I can’t get these statistics out of my head: one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they are 18. That means 500,000 children in the next year will be sexually abused. Moreover, it is estimated that 88 percent of abuse never gets reported.
With such prevalence in our society, it is no wonder that health care officials now think of sexual abuse as a community problem that all of us can work to understand and prevent. Indeed, the elementary school district in which I am a teacher has adopted curriculum to help young students understand what it is and how they can ask for help. As adults—mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, and caregivers—we can also empower ourselves through knowledge and a fearless attitude to ensure the safety of the children in our communities.
Many adults who engage in sexual activity with a child or adolescent may have been abused themselves as children. Others molest because they experience a sense of power that they don’t have in relationships with other adults. One thing is clear: the abuser continues the abuse because the victim is frightened, confused, and doesn’t know how to call for help.
To ensure the sexual safety of our children, we must have the courage to speak up and trust our instincts. According to the Stop It Now! website, when another adult acts in a way that makes alarm bells in your gut go off, say something to that person in front of the child. The abuser gets the message that someone is noticing and the child realizes he or she does not have to face this alone.
We can also empower our children by talking and teaching openly about this difficult life challenge. Teachers follow a research based curriculum and the proper names for body parts are part of this teaching. As a first year teacher, I practiced saying these words aloud in my empty classroom so that I became comfortable saying things like “penis” and “vagina.” Teaching the names allows children to understand their bodies and tell, if needed, about sexual abuse. Parents can also practice talking and using those words with their children.