by Lynn Geiger
One of the powers that all of us have is the power to help prevent childhood sexual abuse. But how, you may be asking yourself?
As a supporter of the Traverse Bay CAC, I recently attended a prevention program offered to people in our community, including employees of the Traverse City Area Public Schools. I don’t have children. I don’t work with them on a daily basis. But I have friends with children who I care deeply about. So, I decided to attend and see what I could learn.
The program, Darkness to Light’s “Stewards of Children,” is a nationally-recognized, two-hour training that shares techniques for adults to protect children from abuse, discusses how to talk to them about abuse, and also how to report suspected abuse to authorities. Additionally, this training helps to protect adults from unwittingly creating situations where child abuse could occur. The training is free to our community thanks to funding from the Oleson Foundation, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Schmuckal Family Foundation, Hagerty, Exchange Club of Traverse City, and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
The program was led by the CAC’s Prevention Coordinator, Jourdan Dean, and Jayne Mohr, Chair of the CAC Board. It began with an anonymous short questionnaire asking each of us to rate our level of comfort and knowledge when it comes to the topic of child sexual abuse. I rated myself as pretty uncomfortable and pretty uninformed. The trainers then request you dedicate the training to a specific child in your life. I picked a friend’s nine-year-old daughter.
As far as the facts, this is the big one I took away: one in 10 children experience sexual abuse, and in nearly all of those situations the victim knows his or her abuser – either a family member or someone the family trusts. Remember the lesson about “stranger danger?”
Knowing that startling statistic, what can I do to help prevent it from happening? The best strategy, according to the trainers, is to minimize the opportunity. Since 80 percent of incidents happen in one-on-one situations, working to reduce or eliminate the possibility of intimate scenarios with adults and even older children is something any of us can try to do. I now know that where I least expect something inappropriate to be happening is where I need to be looking.
The next section of the training focused on how to talk about abuse – everything from using the proper name for all body parts starting when children are babies and toddlers to body safety discussions with young children on through the teenage years. The trainers stressed that offenders often use a child’s lack of knowledge about what is appropriate and what isn’t to keep them silent. It’s so important that kids become the bosses of their bodies.
So, what do I do if I suspect abuse – either by recognizing physical, emotional or behavioral signs – or a child discloses abuse to me? I trust my gut or I believe the child and I report it. Concerned about overreacting, or misunderstanding a situation? I learned I shouldn’t be. You are just making a report. Dial 1.855.444.3911 and a staff member of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will help you in making a report. State what you have observed or suspect, and let the professionals take it from there.
At the end of the session, the trainers had us complete the same questionnaire we did at the beginning. This time around I felt more comfortable and informed, and ready to use my power of prevention.
Contact Jourdan Dean at email@example.com for more info about upcoming prevention training.