Courageous Conversations – Speaking up for Children

When I started doing prevention education in the 1980’s, the focus was on empowering kids to say “No” should they find themselves in a vulnerable situation. At some point, however, it became clear to me that it was unfair to put this burden on children, when we as adults are the ones responsible for keeping kids safe.

Parenting Safe Children – and the entire prevention community – recognizes that teaching children body-safety rules and encouraging them to speak up is important, but it’s not enough.

Getting Adults to Speak Up

The real work is about getting adults to speak up: It’s about getting up the nerve to invite another parent onto your prevention team; it’s initiating conversations about sexual abuse prevention and body safety with teachers, nannies, coaches, counselors, tutors, and program leaders; it’s about administrators calling out inappropriate behaviors; and it’s about listening to that weird feeling in your gut when you see a potentially concerning behavior.

Put simply, child sexual abuse prevention, first and foremost, is about adults having the courage to speak up.

Why don’t Adults Speak Up?

There are lots of reasons people don’t speak up. Some parents tell me it’s not always clear whether a particular situation warrants attention. Others have said they don’t believe it’s their “business” to speak up, much less intervene. Most commonly, however, parents tell me they are not sure what to say, or they’re worried about not having ample proof and being wrong.

From Accusation to Conversation

No one wants to falsely accuse another person of anything, much less for child sexual abuse, but this isn’t about accusing someone; it’s about a conversation – about changing the norms such that we all are willing to talk openly about body safety and prevention policies in the interest of keeping children safe.

Child sexual abuse thrives in a culture of silence and opportunity. By not speaking up, we actually leave our children vulnerable. In fact, offenders count on our discomfort and silence. On the contrary, when adults are willing to openly talk about child sexual abuse and its prevention, opportunity for abuse is minimized.

Imagine a summer camp where every parent inquired about child sexual abuse prevention policies and every counselor had gone through child abuse prevention training. Imagine a primary school where every parent asked the administration about its prevention policies and every parent talked with their child’s teacher about body safety. When adults speak up, we are building communities that are off limits to child sexual abusers.

Courageous Conversations

I believe it will take nothing less than courageous conversations day in and day out to transform this culture of silence that allows our children to be sexually exploited, usually by someone the child knows and trusts. If adults are uncomfortable talking to caregivers about body safety, how can we possibly expect a child, even with body-safety rules, to speak up in a difficult situation? It’s just not fair to ask children to do our work.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about screening caregivers. Meanwhile, tell us what you think it’s going to take to stop child sexual abuse.

Published on: April 15, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Feather Berkower

Feather Berkower has been a leader in child sexual abuse prevention since 1985. Her highly regarded workshop, Parenting Safe Children, empowers adults to keep children safe from sexual abuse. Feather is also the co-author of Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

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