. A close friend, a trusted teacher, an older cousin, even one’s own boyfriend or spouse – a person we know and trust is the most likely, statistically, to abuse our child.

Knowledge is power, but how do we take this in? To be loved, to bond, to trust and be trusted is perhaps the best life has to offer. How do we metabolize and mobilize around the truth about child sexual abuse in a way that doesn’t contaminate our best relationships with fear and distrust?

That’s the bind we’re in. Or so it seems.

But let’s break it down into actual prevention steps and see where we land.

First, we must let our children know how much we love them, and that protecting them is more important to us than anything else. We should tell them that most people are good and helpful, but that if they feel afraid of or feel uncomfortable with someone, we want to know about it no matter who it is.

A colleague of mine once said, “Ninety percent of child sexual abuse incidents come from someone we know. Ninety percent of the examples we give children about boundary violations should be about people they know.” I think this makes a lot of sense, no matter how challenging it sounds.

“If anyone touches you in your private places you should let me know. So if your grandpa makes you uncomfortable, you can tell me. Or say if Mr. Tom your baseball coach asks you to go somewhere alone with him, you can say no, and I’d want to know that. Even if someone like your cousin Max or Emily put you in an uncomfortable position, like asking you to look at naked pictures, it’s ok to let me know. My job is to protect you and help you have good relationships. I’ll never be mad at you for letting me know these kind of things, even if it is someone we really love a lot.”

We’re not saying we expect any of these people to be abusive. Not at all. But we are sending the message that we’re open to hearing about our children’s experiences and concerns, no matter who’s involved.

Second, this unfortunate fact means that no boundary violation gets a pass. Not when 1 in 10 children are abused.

I remember several years back when my neighbor’s child was just three or four years old. For whatever reason, she was very drawn to me and when she would see me outside in the driveway or on the porch, she’d want to sit on my lap and talk to me. It was very endearing and innocent. Still, the first time it happened I asked her then-very-young parents, “Would it be ok if “Mary” sat on my lap?”  I could see and feel the question register in them. In that tiny little moment, I cheerfully sent a message that this lap sitting was not just a given. Rather it was about consent, permission and awareness; and they picked it up. We never had a big discussion about boundaries, but I could feel this simple question made an impact on the way they saw themselves as parents. I think that tiny interaction called forward their authority – their stewardship of their child’s safety. Any of us can do this for young parents, and in front of the child is even better!

Those who abuse children generally groom them first over time. They take time to situate themselves in our lives so that they can have unprotected access to the child. You’ll hear it in the video. They gradually take liberties with the child’s boundaries and erode those boundaries, until the child and sometimes other adults around that child become passive about their alarm bells.

The fact is we will see boundary violations much more often than we will witness actual sexual abuse, or even receive a disclosure from a child. So when a boundary violation occurs, we have to summon some moxie and intervene. In Stewards of Children® we say:  1. Describe the behavior, 2. Set a limit, and 3. Move on.

  1. We don’t let one child ride in a car alone with just one adult. (Describing the boundary violation.)
  2. You can take Demitri home from practice only if there is another adult to go with you. (Setting a limit.)
  3. Let’s wait for his dad. (Moving on – that is, providing the alternative action.)

It’s not about embarrassing someone or making a scene, but we are playing a heads up game and intervening in boundary violations, even in a seemingly innocuous situation.

And let’s not forget that if a person is trustworthy, he or she too will be interested in the safety of the child. Neither talking to children about protecting them even in their closest relationships, nor intervening in boundary violations, harms otherwise healthy relationships.

But if a child is being groomed or abused, these actions may make all the difference.

For more in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®. Find out more at www.D2L.org/Stewards.

Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.

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