A few weeks ago, I shared my story and testimony at a church a few hours away. Before I came up to speak, the Pastor gave a short disclaimer mentioning the topic I was going to share about (rape), saying that what I said would be done tastefully, but parents could choose to take their kids to the nursery or another part of the church if they wanted to. I completely respect his decision to provide the congregation of his church a heads up on the topic for the day, but there was a part of me that wanted to stand up and add my own disclaimer before people had a chance to remove their kids. Now, I am not a parent, and obviously every parent needs to decide when is the best time is to talk to their kids about sexual abuse, but personally I feel that many parents may wait too long to speak to their kids about the topic of sexual assault. So many parents feel that they can wait until their children are older to talk to them about sexual assault, but in reality, if your child can understand language, I think the topic of sexual assault should be discussed with them. Often times, parents aren't sure how to bring this topic up so they tend to rely on the church or school to talk to their kids. Often times, churches and schools don't talk to the children early enough. A perfect example of this was talked about by Speaker and Author Nicole Bromley on a TV show called "Everlasting Love". (You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TptobshZ4Ps&feature=relmfu). Nicole was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of 5 until she was 14. She mentions on this show that the youngest group of students she's been allowed to speak to is 5th grade. In addition, she first heard about sexual assault at 5th grade, but at that point, she'd been being sexually abused for 5 years! She needed that information in Kindergarten. That's something pretty serious to think about with your own kids. Of course, no one wants to think that their kids can be abused because a majority of children are abused by someone they know. No one wants to imagine that someone they know could commit such a heinous act.
If you've read the "My Story" page of this blog, you know that I was raped as a 16 year old teenager. I had heard of sexual assault before that time. The problem for me was that it was always portrayed as happening to a certain "stereotype" of victim and by a specific "stereotype" of man - stereotypes that I and the guy who raped me did not meet. However, as a forensic scientist, I know all too well that abuse happens younger than 5th grade. I've had victims in my cases as young as 2 years old. I've had numerous victims in cases that are between the ages of 6-10. Many had been abused multiple times before they actually tell. One victim came home to tell her mom she had been abused by her grandfather the day she saw a presentation at school (in 2nd grade) - she'd been being abused for 2 years at that point. Clearly, this abuse is happening at ages earlier than when the schools and churches want to introduce the topic.
In my opinion, children need to hear about sexual abuse (in age appropriate ways) pretty much as soon as they are able to understand a conversation with them. At the very least, as soon as they are able to speak more than just a few words. I've often heard parents say that they want their children to be able to remain innocent as long as possible so they don't want to introduce this topic too soon. I completely understand that concern. However, wouldn't you rather have a little of that innocence chipped away by your child hearing about sexual abuse, what it is, that it's not OK, and that they need to tell you if someone ever tries anything remotely like it with them; than having the innocent completely shattered when someone sexually abuses your child numerous times before you have a chance to talk to them about it. It's the sad but true reality of the world that we live in.
If you want resources on what child sexual abuse is, how prevalent it is, or tips on talking to your children - here are some links that you can check out.
http://www.nsvrc.org/publications/child-sexual-assault - A whole host of publications on the topic of child sexual assault.
http://childmolestationprevention.org/ - A great website resource devoted to child sexual abuse.
http://www.tellinitlikeitis.net/2008/05/why-don%E2%80%99t-kids-tell-talking-to-your-children-about-sexual-abuse.html - Another website with resources about talking to your kids about sexual abuse, and with information as to why kids don't talk about sexual assault.
http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/child-sexual-abuse/if-you-suspect - The Rape Abuse Incest National Network has some great resources on sexual assault, particularly this document with tips on talking to your kids.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-child-abuse/201006/how-and-when-talk-your-child-about-sexual-abuse - Another great article about talking to your kids.
As you can see from this sampling of sites, the resources are out there. If you don't find the information you want, Google the topic "Talking to kids about sexual abuse" - you'll be taken to these and many other resources on the topic.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke