By Rae Luskin, Guest Writer
Did you know that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18. Did you know that every 2 minutes a child is sexually assaulted? Did you know that sexual abuse spans all socio economic, religious and ethnic groups?
Many abuse victims suffer the violation in silence, either blaming themselves or being afraid no one will believe them. The research says that 30% of victims never tell anyone. The survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience a high rate of physical problems, mental health issues and social problems. The physical and emotional problems can last for a lifetime.
I want to emphasize that it just did not happen to that child or family. It affects all of us in a community. It touches every life when it leads to losses of trust, decrease in self esteem, prostitution, more violence, when it leads to eating disorders, substance abuse, or suicide. If we want to create a safe place for our children then we must educate ourselves. If we want to create a community that does not tolerate sexual abuse then we must speak out!
1. Learn the facts about child abuse. Remember that 85% of the time the child knows and trusts the abuser. It is not just stranger danger.
2. Minimize the opportunity. Consider not leaving your children in other people’s homes. Avoid situations where people you don’t know will be present. Tell caregivers in front of the children, that if they are uncomfortable or afraid in any situation they should call you.
3. Stay alert to the signs of sexual abuse. They may not be obvious. Possible signs include: nervousness around adults; reluctance to go home; secretiveness; nightmares, withdrawn or become suddenly aggressive; running away; sexual knowledge beyond their years. See a more complete list at www.loveourchildrenusa.org
4. Educate your children about appropriate sexual behavior and what constitutes unwanted or uncomfortable physical contact. Tell your children what an abuser might say. My grandfather said” this is our little secret” and it was.
5. Listen to your children. Give your children permission to cry, protest whenever they think someone has crossed a boundary. Tell them they can come to you and talk about anything, there is a no one gets in trouble policy.
6. Make a plan, where to go or who to call or how you will react if your child comes to you. Check out your local resources. Practice this conversation.
7. Act on your suspicions. Listen to your gut. Being silent can contribute to a lifetime of pain for a child. My friend Charla was jogging by the local elementary school. She saw a man standing by a beat up old car with out of state license plates. So she stopped. She engaged him in conversation, who are you waiting for? Does your child go to school here? Where are you from? Eventually he left and she reported him to the local authorities.
8. Challenge the media or advertising when they sexualize children! Write letters, boycott products. I recently saw the play TRUST about cyber predators produced by David Schwimmer. The movie will be released this fall. The father in the play created advertising for tweens that was overtly sexual and exploitive. Pay attention.
9. If you suspect abuse you must report it! Tell the doctor, the police, call your local protection agency or 1 800 25 ABUSE, the National Child Abuse Hotline.
10. Ask what policies and protocols are in place at school, work or your religious institution! Maybe your school has a good touch/bad touch program. Ask if your teachers or clergy have been trained in how to handle abuse situations.
11. Keep the conversation going. Help raise awareness of sexual abuse with your friends by choosing a book for your book club or a film for viewing. Speak about it at organizations and events. Let me be that voice at your next event.
The Chinese character for crisis is a combination of two words, danger and opportunity. We know what the danger is. This is your opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our children and make our communities safer. Get involved, volunteer, speak out for all the children of the world.
Rae Luskin, www.survivorsoulutions.com (Go to the website for a FREE Healing Exercise download.)
Rae has been an artist, teacher and community activist in the greater Chicago area for the last 15 years. In 1999, she founded Art & Soul Connections, which is dedicated to self-discovery and healing through the arts.