A Necessary, Scary Thought… Child Sexual Abuse
I am a member of a team presenting information about protecting children from sexual abuse. This community education program is called Protecting Our Children – Advice from Child Molesters. Prior to being a therapist here at Mosaic Family Counseling Center, I worked as a Prevention Coordinator at the Center for Advocacy and Outreach at Blank Children’s Hospital. My prevention focus was child personal safety specifically in the areas of sexual abuse, bullying, and stranger abduction.
I realize child sexual abuse is a topic that most people would rather not think about – that’s what child molesters are counting on. By working this issue through programming at the schools I came to know a lot about it. I know how often it happens. I know the impact it has on victims. I know protecting children is the responsibility of adults. I know how to talk with a child and report the matter if a child discloses information to me. Lastly, I know – or I thought I did - how perpetrators operate. Yeah – that last one about how perpetrators operate - I now realize that what I know is just the tip of the iceberg. So – let’s review what I know (or thought I knew).
First off, what is child sexual abuse? Basically, any sexual act directed toward a child. The act is done solely for the pleasure of the perpetrator. The child is a victim, the power and control dynamic is ever present and fully active. The perpetrator may also be a child; in such cases the child perpetrator has more power which maybe in the form of knowledge, age, popularity etc. And, last but not least, child sexual abuse is never consensual as children cannot consent.
How often does child sexual abuse happen? The numbers vary but research shows approximately 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience sexual abuse by the time they turn 18 years old. The lowest number I’ve come across is 1 out of 10 kids. This research did not differentiate between genders and did not consider non-contact abuse. I’m not sure what the point of that was because exhibitionism and voyeurism are certainly victimizing acts. Since estimates in the field are commonly 1 out 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys, let’s do the math here. In a classroom of 25 children, that is about 2-3 girls and 1-2 boys. Even if we use the research estimate of 1 out of 10 kids that is still more than 2 kids per classroom. Yep – it’s that common.
What impact does child sexual abuse have on victims? This is a traumatizing event, to say the least. If you’re familiar with ACES research, (Adverse Child Experiences). Consider that only about 5% of the incidents of child sexual abuse is done at the hands of a stranger. So that means the child victim usually knows, usually loves and trusts, the perpetrator. Think about that – this is a violation down to the core! After such a violation, victims have trust issues. They feel guilt, shame and responsible for what has happened. They have low self-esteem and self-worth. They go on to have relationship problems. They turn to any number of things to cope and feel better – alcohol, drugs, food, and delinquency. They are often promiscuous. They suffer from depression and anxiety. Honestly, the list goes on and on.
Protecting children is the responsibility of adults – period. Adults are given the enormous task of keeping our kids safe and raising them so that they can take over and manage things long after we’re all gone. I was the person empowering kids with assertiveness skills in the area of personal safety. But that message and those personal safety programs are not meant to stand alone – ever. As a parent, you’re not free and clear once your kid has “the little talk” at school. And I’m not referring to the stranger danger message, the term “stranger danger” is not recommended by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, by the way. In my experience, parents are all too eager to discuss the boogie-man stranger with their kids. Things get a little more difficult and challenging when it’s Grandpa, the babysitter who’s come through in a bind, a coach, someone at church, or that nice neighbor kid two houses over. But it’s time to take up that challenge, folks, because as I mentioned above 95% of those 1-5 kids in that classroom who are victimized by child sexual abuse know their perpetrator. The odds of your kid being abducted and killed by a stranger are substantially lower than that – think winning the lottery. The tragic and horrific nature of stranger abduction crimes certainly grabs our attention and yes – our kids need to know what to do if they are approached by a stranger. But with this kind of data staring us in the face they REALLY need to know what to do if the person is NOT a stranger.
So now that I have given all this information direct, straight, and to the point. How do we deal with this awful reality in our world? How do you talk to kids about this sort of stuff?
First, planning out your conversation with your kids or children you love. Keep the following in mind.
