Courageous Conversations

Recently there has been much ado about the safety of America’s children, and while I would really love to be happy that we are finally bringing attention to the problems of child sexual abuse and sexual violence, I cannot help but be disheartened by the fact that, once again, we are not having the right conversation. Instead of having real and honest discussions about preventing child sexual abuse in SC and the US, attention is focused on perpetuating harmful stereotypes about a marginalized group within our society and spreading false information about the nature of sexual violence perpetration.

In the US, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report experiences of child sexual abuse. One in 7 girls and 1 in 15 boys in SC have been sexually abused. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67% of all sexual assaults reported to law enforcement involve children. 95% of the time the offender is someone the child knows.

To create communities where our children our safer, we need to be bold in our efforts. We need to stop worrying about who is in the bathroom stall next to us and start to think about who we are letting into our homes, our schools, our churches…anywhere that a position of power and trust can be used to groom a child and the family in order to more effectively perpetrate sexual violence. Yes, stranger assaults can and do occur, but sexual assaults are much more likely to be committed by someone known to the victim…very often in the victim’s home. If we want to stop these types of assaults, we need to target the things that lead to sexual violence in the first place such as harmful norms around masculinity and femininity, cultural norms that support aggression toward others, media violence, weak policies and laws, community violence, heavy use of alcohol and/or drugs, impulsiveness and poor behavior control, and lack of non-violent social problem-solving skills.

We need to teach children the appropriate terminology for all of their body parts and allow them to set boundaries with their own bodies. We need to teach children to respect the boundaries of others. We need to demonstrate effective problem solving through assertive communication and establish asking for consent as a general practice.  We need to stop blaming people for the assaults they experience by commenting on their clothing or where they were at a particular time of day. We need to stop using our fear and ignorance to justify our prejudice and aggression towards others. We need to allow boys to express a full range of human emotions and not restrict them to demonstrations of anger and protection. We need to encourage girls to value their intelligence, independence and strength more than their physical appearance or their ability to attract a partner.

This week, I encourage you to have open and honest discussions with your children about their bodies, their friendships and other relationships. Speak up when you hear sexist, degrading or homophobic language, or start by watching your own language. Practice using assertive communication in your interactions. Be a positive example to those around you and help put an end to sexual and gender-based violence in our communities. For more tips on how to have conversations with children about challenging topics or additional ways to get involved in violence prevention in your community, visit www.stsm.org. 

Kayce Singletary

Kayce Singletary joined STSM in January of 2012 as the Prevention Education Coordinator and was promoted to Community Education Director in January 2013. As Community Education Director, Kayce oversees the development, implementation, and evaluation of STSM’s sexual violence primary prevention programs and community awareness events.