I’ve been taking an online Eager to Learn professional development workshop through the Minnesota Childcare Resource and Referral Network. The name of the course is Stop It Now! Understanding and Responding to Children’s Sexual Behaviors can Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. Stop It Now! is an organization that has developed an innovative approach and many resources to help adults stop child sexual abuse. One of the hallmarks of their program is shifting the responsibility of child sexual abuse prevention from children to adults.
It seems strange that it would be necessary to CHANGE the focus to adults when it comes to preventing sexual abuse. Isn’t that where it should have been all along? On the most basic level, is seems to almost go without saying that it is the job of adults to protect children. But when we think about what has been done in the past, we have been putting a lot of responsibility on kids:
- Don’t talk to strangers. (Except police officers, doctors, your new coach, rarely seen relatives, anyone your parents seem to be embarrassed in front of when you don’t talk…etc.)
- Say “no” if someone touches you inappropriately. (What does inappropriately mean?) In your private area. (Why would they want to do that?)
- Tell an adult if someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable. (You mean like when Grandpa passes gas?)
It’s the job of children to play, learn, be curious, pick up their toys, do their homework, help around the house. The job description for being a kid should NOT include the responsibility to figure out how to stay safe from confusing, unpredictable, strategic assaults from under-cover individuals who are disguised as people they love and trust. Can anyone think of a better recipe for child anxiety? It’s absurd almost to the point of daftness to tell kids that there are people out there who we don’t understand that want to do things to them that they have no context or developmental capacity to comprehend, and that it’s their job to know how to be safe.
Somebody will say to me, “Hang on there! Don’t we want to teach children how to be SAFE? We don’t want them to be getting in the car with strangers.” Of course we don’t. But it’s not strangers in black vans baiting children with candy who are the problem. Lets face it: If “those people” have a bead on your kid, they’ll probably succeed. Just ask Shawn Hornbeck, Ben Ownby, or the families of Jacob Wetterling and Johnny Gosch.
Over 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by the respectful, helpful, caring friends, relatives, and neighbors that we come in contact with every day. As much as 30-40 percent of it is perpetrated by other children and youth. Our children’s playmates. Sorting all that out isn’t a job for kids. It’s a job for all of us.
One of the most innovative things about Stop It Now! is the focus on talking to adults about their own sexual feelings and behaviors. As difficult as it might be for us to accept, there are clearly many adults who are sexually attracted to children. Many of them never act on their feelings, and some do. If we truly want to prevent the sexual abuse of children, adults need to let go of naïve denial and start talking to each other about the complex nature of sexual attraction and how to be individually and socially responsible.
If adults don’t have the experience and tools to handle this issue, how can we expect children to have them? If adults find child sexual abuse emotionally uncomfortable and mentally challenging, how must children feel when we tell them to be safe? How confusing must it be for a teen who feels sexually aroused by children who are younger than him or her?
Adults who abuse children have years of experience figuring out how to hide their intentions and desires. The time they have spent living in society and thinking about their desires makes them a predator far overmatched to its prey.
Sniffing out suspicious behavior and intentions is the job of adults who have at least had enough experience to know when something is a little rotten. Taking advantage of Stop It Now! resources can help us to be even better at spotting problems early and responding in a way that helps ALL parties.