abuse prevention

By Kathy Kuhl     I don’t know any parents eager to talk to their kids about sexual abuse. But making body parts and sex unmentionable is more dangerous than being uncomfortable. I don’t want us to be paranoid, but “wise as serpents, innocent as doves.” This is a sad topic to consider, but ignoring it only helps the bad guys.

This is especially important for parents of kids who learn differently. Our kids may be targeted particularly by abusers because our children may have difficulty assessing danger or communicating. Our kids’ impulsivity can put them in riskier situations. 

Here are three ways to help our children protect themselves and be protected.

Equip our Children with Words and Permission to Speak Up

We need to give our children the words and permission to speak up when they are touched or spoken to inappropriately. When predators are grooming kids (building a relationship in order to abuse them later), they count on persuading them to keep silent.

To equip our kids, I recommend My Underpants Rule, a book for children by Kate and Rod Power. (All links are at the end of this article.) Kate thought she knew about preventing abuse. She was a police officer whom parents often turned to for ad

Then two scary incidents in their community motivated Rod and Kate to look for materials to teach their own kids how to stay safe. Because they couldn’t find any helpful materials that weren’t too explicit or scary, they went to work. Rod’s work as an educator and his knack for writing Dr. Seuss-like, silly rhymes and Kate’s skill in silly drawings made them a good team.

The result: a kid-friendly and helpful book, My Underpants Rule. The book presents many basic safety tips in a memorable rhyme with sweet and silly drawings. The underpants rule says, in part:

“What’s under my pants belongs only to me
and others can’t touch there or ask me to see
but safe grown-up or doctor when I’m not healthy.”

The rest of the book tells what to do and why it’s important—without getting too graphic or scary. Learn more below.

Watch and Listen When Our Kids Express Discomfort

In addition to teaching “the Underpants Rule,” we should encourage our children to speak up when they are uncomfortable about something relating to their bodies or people caring for them. We need to listen carefully and discerningly.

Sometimes our kids just don’t like someone because of their loud voice, fragrance, or manner. (That’s a special issue for our kids with sensory processing issues.) Sometimes, however, there is abuse.  

Remember, part of the underpants rule says, “Others can’t touch there or ask me to see, but safe grown-up or doctor when I’m not healthy.” To our sorrow, we know that not all doctors are safe. Dr. Larry Nasser was convicted of abusing many girl gymnasts at Michigan State University while treating them.  

According to the testimony of Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nasser of abusing her from when she was fifteen, he “did this with my own mother in the room, carefully and perfectly obstructing her view so she would not know what he was doing.”

So we should not let people–even famous, respected doctors–block our view. We need to ask our children how they are. We need to watch them and listen. If they are uncomfortable, we want to know. We don’t accuse everyone who makes our kids uncomfortable, but we listen to our kids, and we ask questions. Abusers make their victims feel ashamed and guilty, so we need to be sensitive, “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

Educate Ourselves

Provide your older kids with a clear example by speaking out against sexual exploitation. I’ve been learning more about links between pornography, kidnapping, modern day slavery, and prostitution. It’s chilling, but I recommend parents learn about the organizations listed in the resource section below in order to understand these topics better.

Some of our older teens may want to get involved in fund-raising or other support. We can even support modern-day abolitionist work by purchasing handbags, jewelry, and other goods created by former slaves. 

For parents, I also recommend Corban Addison’s novel A Walk Across the Sun–perhaps an unusual choice. I didn’t want to read a novel including human trafficking, and I put it off for months. But Addison has the rare gift of uncovering a horrid topic without getting too explicit or overwhelming us with  these evils. There is evil in the book, but the author is never salacious or sleazy.  

John Grisham endorsed the book, the first time he’s ever endorsed a new author. He commented that Addison could have been tawdry, but never was. The novel is also a good read, weaving together the stories of several very different characters, showing us in a microcosm the global scope and evil of human trafficking and prostitution today–while also showing good reasons for hope.

If you have resources to share on keeping kids safe, please post them below. Thank you.

Resources