It’s perhaps a parent’s greatest fear – that at some point his or her child will become a victim of sexual abuse. The statistics are alarming: Approximately one in five children will become victims by his or her 18th birthday. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have responded to parents’ concerns by writing God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies (New Growth Press/September 8, 2015), a resource for moms and dads who want to protect and educate their children.
Q: What prompted you to write God Made All of Me? What age range was it written for?
The book is for 2-to-8-year-olds. We wrote it because we have two young children and know parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes. Our goal is to help parents and caregivers in protecting their children from sexual abuse. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.
Q: What do the statistics about childhood sexual abuse tell parents about the importance of tackling this topic with their kids?
Child sexual abuse is more prevalent than most people think, and the offenders are usually people parents and the children know, not strangers.
Approximately one in five children will be sexually abused by his or her eighteenth birthday. A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger. Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker; 34% of assailants were family members, 58% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.
Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10% of victims are age 3 and under, 28% are between ages 4 and 7, 26% are between ages 8 and 11, and 36% are 12 and older.
Q: You were intentional about using the terms “appropriate” and “inappropriate” when referring to kinds of touch, instead of the words “good” or “bad.” Why?
It is important to be clear with adults and children about the difference between touch that is appropriate and touch that is inappropriate. Experts discourage any use of the phrases “good touch” and “bad touch” for two main reasons. First, some sexual touch feels good, and then children get confused wondering if it was good or bad. Second, children who have been taught “good touch” or “bad touch” would be less likely to tell a trusted adult as they perceive they have done something bad.
To your child say something like: “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s OK. Let me know if anyone — family member, friend or anyone else — touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Q: Why do you encourage moms and dads to use the proper names when referring to private body parts, even for young children?
It can be uncomfortable at first, but using the proper names of body parts is important. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.
Offenders most likely will not talk to children about their private parts by using the anatomically correct names for genitalia. They will likely use some playful-sounding term to make it sound more like a game.
Q: What do parents need to know about child offenders?
Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim. Most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious, and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.
Sex offenders are often religious, and many of them attend church. In a study of 3,952 male sex offenders, 93% of these perpetrators described themselves as “religious.” Dr. Anna Salter, a sexual offender treatment provider, states it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high-risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”
Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy, it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.
Q: What is personal safety education?
Education is important in preventing inappropriate sexual behavior or contact. By teaching children about their bodies and discussing appropriate and inappropriate touch, you are helping them understand their ability to say “no” to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt or trick them.
Our friend Victor Vieth, the senior director and founder of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, explains, “Personal safety education involves simply telling children that the parts of their body covered by bathing suits are not supposed to be touched by others and, when they are, they should tell someone. If the person they tell doesn’t believe them, they should keep on telling until they are believed.”
Parents are quick to teach about fire and swimming safety but are hesitant to encourage personal safety training, which is designed to empower and protect children against offenders.
Q: It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, but what should a mom or dad do if he or she suspects his or her child might have been the victim of sexual abuse?
You can call your local sexual assault crisis center and talk with a child advocate or hotline volunteer about your concerns. They will be able to point you to the proper authorities. Some areas would have you speak with a detective, where other areas would have you talk to a victim witness advocate. Don’t ask probing questions that could instill fear in your children. Just assure them you are so proud of them for telling you what happened and that you believe them and your job is to keep them safe.
Q: Tell us about GRACE. What does it offer to the church and families?
GRACE stands for “Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments,” and the mission is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent and respond to child abuse. We help educate churches and other faith-based organizations about how to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse, and we help churches love and serve survivors of abuse who are in their midst. Check out GRACE at www.netgrace.org.