Use simple language, be genuine, and be honest. One approach is talking about problems because we all have problems. Some big problems – some little problems. Some people lie so they have a lying problem. Some people spend way more money than they have so they have money problems. And some people have touching problems. You can then go on to say something like - I’m your parent and I love you more than anything. If someone ever touches you in a way you don’t like – you can tell me and I will believe you. You won’t be in trouble – ever. Start there and see where it goes.
That seems simple enough, right? Well, now I’m going to have you thinking about the back of a shampoo bottle… “rinse and repeat”.
Have you ever considered if we followed those directions we would never get out of the shower? But I digress – repeat this conversation in a developmentally appropriate manner with your child 3-4 times per year. Of course somewhere between age 5 and 8 all children need to have received basic sex education from their parents. If your kid is over 8 years old and they do not truly understand where babies come from – take care of that today. A good book to help you - Did the sun shine before you were born? Written by Sol and Judith Gordon.
Another way to look at it and I’ve used this analogy for folks who feel this subject is too scary for kids. Well, having their school blown away by a tornado or burning down in a fire is pretty scary too. Yet they have fire drills and tornado drills in the school. Now, in light of the number of school shootings our country has experienced they have lock-down drills. People – this is scary stuff and the school (my kid’s school anyway) just does it – they don’t notify parents or get a permission slip signed. Why? Because these things are reality – they happen – and kids need to know what to do if fill in the blank happens. I’m advocating that being victimized by sexual abuse be a fill in the blank issue. Yep – it’s that common – it happens.
With either of the examples above, the subject is being blended into a number of other like issues that children face – people have touching problems – safety issue akin to a fire – be creative and pick your way to talk to your child. But do it – don’t shy away from it.
Believe me, perpetrators steer clear of kids who know what sex is; they avoid secure and self-assured kids; and want nothing to do with kids who are well-versed in knowledge of what to do and who to go to if/when someone seems a little off.
So, as I mentioned above I knew the tip of the iceberg of how perpetrators operate before I joined the team doing Protecting our Children – Advice from Child Molesters. What I knew then was that perpetrators groom children. What I know now is they groom families, organizations, and communities (think Jerry Sandusky). What I knew then was that perpetrators seek vulnerable children. What I know now is they manipulate situations so that vulnerable children are even more vulnerable. They isolate their victims. They create situations so the victim and victim’s family are dependent upon the perpetrator. Make no mistake – child sexual abuse is a crime and child molesters are criminals. They have criminal thinking. They do criminal acts. And they are in our churches, our schools, our communities, and our families.
The most profound thing I have learned from Protecting Our Children – Advice from Child Molesters is to not insulate myself and think it is “those people – over there”. Even with everything I knew then, teaching this information directly to children myself, I still to some degree separated myself from it. I talked the talk but I didn’t walk the walk – not always. Now, at the end of the community education when the team and I are summarizing all the points there stands that bullet point - Be open to the fact that someone you know is a child molester. Yep – it’s that common. And once we wrap our collective head around THAT FACT, we will be in a better place to do more about it.
Contributed by: Renae Jones MS, LMHCP
The serenity prayer used in many recovery circles usually uses the first two verses: (see full prayer at end)
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Sounds simple enough, right? If only. First, trying to decipher what can be changed and what cannot be changed. This is a significant task in and of itself. How do we know what we have the power to control? Let’s consider this for a moment. The adage is “you only have control over yourself”. Taking this into consideration with the serenity prayer, I must have the courage to change myself and my perceptions, as I cannot control what other people say or do. It is unsettling to consider that my world is simply a makeup of my perceptions, my interpretations, feelings and responses, for which only I can hold myself accountable. Another cannot “make” me feel something, that would be giving them control and power over me and my behaviors, which I often refuse to accept. I strive to have courage to look into myself and acknowledge what I need to change in order to manage the situation. I feel this is important in personal growth for life in general.
