It’s the year of 10 for the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. For 10 years, the Center has been shining a light on child abuse. That’s 10 years of justice, hope and healing for children and their families – for the one in 10 children who are sexually abused across this country.
As we reflect on our first 10 years and look ahead to the next decade, we are building momentum for all the power the number 10 holds. We hope you will use your positive powers by telling 10 people – your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors – about our work to create a world without abuse. If just 10 of our supporters share our important work, then 100 more people could join our cause. Help us magnify our mission!
This month, to kick off our Power of 10 campaign, the CAC is highlighting 10 body safety essentials for children. We hope this will reinforce and support what you are already doing with the children in your lives, or encourage you to take the first step in discussing body safety with young ones in your care.
(Adapted from Body Safety Education by Jayneen Sanders.)
1. Head, shoulders, penis, and toes. Use proper names for all body parts, including genitals, as soon as children start to talk, or even before. It’s best not to use pet or code names because if a child does share information about something that happened, the adult may not understand due to confusion caused by the alternative name.
2. A bubble of personal space. Teach children about boundaries and consent from a young age. Describe a bubble the size of a hula hoop as their personal space. No one has the right to enter the bubble. If someone wants to give a hug or a kiss, he or she should ask first, or the child can tell them to ask. And it’s okay to say “no.” High-fives and fist bumps can be good alternatives.
3. Private parts are private. No one has the right to touch or ask to see a child’s private parts. Additionally, the mouth is considered a private zone since things can be put in a mouth. When children are young and need assistance with bathing always use a washcloth, never a bare hand.
4. Five trusted adults. Have children identify five trusted adults who they can tell if they feel uncomfortable about something, are touched inappropriately or are shown inappropriate images. These should be adults in all the different settings a child experiences regularly. Important: if a child goes to an adult and doesn’t feel heard, it’s important to keep telling until he or she does feel heard.
5. Feeling safe and unsafe. Talk to children about being able to identify what it feels like to be safe as well as unsafe. Questions such as, “How did you feel when you were pushed down the slide and you weren’t ready?” and “How does it feel when we are snuggling together and reading a book?” help children to begin to understand the different feelings that go along with these concepts.
6. Pay attention to warning signs. In an unsafe situation, physical symptoms occur: hearts beat faster, nausea can occur, one might feel like crying. Tell children to pay attention to these early warning signs indicating they may be in an unsafe situation. It doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that something bad is definitely going to happen.
7. Say no to secrets. Explain to children that while surprises are okay and can be really fun, secrets are not okay and can be dangerous. Tell a child that if someone asks him or her to keep a secret, it’s very important to tell one of those five trusted adults. Secrets are a critical part of a perpetrator’s grooming process.
8. Appropriate touch. Discuss with children when it is appropriate to touch private parts. For example, a doctor may need to for a health issue. It is important to stress that they still have a right to say “no.” They also can ask for a safe person to be with them. With bathing, talk about when it’s appropriate for them to take over that task.
9. Body safety talk is everyday talk. It’s important to talk about body safety in normal, everyday conversations and not make it some big deal or special discussion. For example, when watching TV, you can say, “That didn’t look like Johnny liked it when Grandpa pinched his cheek.” Take everyday things and reinforce safety and boundary issues.
10. Keep the conversation going. As children grow, keep talking. Social media and other places children hang out online bring new safety issues to the forefront. They should understand that safety also has to do with seeing things or being shown images that are not appropriate. Teenagers need to understand why it’s not a good idea to take photos and send them to someone, and that consent doesn’t just involve adults. Consent also applies to other children, including friends. It also doesn’t necessarily mean something bad; it could be that they just don’t know about boundaries.