5 steps to protect our children from sexual abuse
I confess I am guilty. Guilty of naivety, guilty of burying my head in the sand, guilty of thinking child sexual abuse doesn’t happen here in our little world, in Cayman. My eyes were opened when I attended the Darkness to Light training for prevention of child sexual abuse and learned that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused. In Cayman, the Red Cross believe that figure is closer to 1 in 5.
One of the first things you are asked to do in the two-hour course is write down ten names of children near and dear to you, children you feel responsible for and are willing to protect. I only had to list my own children, plus my nieces and nephews, to reach that number. That’s when the 1 in 10 statistic hits like a slap in the face. It’s a real wake-up call.
We would all prefer to think that child sexual abuse is a problem other people have to deal with. In reality, it is far more widespread than we would like to believe. But by refusing to acknowledge the problem, we are only perpetuating it.
The Darkness to Light training aims to raise awareness and to educate adults how to prevent, recognise and react to child sexual abuse. While it is harrowing to sit and listen to survivor stories, the goal isn’t to terrify you, it’s to empower you and prompt you into action.
Darkness to Light’s 5 steps to protecting our children:
1. LEARN THE FACTS
1 in 10 children are sexually abused. Over 90% of them know their abuser.
2. MINIMISE OPPORTUNITY
Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease risk of abuse.
3. TALK ABOUT IT
Have open conversations with children about our bodies, sex and boundaries.
4. RECOGNISE THE SIGNS
Know the signs of abuse to protect children from further harm.
5. REACT RESPONSIBLY
Understand how to respond to risky behaviours and suspicions or reports of sexual abuse.
Let’s look at No. 2: Minimise opportunity. Most of us entrust our children to the care of others on a regular basis – at school, clubs and summer camps. But have we ever checked on what steps these organisations take to minimise the risk of abuse – do they have a child protection policy, what background checks do they make before hiring, how do they handle one-on-one situations, have they done the Darkness to Light training?
In Cayman, there are no national standards. So to help parents choose safe options for summer camps and after-school activities, the Cayman Islands Red Cross have produced this handy set of questions so you can check what procedures establishments follow. They have also recently launched a “Seal of Protection” programme that organisations will be able to display as confirmation they have a written child protection policy, which includes documented screening and hiring practices, mandatory Darkness to Light training, and 50% staff trained in CPR.
If you think it might feel awkward asking questions of an organisation, it gets a whole lot more awkward at home. What about your babysitter or helper? What about a birthday party sleepover or the teenage son of a friend?
Worries about feeling uncomfortable or causing possible offence should not stop us tackling the subject, if the alternative is exposing our child to a potentially risky situation. A conversation setting out what behaviour you are comfortable with, and what you are not, may be all that is needed. Letting the other person know that your children will communicate any behaviour they know to be inappropriate can also be effective.
Which leads us to no. 3: Talk about it. We teach our children how to cross a road, how to drive a car, how to navigate many of life’s hazards. We don’t let them attempt anything remotely dangerous without giving them guidance first. So why do we so often fail to prepare children for something as tricky as sexual relationships?
Children are naturally curious, so it follows they will be inquisitive about their bodies. Instead of letting them garner (mis)information from others, surely it would be better if we gave them the facts. Books can be a great help with this, especially those geared to specific age groups, and I was recommended “The Underwear Rule: PANTS” as a resource for teaching children about private parts and appropriate touch. Bath time is often a good opportunity to start up the conversation.
It’s important to be consistent with the message that their body is their own. This might mean they no longer have to kiss great aunt Mildred if they don’t want to, and that even you should ask permission before drying them all over with a towel. It can seem unnatural at first, but will quickly become second nature. Children need to understand that no one has the right to touch those parts of their body that would be covered by a swimsuit (with the obvious exception of young children who still need help washing and on the occasion a doctor may need to examine them).
The bottom line is this: the more aware we are as adults and the better informed our children are about their own bodies, the greater the chance we have of reducing that hideous 1 in 10 statistic.
So please help spread the word, talk about it with your family and friends, take the training if you’re interested in learning more, and follow the Darkness to Light steps to protect our children.
If you would like to attend the Darkness to Light training, the Cayman Islands Red Cross runs two courses a month. The next dates are Tuesday 10th May at 6:30pm, Saturday 21st May at 9am, Tuesday 7th June at 6:30pm and Saturday 18th June at 9am. Cost is free. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also visit www.d2l.org for more information.
If you have any concerns about a child at risk, or have been a victim of child sexual abuse yourself, there are several community resources you can contact:
Royal Cayman Islands Police Services: 949-9008 (non-emergency number)
Family Support Unit: 949-6185
Department of Children and Family Services: 949-0290
George Town Hospital: 949-8600
Cayman Islands Crisis Centre: 949-0366
Family Resource Centre: 949-0006