Please stop saying child abuse “prevention” when describing detection and reporting

To the Editor:

Pennsylvania has taken some important steps since the Sandusky tragedy came to light but many holes still exist in our safety net for children.

One of the largest is the fact that people are still using the word ‘prevention’ of child sexual abuse when they really mean detection and reporting.   By the time there is something to report and detect, it’s too late for real prevention.    We don’t say we prevented a case of influenza when we’ve recognized the symptoms and take someone to a doctor; we say we prevented influenza with a flu shot.   We don’t say we prevented a fire when we dispatch a truck to a burning home; we say we prevented a fire when we help ensure that every home has a working smoke detector. Using the term prevention when describing detection and reporting diminishes real prevention  efforts and reduces the likelihood they will be replicated.

The last decade has seen an impressive increase in the ability to bring real prevention to communities and families.  Real prevention is ensuring that communities and families have access to the resources they need to raise healthy, productive, and successful children.  Resources might be material, social or educational.  Such resources include ensuing that parents understand child development so they have realistic expectation of children’s capabilities at different ages.   Resources for ensuing sexual health and safety also include helping parents understand psychosexual development, and helping them develop  the comfort and knowledge to open the lines of communication with their children.  In the past year, I have seen organizations in State College take huge steps in towards this type of real prevention and they need continued support and encouragement to continue.

As we look back at lessons learned in the past year, none is more important than the fact that real prevention is possible.  Now is the time to systematically coordinate and support prevention efforts, not just in State College but throughout Pennsylvania.    Let’s ask our legislators to support legislation designed to prevent abuse before it ever  occurs.

This letter was unpublished at:  http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/07/child_sexual_abuse_real_prevention_looks_like.html#incart_river

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig has been working with child sexual abuse for three decades. She currently is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention programs for Prevent Child Abuse America  and  is  the author of The Sex-Wise Parent (Skyhorse 2012) She is an alumnus of Penn State and has returned to that community multiple times  to support efforts at prevention.

T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting?  YES!

T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting? YES!

Summer means sports and baseball gloves are being oiled up in homes round the country.  Thoughts are turning to runs, hits, errors, uniforms, caps and spikes.

And cups.   It’s standard practice for leagues to require boys to wear a hard protective cup over their genitals during practice and games.  One family I know had a golden teachable moment when their 5 year old wanted know why he had to wear a cup over his penis.  “I’m not going to pee during a ballgame!”

Some parents might have answered the “why” question with a simple “Because it’s the rules”, a close cousin to “Because I said so”.   These answers have a place when disciplining a child, but in this instance would only stifle curiosity and an opportunity to share values and facts.

It’s fairly typical for pre-school aged boys to think of their entire genitalia as their penis.  This boys parents explained to their son and his now-curious brother that the penis is the name for the skinny part in front that boys use to pee, but behind it the sac that holds the special parts that men have that makes their Daddy seeds. And those parts, (called ballies in some families, testes in others) would hurt A LOT if they accidently got hit with a baseball!  They grabbed their copy of The Sex-Wise Parent, turned to the line drawing of male anatomy on page 59 and gave both of their sons an age appropriate lesson in sexual health  and safety.  Because of T-ball!

These little boys learned the anatomy of their genitals and  that Daddies make seeds in their testicles and mommies make seeds in their ovaries.  They learned that we take care of our genitals and keep them healthy – a precursor to a condom discussion due in about 10 years!

And, they learned that they can talk to their parents about ANYTHING, including their genitals — an important protective factor in keeping pedophiles at bay.

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!  Get more information at www.SexWiseParent.com!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

While the world changes around us, some things are timeless. The exhilarating feeling of a sweaty body hitting cool water never changes; neither does the anxiety of changing into a swimsuit in front of other kids.

Kids respond uniquely to the changing experience. Some kids could not care less; others find it terrifying. How will your child react? How can you help?

What can influence  a child’s reaction?

Age plays a big role.

Pre-school and younger kids generally don’t care. They just want to swim.

Sometime around age 5 or 6, children become aware of the differences between people; their curiosity levels vary. For some kids, different size or shaped genitals may be no more interesting than variations in facial features. As kids are exposed to various images emphasizing and sexualizing body parts, associations set in. It is not unusual for a 6 year old girl to “know” that bigger breasts are a sort of status symbol. Group changing can be particularly uncomfortable for pre-teens; they are often highly  status conscious and confused about the changes in their body.

Family’s norms will have an effect.