How do we change perceptions? Perceptions are reflected through our actions and words as
our reality. We have to be open to looking at other angles, or viewpoints, perhaps studying the
perceptions of others, contrasting them with that of our own. We may find that our perceptions are not reality and give us a basis for which to practice that change we so desperately try to achieve.
Ok, so let’s look at that other part, the part about accepting the things I cannot change. I can’t
change another person. I can’t change their behavior, their thoughts, or their emotional responses to me. So how do I accept them for who and how they are? Often times people relate acceptance with approval, as if ‘because I accept it I must agree that it was right’. I strive to remember that to accept means to acknowledge that it is out of my control and that I will not allow it to have power over me or my emotions. To accept is not to approve, it is to let go and in some cases, go with it.
Sometimes there are things in life that are difficult to accept. But acceptance is so much less draining than fighting something I have no control over. I strive for acceptance of the things I cannot change.
I also have to try to remember that I don’t always need to be in control and that giving up control
over the details of life outside of me, things I can’t genuinely control, means to gain personal control over myself and my responses. That little bit, gives me more control even over the situations that arise. For example, if you are in a relationship that is frustrating and you respond every time to that person the same way, they have been gifted the control over your emotions, behaviors and reactions. But, if you decide that you will not respond in the same way, you will respond in a ‘seek to understand’ the situation better and not believe that what is going on is directed at you, you gain the control that you search for by responding as you want to respond. Gaining stability by practicing your values. You can then feel good about accepting the things you can’t change outside of yourself and taking ownership of what you can change within. This can give new motivation as well to make positive change, as we are motivated to change the things we believe we have control over. So, look in-ward, focus on ourselves instead of the outside circumstances that we have no control over.
Courage to change is the hardest thing to muster if we are focused elsewhere. So what about the wisdom to know the difference? How do we get that part? Life gives us wisdom. We learn through trial and error, often stating to ourselves “I wish I would have done...” Well of course you would have done it differently because your experiences allowed you to learn! You gained wisdom through the situations, the mistakes and the painful experiences. Think about this scenario: You go to school to learn how to achieve your dream. You read all the books, have access to all the theories and all the “wisdom” of the people before you. You graduate school feeling like you know exactly what to do in every possible situation. And then you go get experience, realizing through at least the first 5 years, all that reading was helpful but did not in fact prepare you completely for the reality of the world and people. You will make mistakes, you will have bad situations, and you will learn through the painful experiences. It is the reality of being human.
To sum it all up, I often repeat the serenity prayer to myself to remind myself that I control me, I can’t control others, and I will learn from every painful experience.
GOD, grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change the
things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the
pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this
sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make
all things right if I
surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy
in this life, and supremely
happy with Him forever in
The Serenity PrayerThe full text of the original "Serenity Prayer"
written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
NOTE: This is the full prayer attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. Usually his "Serenity Prayer" is quoted using the first 2 verses only
Children love summer! They have fantastical ideas about what they will do and dream of freedom. Parents worry about what children will do while parents are working. Summer programming is often expensive and for few hours. There are many opportunities in Des Moines this summer. Adolescents can volunteer, work a part time job or do projects with their friends to stay busy.
I remember the long summer days with little responsibility, it was freedom and a chance to explore!
Here is just one sight for you to check out: http://eatplaylovedesmoines.com/2014/03/2374.html
Attitude of Gratitude
It sounds like a cliché, but it is so true. When you have an overlaying focus on the things you have instead of the things you don't have, gratitude becomes a fulfilling feeling. You are happier and calmer, you notice the good things and negativity melts away. I find I am so busy and caught up in the details of what I have to do in life that I pay so little attention to the things I have or what I have actually accomplished. I am always trying to achieve the next goal or get done what has to be done. I don't pay attention to myself or my surroundings.
When I slow down (on days like today), I have this overwhelming sense of gratitude which gives me an attitude of humble thanks for what is in my world.
I make a note to self, "pay more attention to the goodness I have in my life."
