Please welcome Selena Smith. Selena doesn’t have a blog yet, but she is a teacher on a mission to stop sexual abuse! Thanks for sharing, Selena!
Have you ever noticed an outgoing child in your class become an introvert almost overnight, a top-notch student suddenly become complacent about school, or a passive child become aggressive in a short period of time? There are a number of factors that can contribute to changes in the behavior of children, and sometimes those causes are minor; other times there is a substantial issue going on in that child’s life, abuse being a possible cause. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and though teachers and parents are certainly familiar with various forms of abuse, child sexual abuse seems to be a silent epidemic running rampant. It remains “silent” because only a small percentage of victims report the abuse, children are often threatened to remain quiet by an abuser, and adults sometimes avoid the subject altogether because they are unsure of how and when to approach it. Thus, children are left to suffer alone in shame and silence.
Sexual abuse often goes undetected because the physical signs are not very obvious. Sometimes there are no physical signs at all, for bodily contact is not the only facet that determines sexual abuse. Anything an adult or older child does for sexual gratification when a child is involved falls under this category. This includes voyeurism, showing a child pornography, intentionally performing sexual acts in front of a child, and taking lewd pictures of a child. All of these are crimes against children and are punishable by law, even though no physical contact occurred. Then, there are the physical forms, which are unimaginable and incomprehensible. The statistics for sexual abuse are alarming. According to Darkness to Light, a leading training center in South Carolina for sexual abuse prevention, “about 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.” This statistic is for “contact abuse only” and does not include non-contact forms listed above.
Over ninety percent of this type of abuse comes from someone the child knows – a neighbor, older child, coach, preacher, teacher, acquaintance, family friend, or family member. Rather than shout the abuse from the mountain tops, children often hide it because they have never been told what to do in that situation. Moreover, since the abuse typically comes from a familiar person, the child is even more conflicted about telling and getting that person in trouble. Yet, if another child trips them on the playground or pulls their hair, they run without delay to a teacher with the news. Something needs to change. Our innocent children must be taught at a young age what inappropriate touch is and what to do if it happens, no matter who the abuser is.
The sad fact is that when children endure sexual abuse, they face a lifetime of repercussions. They battle with trust issues, behavior changes, depression, decline in grades, low self-worth, and the list goes on. According to Darkness to Light, sexually abused children face greater risk for delinquent behavior, sexual promiscuity, post-traumatic stress, suicide attempts, dysfunction, physical aggression, teen pregnancy, health problems, eating disorders, and drug addictions. Darkness to Light is full of helpful information regarding this issue, and their Stewards of Children training program can be taken online or in face-to-face sessions. This organization declares about sexual abuse, “The real tragedy is that it robs children of their potential, setting into motion a chain of events and decisions that affect them throughout their lives.”
Erin Merryn from Illinois has set out on a mission to remedy this situation. A survivor of child sexual abuse herself, she is taking the proper steps to get Erin’s Law passed in all fifty states in the U.S. This law requires abuse awareness and assault prevention be taught in all schools in all grade levels. According to her website, Erin’s Law has passed “in eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Maine, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Nevada, with 18 more states introducing it in 2013-2014.” Although my home state of North Carolina is on the list for implementing Erin’s Law soon, sexual abuse prevention has been a part of its Standard Course of Study, as Healthful Living Objective 3.01 directly addresses this situation: “Differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touch and demonstrate how to seek adult assistance for inappropriate touch.” Erin’s Law aims to educate all children, but it may leave some school systems grappling with how to effectively teach such a sensitive topic. Most states allow individual schools to decide how they will teach this issue, which provides autonomy and freedom for educators to select the curriculum of their choice. Fortunately, there are age-appropriate materials out there, and a few of them reside on Teachers Pay Teachers.
As teachers, we often struggle with when and how to act on our instincts. Of course, we don’t want to misjudge or assume; more importantly, we don’t want to let something important go unattended. This is most certainly true with child sexual abuse. If a teacher suspects that a child is being abused in any way, it is his/her duty by law to report it to the proper authorities. Teachers can ask the school social worker for information and contact law enforcement and social services immediately. Some agencies even allow anonymous reporting. If sexual abuse is involved, then refer the child to the nearest Children’s Advocacy Center, as well, for much needed guidance and help.
Parents and educators must remember that the goal is prevention. It is easier to build strong boys and girls than to repair broken men and women. Teachers must be fearless in approaching this topic in the classroom. Let’s face it: There are some parents out there who rarely spend time with their children and are not going to discuss this important safety concern with them. I guarantee that there are children in classes all over the world who need to hear it.
This is my 19th year of teaching. I have my Master’s degree in English Education, and I am National Board Certified. I am also married to a teacher, and we have two daughters. I am a speaker/writer for child sexual abuse awareness and prevention.