Camp preparation is a good time to pay attention to the messages you send your child about the difference between privacy and secrecy. Private means we choose who to share something with; secrecy means no one knows. There should be no secrets between parents and children regarding their bodies; families develop their own values about privacy. Children from families with more stringent norms about privacy may need additional preparation for changing time. If you have been avoiding this issue now is the time to talk to your child!

Who’s in charge?

The locker room is one of the worst places to be bullied or teased — a child is particularly vulnerable. Having trained, mature staff manage the experience is crucial.

Parents should know who supervises changing time. Young camp staff can still be struggling through their own adolescent issues and may not be the most sensitive human beings. It may be impossible to have a developmental psychologist in every summer program, but it is a great idea for  a camp provide a training session for all its staff.

What can you do?

Prepare your child with a preventative discussion; this is a good topic to slip into a conversation about summer camp. “Are you looking forward to swimming? The changing room can be interesting; kids your age can look pretty different from each other.”

Don’t forget the ultra-practical — make sure the swimsuit is simple. Locker rooms are no place for fancy decorations that could get tangled or fasteners beyond a child’s reach. If the child just HAS to have something really fancy, practice getting in and out of the suit with your child.

Check in with your child once the program is in progress. Try mixing a personal thought with a question, for example, “How’s the locker room experience going? I remember everyone giggling so hard we could hardly get our suits on,” or “I remember being teased because I had (or didn’t have) hair (pubic hair, leg hair) before other kids did.”

Getting ready for summer camp provides great opportunities to discuss privacy, secrecy, puberty, peer pressure and other issues where parents want to transmit their values to children. Take advantage of it! You’ll get closer to your kids and help keep them safe and healthy!

 

Janet Rosenzweig MS, PhD, MPA is the author of the Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012)  and  a thirty year veteran of child welfare and youth serving programs.  She is committed to bringing the best possible  information to parents  to help them raise safe, healthy, happy kids.

 

Plan a sexually safe and healthy summer for your kids!

Plan a sexually safe and healthy summer for your kids!

The school year will end before you know it, and NOW is the time to make summer plans for kids.   Some parents look for a summer program that is educational; others look for a program that builds a special skill; many pick a program with hours that match parents work schedules.  Regardless of why a program is chosen, one thing should be certain: that the camp is run in a way to keep children safe.

Let’s go through a typical camp day to see some how a camp can ensure a child’s physical and emotional comfort and safety.

If the children will be picked up, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can get unruly and distract a driver; an older child assigned to lead songs and keep order may be enough if no staff member is available. That child requires a regular check-in with a supervisor to keep thier judgement on track.   If parents drop off the children, are there procedures in place to ensure that the child passes from the parents supervision directly to a staff member? Is there a safe path to travel when the child leaves the car?

Camp administration should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers or volunteers working directly with kids. It is common for summer camps to employ students; these young folks should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values and standards of the camp, and be assigned a supervisor who really supervises!  Teens have not finished maturing emotionally or intellectually and even great teens can show bad judgement…. don’t accept a camp that skimps on supervision!

Parents need to know how children are monitored as they move about the camp, for example if a child needs to use the bathroom. If the policy is to let children go alone, a time limit of no more than 5 minutes should be set. Tight supervision is a must for field trips; assigning buddies and performing constant head counts are basic tools of the trade.

Parents should always be able to observe a camp day. The camp should have a procedure requiring parents to sign in, and parents should be respectful and not interfere with camp activities.

The camp should maintain a list of people allowed to pick up children provided by parents at registration. Honor the process by avoiding last minute changes that the camp can’t verify.

Emotional safety requires attention. If swimming if offered, have the staff been prepared to handle children’s discomfort about changing clothes in front of others? If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept to a healthy level? Is the discipline consistent with parents’ values? And, how do they stop bullying? Remember, teen aged counselors may not be much better at empathy than the campers, so be sure this is emphasized in pre-camp staff training/orientation.

A parent could learn about these issues by interviewing the camp director, or talking to parents who sent their children in prior years. If the program that’s most convenient for you because of location, cost or hours does not meet all of these standards, the administration may be willing to take some of your suggestions! But trust your gut if you’re not comfprtable with any of the answers and look elsewhere.

Throughout the summer, parents should ask kids questions on these topics just to make sure that the policies they expected are indeed in place. Summer should be a time of relaxed fun for children and parents will be able to relax themselves when they know they have chosen a safe summer program for their children.

