Written by Theresa Asmus of Rape Crisis Service.
From the moment we come home with our fragile little infant, we parents take the job of protecting our children very seriously. We start with the crib we’ve checked to be sure hasn’t been recalled, we move on to cabinet locks, and before we know it, we’ve got our little ones decked out in a helmet for their first bike ride. As time goes on though, the things we do to keep our kids safe become less tangible. Sadly, there is no gadget we can purchase to keep our kids in happy and healthy relationships and safe from sexual violence. So what can parents do to prevent sexual assault? Lots!
First, we can start teaching our kids about healthy relationships from the time we take them home from the hospital. Children are observant little creatures, and parents serve as the most influential role models from birth. We can treat those around us respectfully, and demonstrate ways to disagree with others and resolve conflicts without resorting to verbal or physical intimidation or abuse. We can make it apparent to our child that respecting others is essential, and assist them in learning to express their feelings and wishes clearly. As our kids grow older, we can seize on teachable moments to get the conversation started. Does the teenage girl across the street come running when her boyfriend comes tearing in the driveway, honking his horn, refusing to come to the door? This is the perfect opportunity to talk with even young children about respect and the ways that people treat you when they truly care for and value you. With older children you can discuss the situation, and brainstorm with them the things that they need from people in order to feel respected, and the things that you know they deserve. Television shows also offer a wealth of teachable moments. Take the opportunity to discuss the relationships being depicted, the gender roles being displayed, and the ways that characters are resolving conflict. This is a much more painless way of discussing relationships that having a big “sit down” when your child starts dating.
As young people begin dating, it is important to make every effort to keep the lines of communication open and remind your kids that you are there to support and protect them. It can be hard to engage teens in conversations about dating, but don’t be afraid to do most of the talking. Continue to seize on the teachable moments you’re presented with. As your child gets older, and their peers begin dating, these teachable moments may hit even closer to home for them than the latest television drama. Sometimes kids who are uncomfortable discussing their relationships with their parents are able to have conversations about what they’ve observed among their peers. Use these conversations to help your child take a critical look at dating and decide what he or she expects from a relationship.
You can also discuss safety with your child. When it comes to sexual assault, our strongest weapon is our instincts. Discuss this with your kids, and let them know that you are there to help them when they’re getting the feeling that things are getting out of hand. Many young people who have been sexually assaulted report that they had a feeling that things were getting out of control, but they didn’t know what to do about it, so we need to be sure that our children know what to do and how we will help them. Would you come pick them up at three in the morning in order to keep them safe, no matter what the circumstances? Make sure your child knows that!
Finally, it is important to insist that the schools and groups that your children attend provide sexual abuse prevention education from a very young age. Children as young as five can learn to identify the common grooming behaviors of sex offenders, and report these behaviors to adults before any abuse is perpetrated. The majority of sex offenses are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, so learning to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships becomes a very effective tool in preventing sexual assault. Because they are starting to consider these things already, adolescent children are in a very good position for this kind of learning. Rape Crisis Service offers evidence-based sexual abuse prevention programs to children as young as five, free of charge. Information about prevention programming or other services provided by Rape Crisis Service can be obtained by calling Theresa Asmus at 344-0516 ext. 111.