#MeToo: Protecting Your Child from Sexual Harassment and Assault
Sexual scandals and abuse in the Pentagon, U.S Olympics, and Hollywood have led to an eye-opening movement. Millions of women and men have begun sharing their stories of sexual abuse and harassment as part of #MeToo. Many of us have been unaware and feel incensed by the number of people and lives affected by sexual abuse. Years and years of sexual harassment and abuse went on with the victims who felt silenced and ashamed. As the #MeToo movement continues, it’s important to remember that parents are the first line of defense in protecting their children from becoming victims of sexual harassment.
Talking with your child is the best way to protect them. Research has shown that when parents talk to their children, their children listen and feel more confident in preventing sexual harassment and abuse. Remember, you have taught your child everything from tying their shoes to good manners. Begin early, talking to your children about appropriate touch and why self-respect matters. Parents should remember that only teaching “stranger danger” is short-sighted. Most abuse is from people the family knows. It almost always begins with “grooming” behaviors, where the predator gives increased attention toward the child. Here are suggestions that will help you begin the conversation and be there for your child:
Begin the talk about safe touch vs. unsafe touch. Safe touch is when someone shakes your hand or high five. It can also be a hug. Unsafe touch is when you don’t want to be touched or if someone hurts you.
For small children, explain that their private parts are anything covered by a swim suit. Clarify that no one touches their private parts unless it is to keep them healthy. Parents should explain they and health professionals touch their children to take care of them.
Teach your children there is no such thing as a secret with who can touch their body. Most predators demand the child keeps what happened with them a secret. They may use threats, which scare the child or shame them.
Most importantly, never blame your child. Predators are sick, and it’s not your child’s fault. Give your child confidence that they can ALWAYS COME TO YOU, and you will believe them and help them.
The world can be chaotic and unsettling. As parents, you feel a need to protect the innocence of your child’s childhood. Talking to them about what’s okay and what’s not won’t destroy the innocence of their childhood. It will empower them to feel confident about what to do and more comfortable coming to you about it.
Mary Jo Rapini is a co-author of “Start Talking, a girl’s guide for you and your mom about health, sex or whatever.”