A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Washington Post about Elizabeth Smart, the Utah teen who was kidnapped and held captive for 9 months. She was speaking to an audience at Johns Hopkins about issues of human trafficking and sexual violence and offered an answer to the question, “Why didn’t she just run away?” She explained that being raised in a conservative culture that emphasizes sexual purity left her feeling "so dirty and so filthy" after her rape. She felt as if no one would want her anymore and so why run away. She also mentions a presentation on abstinence that she attended where the presenter compared sex outside of marriage to becoming like a chewed up piece of gum. "Who would want you then?" the presenter asked.
Social psychologists and sexual abuse counselors agree that comprehensive sex education can help prevent sexual crimes. Teaching children about their bodies gives them the tools to describe acts of abuse without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable, and it also helps elevate their self-confidence and sense of bodily autonomy. A shame-based approach to genitalia and sexuality, on the other hand, sends kids the message that they can’t discuss or ask questions about any of those issues.
1. Teach your child, at an early age, the correct names for all of their body parts.
2. Keep the lines of communication open, especially during difficult conversations, by practicing active listening and managing your emotional responses. If your child recognizes "the look" on your face that says your uncomfortable, they will be too and communication may stop right there.
3. Practice being non-judgmental by using reflective listening, "It sounds like you're angry at me right now because I won't let you go to the party." This form of communication helps children to feel heard and understood without judgment.
4. Be honest...if you don't know the answer to their question, tell them and commit to let them know you will get back to them when you've found the answer.
As parents we may not be able to control all aspects of our children's lives but we can help them to be educated and have positive personal power over their lives and difficult situations. This honest information may give them the tools they need to cope with difficult situations and avoid becoming another victim.