Get more straight-forward, common sense advice from  The Sex-Wise Parent by Dr. Janet Rosenzweig!

April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, a good excuse to talk to your kids about sexuality!

Parents are the strongest influence on their children’s decisions about sex and sexuality, yet most parents underestimate their own power. A major national survey reported in 2010 that 46 percent of teens continue to say that parents most influence their decisions about sex, while just 20 percent say friends most influence their decisions. At the same time, parents overestimate the influence media and friends have on their children’s decisions about sex and underestimate their own.

The same study tells us that 88 percent of parents agree with the statement that “parents believe they should talk to their kids about sex but often don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to start.” (Albert 2010) It’s easy to see why:They were raised in the era I’ve dubbed “The Neutered Nineties”. That’s when we traded rational discussion about sexuality for Megan’s Laws and sex offender registries, in the name of ‘prevention.’ It’s when cash-strapped school districts had to teach abstinence-only topics or lose federal funding. And when answering a question about masturbation at an AIDS conference got the U.S. surgeon general fired. Too many adults stopped talking to kids about sex. Qualified professionals went quiet and left a vacuum too easily filled by people who sexually offend.

Accurate and age-appropriate information about sex all but disappeared from most professional work in child sexual abuse, and it’s time to put it back.

Where to start? With two critical messages for our children:

They need to know accurate names for all their body parts; and

They need to understand that physical sexual arousal is an autonomic response — like getting goosebumps when tickled.

One now-grown female victim of child sexual abuse I interviewed for The Sex-Wise Parent told me that good touch-bad touch programs can actually be dangerous to a victim because sometimes the touch actually feels good! Further, men who were victims of sexual abuse report that the confusion resulting from a climax is one of the most difficult issues resolve.

People who sexually offend exploit children’s guilt and their lack of knowledge related to sexuality often try to convince them  that they must have actually enjoyed the abuse because of a physical response over which they have no control. Understanding sexual response is important for boys and girls — people who prey on teen-aged girls exploit the fact that very few girls understand that their physical response to a sexual thought, feeling or touch has absolutely nothing to do with love.

Language and knowledge that parents equip children with are a defense against abuse. Raising a child who knows the parts of his or her body, and knows that it’s safe to tell parents or a trusted adult if they have been touched, can prevent their victimization and probably other children’s, too. And, if abuse occurs, harm may be mitigated if the child understands their body’s response.

For parents who need support as they heed the advice to ‘talk early-talk often,’ I suggest practicing with friends and getting used to using sexual terms without discomfort. Take turns role-playing, asking each other the kinds of questions you fear getting from your children. Watch this video for ideas and encouragement. This may not be easy at first, but the reward can be lifelong — a sexually safe and healthy child!

Pubished by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at   http://www.nsvrc.org/blogs/saam/sex-wise-parents-can-raise-sexually-safer-and-healthier-kids

What parents might learn from the Steubenville rape case

At this point in my life very few things cause an instinctive terror response. The Guy Fawkes masks donned the by the international hackers group Anonymous has the effect — maybe it’s the soulless eyes, or the overall look of a maniacal clown. A few weeks ago, I woke to that image as CNN ran a video of someone behind that mask explaining why they’d hacked private websites and E-mail accounts to expose the rape of an adolescent at a high-school party in Steubenville, Ohio. My reaction to the mask paled in comparison to my reaction to the cell-phone video of an unconscious girl apparently being violated by laughing boys WHILE OTHER KIDS STOOD BY! Oh – and the boys were star high school football players —-sorry, but I can’t feel  surpise at that!

This video of this disgusting act was shot last August, so this is not ‘news’ in that sense. Witnesses had posted photos, videos and twit-pics which were found by former Steubenville resident and blogger Alexandria Goddard before they were removed from the private accounts,  She  turned over to the police anticipating an investigation. Not much happened at first and blame appears to fall on the cozy relationship between members of the law enforcement community and the football coach. Then Anonymous blew the lid off this whole sordid affair, making it public and stating that they will not allow “a group of young men who turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability or small-town luck.”

Then came the community hand-wringing — we heard the usual crud. How could this happen in such a nice town? The alleged rapists were ‘good boys’ who made a bad choice, or the girl should not have been drinking. We heard all of that and more at the trial, and a news commentator cause a stir when she suggested that the boys lives were ruined as well by the verdict.

Really.

