Boy, will we miss Oprah! We will especially miss her because she became the empowering voice behind the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Thanks to Oprah, the silence surrounding childhood sexual abuse has been broken. When this legendary woman came forward years ago and shared her story about being sexually abused as a child, it opened the door to others who believed they were alone in their pain and suffering. Oprah became a friend, a confidant, and a role model to millions of people. "This happened to me…I survived…You can too!” she confidently said.
As mental health professionals, we know that sharing your personal story about abuse can be the beginning of the healing process. Through her sharing, Oprah inspired women, men, professional athletes, politicians, actors, actresses, and musicians to share their stories. As heartbreaking as it is to hear these stories, they have helped countless others and have made talking about childhood sexual abuse less taboo.
Everyday it seems like there’s story upon story about yet another child being harmed. It’s time for lawmakers, politicians, and the president to realize that every child deserves the right to be safe and to learn the skills needed to help PREVENT child abuse. We need prevention education MANDATED in elementary schools across the nation.
Why? Because as the statistics show, 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually exploited before their 18th birthday. Every 10 seconds a child is abused. Those numbers reflect only the children who REPORT the abuse, and most do not tell anyone. This is an epidemic and we need to treat it as one by helping all children learn how to keep themselves safe, as well as educate adults on signs, symptoms, and appropriate boundaries. Adults need to know what to do if a child comes to them to disclose, which can be hard when it’s the perpetrator is someone in the family. Shockingly, sixty-eight percent of the time a child is harmed by a family member and ninety percent of the time it is by someone they know! Adults need to realize how difficult it is for a child to disclose and how rare it is for a child to lie about abuse…..BELIEVE THEM!!! Your response to their disclosure can make a child feel either powerful or powerless!
How can we help more children? Continue to break the cycle of silence that persists around sexual abuse and in doing so, hope that others will have the courage to come forward. Make it the norm in your home, in preschools, elementary schools, houses of worship, and among your neighbors to talk with children about the rights they have to keep their bodies safe. Tell children directly that their bodies are special, their bodies belong to them, and touches can be safe or unsafe. Teach children not to keep secrets that make them uncomfortable or confused, and read empowering books with them regarding the rights they have over their bodies. All children should be receiving the same message: “There is no topic we cannot discuss–even sexual abuse is a safe subject to talk about.” With this message, children will gain an understanding of their rights and how to keep themselves safe, and they will become EMPOWERED!! To do this we need to provide all children and adults with prevention education.
The next part is to always trust your intuition–it is rarely wrong! Think to yourself, "what would I want someone to do to protect my child?" Would you want someone to turn a blind eye or would you want them to protect your kid? If you suspect a child is being abused, CALL the authorities. If you’re not sure what number, call 911 or your local child abuse hotline. This is not an easy thing to do. Fear of the backlash or self-doubt that your reporting will more hurtful than helpful to the child prevent lots of people from doing the right thing and reporting. BUT, we must always err on the side of protecting the child. Educating ourselves on these issues as parents, as good citizens, is important. It takes a village to keep children safe. Oprah may be leaving us, but the effects of her disclosure and years of talking about child sexual abuse can still have powerful effects on the way we think about keeping our children safe from this pernicious act.
Our book, My Body is Special and Belongs to Me!, addresses the issues of safe and unsafe touch secrets, private parts, boundaries, and how to get help in a developmentally appropriate, fun and natural way for children to understand. The extensive parent section can help you in your efforts to educate your children and keep them safe as well. www.kidsafefoundation.org/products All Proceeds from our books go directly to our 501(c) 3 nonprofit to bring prevention education to all families. For more information on how to talk to your children about their personal safety, visit our web site www.kidsafefoundation.org