Episode #64: The forgotten victims of child sexual abuse

Dr. Connie Omari:

I’m a licensed clinician, and I work with women, children, and couples facing experiences related to trauma, anxiety, and depression. Today, I’m here to talk to you about something extremely important. If you’re not thinking about it yet, trust me, you should be. What I want to share with you today are four key things that you need to know to keep your child safe from sexual harm. Did you know that as it gets closer and closer to the holidays, your child is increasingly vulnerable to being abused?

Well, the reason why is because when we think about sexual assault, a lot of times what comes to mind is strange women walking alone at night and some random person coming to attack them and harm them. Did you know that most cases of sexual assault don’t take place that way? In fact, one in four girls and one in seven boys is assaulted throughout the course of their lifetime, most of which occurs by someone that the family member has trusted. So fortunately, today, I have four things that you can do to get your family dynamics in tip-top shape and help you be in a better position to make sure that your child doesn’t meet one of those statistics.

Number one: don’t just let your child hang around anyone. I know it’s challenging. Daycare is very expensive. Trust me, I paid for it. But it is worth it to find reliable childcare during the holidays. And anytime, really, to make sure that your child is getting the best care possible, where these things don’t happen, I know that when we’re around friends and family during the holidays, it’s easy to let that guard down. You might have a child around someone during the holidays that you would never allow them to be around. Otherwise, maybe you don’t trust that person, maybe you think it’s going to be different because the holidays are here, or maybe you just don’t have the opportunity to have your child around certain family members. But that’s even more reason why you need to keep your guard up. Because your child is not going to be familiar with the dynamics that take place in this person’s household or around them. And that makes them the least offensive if something bad happens and things get out of control.

I have a rule as it relates to sleepovers. You see, in order for my daughter to spend the night at your house, I have to be very confident that you are at least comfortable talking about the patterns of sexual assault. Yeah, I’m that parent, and I’m going to ask you where the sleeping arrangements are. What type of privacy does my child get? Where are the adults going to be? And specifically, where are the men going to sleep? If the person I’m talking to feels uncomfortable answering those questions, then that tells me that they don’t have the same level of commitment to protecting their children that I do. That’s a strong indicator that if they’re not comfortable talking about it, they shouldn’t be keeping my child.

Step number two: if you’ve heard about anyone, and I mean, you want to abuse a family member, chances are it’s probably true. You see, the false reports of sexual assault only make up about 2% of the reports of crime. Similar to any other crime that is reported, like breaking into a car,  only 2% of the cases in which people make those reports are actually false. Yet for some reason, when it comes to sexual abuse People want to ask questions like, Why were you out so late? Or what were you doing? Or why did you wear that short skirt? Truth be told, you would never ask someone whose car was robbed. Why did you park it there? But did you leave it unlocked? Well, what did you think was going to happen if you had valuable items in your car? By constantly making people feel like they can’t be trusted as it relates to sexual misconduct, it gives permission for the sexually inappropriate behavior to continue. So if you’ve heard anything about anyone in your family or within your friendship network, I would say to look at it with considerable caution and do your best to try to stray from the temptation to wonder whether or not it’s true.

The last thing you want to happen is for it to be true. You didn’t take it seriously. Now your child has become yet another statistic. Number three: I really wish I didn’t have to say this. I really do. But I have two parents: stop forcing your kids to hug people. I know they haven’t seen their uncle Lulu in three years, or Patty bit made for a whole, you know, since they were six months old. But if they don’t want to hug them, they don’t have to. You see, by forcing your child to hug someone that they don’t want to hug, they don’t want to engage with you, or you are teaching your child that she or he does not have personal agency over their body. That means when somebody else tries to reach out to them and touch them in ways they don’t want to be touched, They don’t know that they have the right to say no. We as parents have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure that we are sending and empowering kids with messages and critical life skills that they need to also help keep themselves safe. So please put your pride aside and put aside how you might feel if it looks like your child’s not listening or whatever. But when it comes to touching and just bodily contact, just know that it is not okay for children to feel like they don’t have control over their bodies, and prevent sexual assault from just happening.

And number four, and this is also very important, is to keep the buddy system in mind. Make sure that your child is supervised at all times. There are situations where, even if you’ve had a drink here and there or stepped out for a little bit, your child will be with somebody. Not only do you trust somebody with similar values as you pedophiles, but you also recognize when a kid is going to be the most vulnerable. If someone is drinking and they leave their kid for, I don’t know, 30 minutes and they know that that person is going to be passed out drunk and they can’t find their child, that puts them in a situation where by the time you get back, something really bad could have happened to your kid. You don’t want that to happen. You want it to be very clear that your kid knows where to go. Your kid knows what to do. Your kid knows who they’re hanging out with. When children are in places where they’re just around a lot of people, they just blend in, and no one will notice if they’re gone for 30 minutes or an hour. It really makes it difficult, and things like this can happen right under a parent’s nose. So I hope this hasn’t happened to you. I really do. I hope these tips and these skills will come in time to help you protect your child. But if it’s not, I am available. My name is Connie Omari.