Wake up people! It’s the adults who failed here! They sent their kids out into the social world unprepared. Adolescents are fundamentally unable to make wise decisions. Their brains aren’t fully developed, they lack impulse control, they lack empathy but one thing they do not lack is sexual urges. Adolescents need adults to set limits, set standards and keep them in check! It is our job to coach kids into healthy, productive adulthood, not to reward violent, aggressive and selfish behavior. Parents need to be darn sure that their child understands the meaning of mutual consent (for example to having sex, or to being photographed nude and unconscious)  and how important that is for moral reasons, and not just legal ones.

There’s a lesson here for parents. Kids need limits. Kids need to be taught empathy until it’s naturally part of their consciousness. Kids need to know that their sexual arousal is theirs and theirs alone. Kids need to learn that sex is an expression of love and not a drinking game.  Too many parents assume that their kids are getting these lessons from school or their faith-based organization, and statistics show that this is just not true.  Parents must find the courage to be uncomfortable and fill their kids with their family values about sex and  accurate information how bodies, minds and hearts, and start  early.   I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent to help parents do that.

Caring people everywhere must speak out and change the norms of communities everywhere that tolerate adults sponsoring drinking parties and protecting sexual predators. Our kids  — boys and girls —deserve more. And, adults who tolerate violent behavior and support underage drinking should be ashamed of themselves and prosecuted as accessories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point in my life very few things cause an instinctive terror response. The Guy Fawkes masks donned the by the international hackers group Anonymous has the effect — maybe it’s the soulless eyes, or the overall look of a maniacal clown. This morning, I woke to that image as CNN ran a video of someone behind that mask explaining why they’d hacked private websites and E-mail accounts to expose the rape of an adolescent at a high-school party in Steubenville, Ohio. My reaction to the mask paled in comparison to my reaction to the cell-phone video of an unconscious girl apparently being violated by laughing boys WHILE OTHER KIDS STOOD BY! Oh – and the boys were star high school football players —- can you guess where this is going?

This video of this disgusting act was shot last August, so this is not ‘news’ in that sense. Witnesses had posted photos, videos and twit-pics which were found by former Steubenville resident and blogger Alexandria Goddard before they were removed from the private accounts.  She turned this material over to the police anticipating an investigation. Not much happened at first and blame appears to fall on the cozy relationship between members of the law enforcement community and the football coach. Then Anonymous blew the lid off this whole sordid affair, making it public and stating that they will not allow “a group of young men who turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability or small-town luck.”

Now comes the community hand-wringing — get ready to hear the usual crud. How could this happen in such a nice town? The alleged rapists were ‘good boys’ who made a bad choice, or the girl should not have been drinking.

Really.

Wake up people! It’s the adults who failed here! They sent their kids out into the social world unprepared. Adolescents are fundamentally unable to make wise decisions. Their brains aren’t fully developed, they lack impulse control, they lack empathy but one thing they do not lack is sexual urges. Adolescents need adults to set limits, set standards and keep them in check! It is our job to coach kids into healthy, productive adulthood, not to reward violent, aggressive and selfish behavior. Parents need to be darn sure that their child understands the meaning of mutual consent (for example to having sex, or to being photographed nude and unconscious) and how important that is for moral reasons and not just legal ones.

There’s  more lessons here for parents. Kids need limits. Kids need to be taught empathy until it’s naturally part of their consciousness. Kids need to know that their sexual arousal is theirs and theirs alone. Kids need to learn that sex is an expression of love and not a drinking game. Too many parents assume that their kids are getting these lessons from school or their faith-based organization, and statistics show that this is just not true. Parents must find the courage to be uncomfortable and fill their kids with their family values about sex and accurate information bodies, minds and hearts, and start early. It’s not easy — that’s why  I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent , to help parents.

Caring people  must speak out and change the norms of communities everywhere that tolerate adults sponsoring drinking parties and protecting sexual predators. Our kids deserve more and we can  and must give it to them.

And, adults who tolerate sexual violence and support underage drinking should be ashamed of themselves and prosecuted as accessories. There’s a lesson in that too!

The benefit of Paterno’s hindsight: lessons for parents!

If you’ve been paying attention to the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, you know that a report commissioned by Joe Paterno’s family calls into question several elements of the Louis Freeh report of last year that implicated Paterno in failing to do anything about Sandusky.  Paterno’s widow, Sue, went on Katie Couric’s television show Monday and  when Couric asked her reaction to Joe’s statement that “he wished he’d done more”  Sue Paterno quickly reminded Katie  that the full quote was, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done more.”

