child protection, holidays, nonprofit, parent resources, safety, Training, Uncategorized

Holiday Hulabaloo: Tips & Tricks for Keeping Kids Safe

Holidays are here, bringing joy, cheer, and lots of time with family and friends. While they are a great time for celebration, we at Baltimore Child Abuse Center also want to remind families that the holidays can also be a risky time for children. While there are no statistics saying that the risk for abuse increases at this time of year, circumstances surrounding the holidays make it easier for abuse to occur. Extended family and friends are in and out of our homes, kids are running around, and it is easy to be distracted by activities going on around us and lose sight of the safety of our children.

Here are some of BCAC’s tips and tricks for keeping your kids safe this holiday season:

  1. Don’t Force Hugs: Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space.
  2. Create a Family Safety Plan: Print out BCAC’s family-safety-plan & complete it with your kids.
  3. Talk Body Safety: No matter the age, it is important to use developmentally appropriate language and help children understand boundaries. Try this video from our friends across the pond at NSPCC.
  4. Don’t Keep Secrets: Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Remember that while the holidays are joyful and fun for most, they can also be stressful and risky time for children. Read the signs your child may be giving you, and stay in regular communication with them.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season,

Drew & all of BCAC

 

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Bathroom Safety, child protection, LGBTQ, parent resources

Stranger Danger in the Target Bathroom and Other Ridiculous Myths

In solidarity with the federal Equality Act, Target recently announced an inclusive bathroom policy welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” This sent the blogosphere into chaos. Bloggers literally lost their collective minds. Some claimed the inclusive policy could be dangerous for women and children. Real talk, people wrote that women and children were more likely to be sexually assaulted as a result of the policy.

This claim makes two absurd assumptions. First, that people in the LGBTQ community are sexual perpetrators. One blogger even went as far as to ask why “Target is willing to forego the safety of many to appease the internal struggle of the few.” This is a dangerous and outrageous leap. The writer suggests that the LGBTQ community is inherently unsafe or sexually predatory and perpetuates baseless stereotypes that put people at greater risk for harm. In fact, research shows that the LGBTQ community is more likely to be victims of sexual abuse/assault, not perpetrators. Do not jump to the conclusion that victims become abusers—that’s a whole other blog post.

The second assumption presented is that men and women will pretend to be transgender to enter either bathroom so they can molest women and children. The hypothesis here is that strangers are the perpetrators of sexual crimes. The reason this is dangerous is that we are continuing to teach children the idea of “stranger danger.”

This is a missed opportunity to teach our kids about more likely dangers. In reality, 93% of children who have been sexually abused are known by their perpetrator. What does this mean? Typically, perpetrators are acquainted to their victim—they already know the child in some way and may even be a trusted adult.

Let’s backtrack for a bit. Where did this obsession with stranger danger come from? Highly publicized cases of abductions and child sexual abuse date all the way back to 1874. In one case, a four-year-old boy was lured into a wagon (#oregontrail) by two men that offered him candy.  More recently, we’ve heard about Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, or Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland who were held captive against their will for years. These cases are so compelling because we see their family members on television, we feel like we know them, and become emotionally invested in the cases. We relate to them, making it easy to imagine that something like this could happen to your own child. Side note: stranger abductions make up 1/100th of 1 percent of all abductions—again, it’s usually a parent or someone the child knows.

Let’s be clear, it is always a good idea to teach children to be vigilant and cautious in any situation. It’s our job to help them navigate the world. If we want to keep kids safe, let’s not just focus on stranger danger (or inclusive bathrooms), but instead, let kids know that child sexual abuse happens right at home. Unfortunately, offenders are most likely someone you or your child already knows and trusts. So, how do we protect kids?

  1. Know the signs (we have some here).
  2. Talk and listen to them. Only 1 in 10 children actually report child sexual abuse. Let your kids know they can come to you and that it’s not OK to keep secrets.
  3. Minimize opportunity. Educated children are harder targets for abuse. Teach your kids about body parts that are private and use correct terminology. If something does happen to their body, they will have the words to tell an adult. Trust your child’s instincts. If they say they don’t want to be alone with a person, there’s probably a reason why.
  4. Know how to report and make the call—you may help keep other kids safe, too. Stay calm, and listen. Gain minimal facts and let the professionals conduct an investigation. Not sure how to report? Let us tell you.

Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with kids. Arm them with knowledge. Give them the capacity to keep their bodies safe and the tools to respond if something happens. Be proactive; not reactive.

And if your child has to pee at Target, treat it just like you would if your child had to pee at Walmart. Provide proper supervision and guidance, encourage your child to use the buddy system (but we think Target has better home décor).

Picture taken from “Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity.”  

Nikki Daskalakis, LCSW-C and Sammy Jo Kanekuni, LCSW-C are forensic interviewers at Baltimore Child Abuse Center and best friends.

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child protection, parent resources

Communicating Healthy Boundaries

As a parent or a staff person at a youth serving organization, do you find it difficult to talk with children about their bodies and staying safe? Below please a guideline on how to communicate healthy boundaries.

What do I say? 

Bodies, Healthy Boundaries, and Touching

  • Teach your children the anatomically correct names for their body parts.
  • Teach them that no one should touch their private parts except to keep them clean and healthy.
  • Teach the difference between secrets and surprises, and that touching is never secret.
  • Talk matter-of-factly about private parts.  If your child sees that you are comfortable talking about sexuality, they are more likely to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they have a question.
  • Keep explanations basic and at the level of the child’s age.

Establish Family Rules about Boundaries and Touching

  • Everyone should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, and toileting.  If any adult or child breaks these rules, there should be a discussion with repercussions.
  • Teach your children that they can say “No” to any type of touch, and that their “No” will be respected.
  • Demonstrate boundaries and how to say “No” in your own life.
  • Learn more about establishing family rules from the CDC

What are “don’t’s” when talking to my children about sexual abuse? 

  • Avoid discussing “stranger danger” when talking your children about child sexual abuse.  Ninety percent of the time a child is victimized by someone the family knows and trusts.  Explain to your child that no one, not even a friend of mom or dad’s, should touch your child’s private parts and if anyone does the child should tell more than one safe adult right away.
  • Avoid using the terminology “good touch” and “bad touch,” as this can be confusing for a child.  Sometimes inappropriate touching may feel good, so use words like appropriate, inappropriate, safe, or unsafewhen teaching rules about touching.
  • Try not to scare your child by overwhelming them with too much information at once.  Instead, incorporate family rules and messages about boundaries into your every day discussions about basic safety, this way they will understand that personal safety is as basic and important as other safety rules like “Never play with fire” and “Never play with guns.”
  • Avoid making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for asking a question about his/her body, private parts, or touching.  If your child asks you a question at the wrong time, let him/her know his/her question is important and address it as soon as you can, or in more appropriate setting.

How do I start a conversation? 

  • Use these suggested reading books to start a conversation about bodies and boundaries.
  • Watch for signs that your child is interested in sexuality.
  • Recognize teachable moments and use these as opportunities to start a conversation.
  • Be an “Askable Adult.”  Let your child know they can ask you anything!

To Learn More:

  • Schedule a workshop about communication in your home, religious center, organization, or at your child’s school.

For additional resources, visit the following websites:

Darkness To Light 

Kid Smartz – a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

 

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causes, child protection, nonprofit

It’s not just child trafficking.

The other morning while I was driving to work down I-83, I saw the following billboard.

billboard

Let me be clear, I would be the first to tell you that child trafficking is one of the most insidious crimes going on in this country right now. And, I admire and appreciate the fact that the FBI is waging such a public campaign to elicit citizens to help end this scourge. However, ending child trafficking is only part of the problem. It’s a bit like cleaning up an oil spill without ending the oil leak. It’s a necessary step, but it’s not fixing the whole problem.

Why doesn’t the billboard implore drivers to Help the FBI End Child Sexual Abuse? Or Child Abuse, in general? (I have issues with the term “child prostitution,” but that’s a post for another day.)

Indeed, there are incidences of child trafficking and prostitution that resulted from a child abduction, but most cases of child trafficking victims aren’t like the movie, “Taken”. These are children who’ve experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences, among them child abuse and sexual abuse. In fact, 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have a history of sexual abuse, according to National Institute of Justice. (2007). Commercial sexual exploitation of children: What do we know and what do we do about it? (Publication NCJ 215733). US Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs.n.

Baltimore Child Abuse Center spends a good amount of time working with and helping prevent child trafficking. For over five years now, our forensic interviewers have helped with FBI investigations when cases of child or human trafficking have been discovered. We sit on a variety of task forces, and one of our staff members is one of the state’s (if not the nation’s) leading experts on approaches to combating child sex trafficking.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned in 25 years of forensic interviewing and intervening in child sex abuse cases, it’s that a child deserves the best possible response so that they can find justice and heal. Further, they would be far better-served if we began to concentrate more of our efforts at the root of the problem, rather than responding to situations further down the road.

Perhaps it’s our absolute revulsion over the idea of a child being sold into prostitution that makes such public campaigns and outrage plausible, but I believe firmly that we all should be equally repulsed and ashamed by the fact that children are being abused and sexually abused in every community across Maryland and the entire U.S. Where are the massive public campaigns to stop it?

To my colleagues and advocates in the field who work tirelessly to prevent child trafficking, I salute you. And I also ask, what else we should be doing to prevent these children from ending up in that predicament to begin with?

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