Why Abuse Prevention Education Is Important
Preventing sexual abuse can feel like an overwhelming and never-ending battle. Talk about personal body safety as early and as often as possible. Use anatomically correct words as parents. Keep an open dialogue about relationships, feelings, and seemingly everyday and mundane life experiences. Listen, listen, listen. Maintain vigilance over who spends time with our children and how they interact with them. Listing it out like this CAN make it seem impossible.
When a child is equipped with a positive learning environment, age-appropriate education, and a trusted hero team, that overwhelming task becomes an obtainable goal. This education, as scary and alien as it may seem, can have the most positive influence in a child’s life.
One of our presenters was in a school a few years ago and experienced this first-hand. Implementation began just a short time after Erin’s Law had passed in 2013. Many of the student-body had never received education on personal body safety, sexual abuse, or even secret-keeping. The educator began with the basics:
-Your body belongs to you.
-Safe secrets don’t hurt, unsafe secrets do hurt.
-No one should touch your private body parts unless it is to keep you clean and healthy.
-You are allowed to tell on people who break this rule.
-Keep telling if the first person doesn’t believe you.
-It is never too late to tell.
Going over examples of safe and unsafe secrets, what counts as “clean and healthy”, and how to tell on an abuser generated hours of questions and discussions. It was no different in this particular 4th grade class. That day was just like any other day in this presenter’s work: Educate, empower, and listen to the kids. After the 5th presentation that day, the educator checked in with the social worker and headed home.
Months went by and hundreds of classrooms entered, thousands of students educated, and positive change going through Illinois schools. The presenter was back at that school, ready for another round of questions and answers. Before reaching the first classroom, they were pulled into the office. The social worker, a middle-aged man with a heart of gold, began a story that ended in triumph.
After the initial programs wrapped up, a student in that 4th grade class began asking questions. Seeking out the social worker or their teacher, the student asked questions that were always general…and always about abuse. They continued to ask every week.
Understanding disclosures, the social worker knew he could not come right out and ask if something had happened. The social worker had a feeling that there was something more behind the questions, and he was right. After a month and a half of what seemed like testing the waters, the student jumped into the unknown and disclosed to their teacher. Their father had been sexually abusing them.
The man was charged and the court process began. While that is triumphant all on its own, it isn’t the end of the story. That 4th grade student went beyond telling and standing up to an abuser. That student, with the strength and wisdom of someone far beyond their years, wanted to help peers who also had experienced trauma in their home.
The student founded a club at school, where they themselves found their voice. Named, “The Confident Club” the rules were simple: Share, care, and prepare. This student wanted to make sure other kids were able to talk about what was bothering them. Group meetings allowed them to be honest with their words and say, “I am sad. I am scared. Home is not always good. But I am here to talk about it and I can ask for help!”
Yes, preventing sexual abuse is a difficult task at times, but look at what happens when it’s done properly. Children hear us, children find us, and children TELL US WHAT IS HURTING THEM. With education and a trusted hero team, children who have been subjected to abuse can go from victim to survivor, frightened to fighter, and the bright light we need in a world so full of darkness.
Here is to the abuse survivors. To the men, women, and children who need to know it’s okay to speak out. It’s okay to tell when someone hurts them, especially if that person is someone they love. Here is to the positive impact this education can have, and the infinite ripples of change that happen when a child is more than just seen…they are HEARD.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor, welcome to another Be Seen and Heard© Journey. Thank you so much for being here with me today whether you’re watching this, or reading this, or listening to this. I’m just grateful. I really want to talk today about a couple of things. First of all, it has been my privilege and my honor to be able to make an impact in schools all over the country with a curriculum that I created that helps children to be seen and heard, specifically on the topic of sexual abuse awareness and prevention. What I love about the curriculum is that it not only empowers kids that are going through abuse and realize that they don’t have to be silent, but it’s also helping kids that are keeping things that may are may not be abuse related, but things that are hurting them, things that are keeping them from their true potential of learning, math and learning science and focusing on what’s important to them.
Two stories I want to share with you today. I was at a school talking to kids specifically a fifth grade group of kids. I had given out one of my bookmarks that allowed them to get a copy of my book. I’ll never forget the next day I received an email from one of the students. She literally went to my website, found my email, and she emailed me and she said this…”Victor, I want to thank you for being my trusted hero because before yesterday I was keeping a secret. And because you came to my school, I now have to go tell my parents that I have been sexually abused. Thank you. Please write back.” Before I did write back, and it gives me goosebumps, I did reach out to the school district and they gave me permission to write back to this young lady.
I emailed her back and I said, “Listen, thank you for being so courageous. Thank you for being so strong. And I know it’s not easy, but I know now you’re going to get the help you deserve so that you can be better than you were the day before and be happier than you were the day before. And that’s one story. Here’s another story. I was recently in California. I had hundreds of kids in the audience and a girl at the end of the program raised her hand. We were doing Q and A and she said, “Victor, I have a question. She said, what happens if it’s someone in your family that’s abusing you? What do you do?” And to me, right away, I knew something was up. Someone doesn’t just ask that question. I said, “Well, I believe you need to go tell somebody and you need to share it. I wouldn’t necessarily tell someone else in your family. At first, I would go tell to a neutral person, someone at school, because the people trained at school are there to believe you. They’re not there to not believe you or to question you. They’re there to help you. So they’re not going to pre-judge. So that was my recommendation to her. And then I made sure that she was still around after the presentation was over because I wanted to talk to her. I felt something was up. So she came over to me and I said, “Are you connecting to my story today? And tears started to come down her face and she said, “Yes…my father.” And it was a horrible moment for me…
I know now she’s going to get the help she needs. And as soon as she was talking to me, a counselor came right off to the side and took her to the side and the steps were taken to get her out of that home. And so this week’s episode is really about the effects, the positive effects of this very important curriculum. It starts with Erin’s law. Obviously you have to give credit to Erin for having the courage to get this law passed. But then you gotta take action and you’ve got to get into those schools. And you have to teach. You have to empower these kids to be seen and heard. And so again, I don’t take credit for kids coming forward. I put the information out and I do it in a way that I know that if I was sitting in that audience and getting that message when I was their age. I know it would have resonated with me. So that’s my goal every time I present. So again, it’s an honor and a privilege that your watching this today or listening to it…please share this with your family and friends. And remember, you have the right to be seen and heard. Have a great week.