Now we all have the benefit of hindsight and no matter which report we favor, there’s one thing that’s certainly true — children were abused by a predator who knew how to seduce them  then hide in plain sight.

If you’re a parent, grandparent or anyone else responsible for young children, the benefit of hindsight lies in the action you can take now to prevent such a tragedy from  happening to your family. First and foremost, you need to get comfortable talking with children about sex, and giving them the tools to talk about it, in their own way, with you.

What? you say, “Talk to a 6-year-old about sex!?”  Actually, you can, and with a little practice it’s easy.  Any child who understands that they can get goose bumps from being tickled is ready to comprehend that sexual arousal is an autonomic response to stimulus. “Sometimes, a penis just does what it feels like whether we mean it to or not”. Once a boy understands this, we remove one of a pedophile’s most important weapons; a skilled pedophile in the process of seducing a young boy goes to great lengths to ensure that the child experiences physical arousal.  Any boy who does not know that his body is wired to respond to stimuli whether he wants it to or not is vulnerable to the lies of a predator.   Pedophiles I interviewed for The Sex-Wise Parent confirmed that they use a boy’s autonomic response as a tool to gain compliance.  “How can it be bad when it feels good?” they ask, and the uninformed child has no answer.  Girls are certainly not immune; while their physical response is less obvious, unexplained autonomic arousal leaves teenage girls who mistake lust for love vulnerable to predatory adult men.

Hindsight teaches us that almost as important as developing communication skills is developing the ability to suspend disbelief. There are some dangers we can’t anticipate; institutions we find almost impossible to distrust. A priest raping a child? Impossible! Rape in our shower? Beyond incomprehensible! Putting our children in the hands of a pedophile at a charity dedicated to improving the lives of kids? Can’t happen!

But it did, and it can, and it will again in places we can’t imagine. So remember that your best defense is your child’s ability to say, “Mommy, when my (teacher, coach, babysitter) touched my pee pee and it got big (warm, hard, tickly), he said that was our special game, is that Ok?”

No parent ever wants to be in the awful position that left Joe Paterno saying “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done more”   Do it now!

Find help for parents at www.SexWiseParent.com

What can you do for Child Abuse Prevention Month? Here are 10 (PLUS!) good ideas to get started!

What can you do for Child Abuse Prevention Month? Here are 10 (PLUS!) good ideas to get started!

April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States, and it serves as a reminder that everyone can help keep all children safe and healthy.   Plan now and be part of this national effort on behalf of kids and parents!

And here’s more ideas, sent to  me by colleagues — can we add yours? tweet to @SexWiseParent

Support The Innocence Revolution — a global day to end child sexual abuse.

Read The National Plan to Prevent Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children — and ACT!!!

Please — don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference!

 

Forgive, but don’t forget

If I ever doubted the number of people who were sexually abused as a child, my current work promoting my book, The Sex-Wise Parent has brought me right back to sad reality.  I have yet to leave an event without  at least one survivor  sharing their story.  Many have a lesson that I feel compelled to share and last week’s lesson was about the double edged sword of forgiveness.

After one event a woman approached me to speak.   I had noticed her in the crowd; the entire time I while I had been speaking, she  the maintained steady eye contact, often  nodding in agreement with my statements.

She thanked me for my voice on the topic of sex abuse prevention, and  shared that she had been victimized as a young child.  Her parents moved her family far from their family of origin and sent her back every summer for an extended visit with her relatives.

Between  the ages of 6  to 12 a member of her summer household raped her at his convenience.  She quietly and calmly described her terror of using the bathroom or bathing,  because she knew that being undressed made her more vulnerable.  She had no one to tell in her summer home, and no words to tell her parents when she returned home.

The abuse ended decades ago when the rapist got old enough to leave the household.  My informant shared that she was much loved by her parents and found solace in her religion.  She shared that through grace and hard work with a therapist she forgave the abuser and went on with her life.  She told me that if they were both at the same family event, no one would know what he’d done to her.  She seemed calm and at peace with her ability to move on and maintain the peace within her extended family.

Until I asked how she knew that other children were safe.

She was taken off guard by my question, thought for a minute then replied that he only did it to her.  I tried to be gentle with my reminder that most predators have multiple victims and she just said “no, no.”

It is highly unlikely that I will  ever see  this woman again and I don’t know the decision she will make, but I hope she  was able to take some steps to make sure a predator is not terrorizing children.  If this were your friend, would you ask them to trade their family’s peace for the potential of saving a child?