What Children Need to Know

Megan's law has brought to the forefront something we don't like to talk about: sexual abuse. Recently, the media have focused on a small number of individuals living in our community who have been convicted of sexual crimes. Unfortunately, knowing the names and addresses of a few criminals does not guarantee the safety of our children. Oftentimes, the people we must fear are the ones we least suspect. Statistics show that children are in more danger of sexual abuse from someone who is close to them -- such as a father, uncle, or babysitter -- than from a stranger.The sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime with long-lasting consequences. We need to educate ourselves and our children that we can bring this crime out into the open, and thus, help prevent it.Child abuse is a crime of secrecy. It is a crime in which success depends on the molester's ability to convince the child to remain silent. Most perpetrators of child sexual abuse choose their victims very carefully. Molesters typically take weeks or months preparing children before the sexual abuse begins. They establish a trusting relationship with them, which can include such things as gifts, special outings, and secrets, in order to establish a secretive, intimate relationship so that the child will be willing to keep the abuse secret. Children typically believe threats from the offender. They are often afraid that if they tell, no one will believe them. Talking about "nasty things," or disturbing adults by reporting something repulsive, is not easy for a child.A child molester from the East Coast said, "Kids are easy to trick when they don't have a clue what I'm trying to do." One challenge that children face is the difficulty of knowing how to describe what has happened to them. When we teach children to name the parts of their body, including the names of the private parts, the parts covered by a bathing suit, we are giving them tools to help describe sexual abuse, if it occurs.There are three things adults can teach children to help prevent abuse. We can teach children:* How to make distinctions among good touches, like hugs and kisses, which make them feel good; bad touches, such as hits or slaps, which hurt; and confusing touches, which are sexual and secretive;* How to say no and tell a trusted adult if anyone hurts them or touches them in a confusing or secretive manner;* How to tell the difference between a good secret, such as a surprise, and a bad secret, such as a sexual touch.As adults, we need to make it easier for children to tell us if something bad has happened to them. At CALM, we teach children the names of all body parts and other skills to help them resist anyone who may try to abuse them. We teach them to say no to hurtful and inappropriate, secret touches; to go, -- to get away from that person; and to tell a trusted adult, a parent, a teacher, an aunt, or someone who will support and help them. Research shows that children who receive prevention education can learn the skills of recognizing, resisting, and reporting inappropriate touches. Giving children simple, easy-to-remember tools such as say no, go, and tell increases the probability that they will be able to use them if needed.We must give our children the skills and knowledge to keep them safe. And when they have the courage to speak up we should respond with compassion. When a child has been abused, the first response they receive is critical to their recovery. We should thank the child for telling something so difficult, reassure the child that it is not their fault, give them our support, and notify the proper officials.Megan's law gives us another weapon in the war against child sexual abuse, but it is not the total answer. Identifying sexual offenders is difficult, unless they have been convicted. They are evenly divided across social classes. There is no foolproof "profile" that will help us recognize a "typical" offender. An abuser is most often known and trusted by the family. What we know, even in the wake of Megan's law, is that children are in just as much danger from the child molesters who have not been identified as from those named in the paper. The best protection is the knowledge that we can instill in our children's minds and hearts. Children have a right to grow up safe and healthy. Please do your part in keeping children safe.Sidebar OneChild Abuse Listening and MediationCALM is the only private nonprofit agency in Santa Barbara County whose sole mission is to eliminate the devastating effects of child sexual and physical abuse through early prevention, assessment, and treatment programs."Prevention Programs"The "school-based prevention program" teaches preschoolers, Head Start students, kindergartners, 4th and 7th graders how to keep safe from abduction and abuse."Parent education classes" teach parents what to expect from children at different ages and how to respond with love and praise instead of rage and criticism."Healthy Families" prevents child abuse and neglect from ever occurring by identifying families at risk of abuse at the birth of their child."CALM's volunteer family aides" give children and parents the opportunity to relate to a caring adult who offers child care, transportation to CALM, and support for a family in crisis."Treatment Programs""Therapy for children" helps children develop trust, express emotions, and create meaning out of innocent lives shattered by abuse. "Family therapy" provides support for siblings and parents of abused children. Families are helped to understand what allowed the abuse to happen and how to create safe and supportive environments."Adult survivor therapy" helps adults molested as children learn to make good decisions for themselves, develop healthy relationships, and protect their own children from abuse."Therapy for offenders" teaches perpetrators to accept responsibility for their behaviors and how to keep themselves from re-offending.Gracie Huerta is the prevention and volunteer coordinator at CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation).

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