Talking To Children About Rape
Sexual assault is a scary topic – for both parents and children. But, talking about it is one step towards both prevention and healing. Talking about it provides an opportunity to discuss boundaries and safety with your children, and offers an opportunity to remind your children that you are there for them when they need you. It also removes shame and stigma, to some extent. Remember that, in general, we hid things that we are ashamed of, so openly discussing rape with children can remove shame from the event, and provide you the way to place it where it belongs – on the rapist.
Here are a few tips:
• Just like having “the talk” about sex, let your child take the lead when talking about sexual assault. Children will, generally speaking, ask for the information that they need, and you don’t need to offer details that they don’t ask for.
• Provide information in clear and simple terms, refer to body parts by their appropriate names.
• Teach them to tell. The sexual abuse of children is totally dependent on children NOT telling an adult that it’s happening. This is a secret they should NOT keep.
• Discuss good and bad actions, but try to avoid discussing people as “good” and “bad.” If children believe that only “bad” people can do this, then if someone they trust – like a teacher or coach – becomes sexually inappropriate with them, they are less likely to recognize it as inappropriate. Focus on the behavior, not the people. (More than 80% of sexual assault against children is committed by a trusted friend or family member.)
• Discuss boundaries and make sure your child knows who they can talk to if something inappropriate is happening. They may not want to talk to you, so you need to be sure that they are aware of other adults they can talk to who will help them.
• Make clear that rape is not about sex, even though it involves sexual body parts. Rape is a violent crime, it is about violence and power. It is important, especially for the recovery of a survivor, that this distinction is made in order to not to confuse their sexual identity as they grow up.
• Tell them that it is NOT their fault, or the fault of the person who was raped.
• Tell them that you want to talk to them about what happened, because you want to protect them. Help them to feel safe, and give them a feeling of empowerment.
Topics For Discussion With Your Child:
YOUR BODY IS YOURS.
Nobody has a right to touch any part of your body in a way that makes you uncomfortable. No matter who it is that is trying to touch you, you have the right to say “NO.” If someone tries to touch you, after you say “NO”, yell loudly and run away – you can even punch and kick them if you need to. Be sure to tell someone that you trust.
WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?
• Sexual abuse is when someone touches you, or makes you touch them, in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and you do not want. Often, but not always, it is when someone older than you touches your penis or vagina in a way that makes you feel uneasy.
• It could also be when someone older than you makes you touch their penis or vagina.
• It doesn’t always involve touching, it can involve them showing you sexual pictures or movies that make you feel uncomfortable.
• The key is that if YOU feel uncomfortable, then it is probably wrong and you have the right to stop it.
WHO CAN I TALK TO ABOUT IT?
There are a lot of adults who can help you. Remember, nobody is allowed to touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, even adults that you trust. There is always someone else you can tell:
• Your parents
• Your coach
• Your teachers
• The school principal
• The school nurse
• Your priest / minister / rabbi
• Your friend’s parents
• The police: 911
If the first person you tell doesn’t do anything to stop it, then tell someone else.
WHY DO PEOPLE RAPE?
Rape is a violent crime that is committed so that the perpetrator can feel a sense of power, by making someone else powerless. It is not about sex. Studies have shown that rapists are looking for power and authority, not sex.
You did NOT cause it to happen.
HOW DO I TELL SOMEONE I’VE BEEN RAPED OR SEXUALLY ABUSED?
Telling someone that you’ve been assaulted can be really hard. Pick someone who you feel really comfortable with and do it in a place where you feel comfortable. And then just get it out as fast as you can. Once you say it out loud, you may cry, the person you told may cry, but you’ll feel better once it’s out. Once you get the “big news,” out, you’ll probably feel better talking about everything else and getting help.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T HELP ME?
If the first person you tell doesn’t get help for you, then tell someone else. KEEP GOING UNTIL YOU GET THE HELP YOU NEED!
I THINK MY FRIEND HAS BEEN ASSAULTED BUT ISN’T TELLING.
Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to MAKE someone tell you what’s going on with them. And, there are a lot of things that might make someone act differently, not just sexual assault. The best thing that you can do is ask your friend if they’re okay and if something has happened. They may say “no,” and that may be true. But remind them that you are there for them and are willing to listen to them and help them, however you can. If they need to talk to you, they will, when they are ready and feel safe.