TIP: In your mind, see a box that can hold all the other thoughts and ideas that roam your busy mind. Then spend a few minutes thinking about all your blessings, friends, home, family, health, good food, experiences when you laughed, the luxury of your shower, the smells of your shampoo, the sun, the grass, music, movies you get to enjoy, your education, your work and leisure time... the list could be endless and contain the smallest things. No matter what you have to be grateful for, it is what has brought you to this moment just as much, if not more than any other experience you have had in your life. Smile today and celebrate your life!
This is a great resourcing process that I routinely use with clients for skill building as well as affect management and increasing the sense of safety. Resources are the development of the essence of who or what represents (real or imagined representation) of nurturing or love, (ie: teddy bear, my grandparent), protection (ie: blanket, figure of armor) and wisdom (ie: Owl, Library or an old teacher) and a conflict free image of nature (ie: beach, meadow, forest, garden, waterfall etc...) These are resources you insert in the guided imagery. You can work on these with your therapist.
Guided Imagery with Resources
[First]…”Breathe extremely slowly for about 5 breaths … Concentrate on [your] breathing and the muscles [you] are using…Loosen up [your] shoulders and neck, face [and so on] as [you] breathe. …Breathe in and out about 30 seconds without speaking much. …Do not use [your] muscles for exhalation and …let the air ‘whoosh’ out a couple of times. [Now]… breathe regularly…
“Imagine yourself on a sidewalk, no shoes, with green grass all around you for as far as you can see… the sidewalk is warm and there is a warm breeze that feels nice on your face and in your hair. You feel comfortable and notice the rough cement on the bottom of your feet. Off to the right is a line of trees that the sidewalk winds around to… imagine you walking along this sidewalk toward the line of trees…, you feel nice and content and curious about them. As you get closer you can see there is an opening in the trees, there is a natural arch made by the trees that opens to a corridor. You continue walking toward the corridor feeling warm and peaceful with each step.
As you come closer to the opening you stand and look for a moment, noticing the intricacies around you. There are beautiful flowering trees with a wonderful fragrance of your favorite flowers and colors… you step closer and notice the change in the temperature in the air around you and the cool feel of the earth under your feet. You begin to walk with a lighter step feeling wonderful… it feels safe and you are calm… the sun sprinkles on you through the trees above you… breathing in the smells around you and feeling peaceful… you come to the end of the corridor that opens up to a beautiful meadow with tall green grasses, and wild flowers.
Directly in front of you in the near distance is a huge oak tree with a giant trunk…. To the right you hear the sound of a stream…; curious, you walk toward the sound and see a comfortable bench with a pile of pebbles next to it… You sit for a moment watching the stream as it flows slowly by… feeling comfortable and safe…. You reach down to pick up a pebble and toss it in, seeing the water splash… you can smell the clean water mixed with a hint of lilac from the bushes that are placed on the opposite bank of the stream.
You look up and slightly to the left and see the top of a large hill… walking down river in the grass you can feel the soft cool grass under your feet… the sun is shining on your face and it feels nice… you come to a nice sturdy bridge that crosses the stream, leading to a path up the hill and you follow it… going up feeling the muscles you use in your legs and the breath in your lungs, it does not tire you… it makes you feel free, climbing higher and higher you feel safe and a little excited to get to the top….
You come to a natural stairway on the side, leading around toward an opening to a beautiful waterfall…, the sound is melodic and the view is beautiful… you take it in and enjoy it…, there is a natural ledge that is cut into the side of the hill where you can sit and view as the water falls into the opening small lake of water that is so blue and clear you can see everything in it….
You sit and enjoy the view, you feel safe and warm, comfortable and content….. This is a place you can ask yourself any question and trust the answer you hear to be true….. You may ask yourself a question here if you wish… just accept the answer….. The spirit of [wisdom figure] is here with you lending you all its strength and power…. You know you will walk away a little wiser today from this spot, you know you can come here anytime as it belongs to only you……
You walk back down the hill feeling lighter in your step with a smile on your face, holding on to the wisdom you have gained………….. you reach the bottom of the hill that opens back to the meadow…… you decide to walk over to the huge oak tree…… as you get closer you can see the door that opens into the tree….. You walk over the threshold into this safe place….
The spirit of [the protective figure] is with you very strongly…… the room you walk into is of perfect proportions with all your favorite things…, there are many rooms…; you walk back passing the rooms that are filled with all the comforts of home…, this feels safe and inviting, warm and comforting….. You walk all the way back to the last room at the back of the tree, a room with a door….. You open the door and find a box inside that looks sturdy and strong….
This box is not too huge and not too small, you open the box and find it is empty…, you begin to put all your concerns in this box, anything that bothers you, makes you afraid or sad….. This box is never full…. No matter how much you put in it. You know this is ok and the box will always be here, you know where to find the box and can take one thing out at a time to deal with it as you are ready…. You complete and put all of your concerns in the box and close the lid…
You search your pockets and find the key, you have the only key and the key can never be lost… it is yours and you may use it whenever you want…… you feel lighter and more in control of things today…. You are happier and enjoy looking at every room in your special place….. You walk back through the tree reaching the threshold and walk through to the outside….
The door closes and as you turn away from the tree, the door disappears…, keeping it your secret place, the door reappears when you need it to….. there is a garden full of your favorite flowers and plants… you go visit this garden familiarizing yourself with this place…, you feel loved and warm with the spirit of [nurturing figure] here with you,… warming your heart and feeling complete acceptance from this place and the spirits of your resource team around you…. You will carry this with you always, knowing that they truly belong to you…You feel so good and happy, peaceful, secure and confident today…..
You will be able to access these feelings and the knowledge that you are good when you need them….. Breathing deeply you begin to walk back toward the corridor that leads to the sidewalk…, taking your time passing the trees and feeling the cool temperatures and earth below your feet………. Reaching the sidewalk and noticing the increase in the warmth on your skin with the sun, the smells of the grass as you walk back toward where you began…You feel lighter, safe and protected,… wise and trustworthy,… content, peaceful,… secure and confident, loved and cared for…… happy……owning these feelings and taking them with you today and all week….Take a few more deep breaths and come back to the room as you are ready.”
This one takes about 20-30 minutes and is meant for skill building.
How wonderful for spring to be here finally! We often begin to feel better when spring comes around. It is such a relief from the snow!
It is important to remember your self care during the weather transitions!
Longer days and more sun can provoke you to focus on getting more done instead of slowing down. Being too busy keeps us from following through on much needed self care.
Remember to put some good, comfortable shoes on and go for a walk at least once a week. Use it as time to spend with a child, your significant other, a friend or just yourself. I often go alone and listen to a good book or use the time to 'think'.
Walking is also Bi-lateral stimulation (used in EMDR therapy). Bi Lateral stimulation can help with reorganizing your belief system to being more positive. Walking can help you resolve many different things that may be on your mind. It will help your logical and emotional brain link up easier. If you are having a difficult time taking care of yourself, call us and let us help you deal with the challenges you have.
When I think of what people are grateful for in their lives, the number one almost always on people's list is family and friends. Not the ipad they have or the new phone, new set of pots and pans or new outfit they just purchased.
Family and friends are what people say they are happy to have and are grateful for being in their family. This always comes out at the holidays and not necessarily for other times of the year, unless we have had a life changing event that makes think twice about what we have and where we are in life.
I wonder if we had an attitude of gratefulness all year, would our relationships be better, would we be happier, would life be easier to live and the small things just stay the small things?
It is known that we have 'mirror neurons'. These neurons mirror what people are putting out in the way of attitude and emotions.
So it stands to reason that if you have an attitude of gratitude, others around you will 'catch' this and over all pleasant feelings will grow in yourself and those around you.
I challenge you to try this for a day or two and just notice what other's responses are to your gratitude attitude. I invite you to comment on this as you try it!
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