In light of all that’s trending online right now about a certain person coming from a conservative, extremely large family, my heart has been heavy.
I have no interest writing about pseudo-celebrities or drudging up drama. And I certainly don’t want to use the pain and suffering we see in the news as click-bait for my blog. That’s not what I’m about. What I am about is using this little corner of the Internet for good. I want to share my heart and reflect God’s big love, and in this season of motherhood, I want to encourage other parents walking this road, too.
Which is why I’m going to talk about something: Abuse. Specifically, sexual abuse in children.
Honestly, I hate typing that out. I want to put my head in the sand and live in a world where it doesn’t exist. But as a parent, I’d be failing miserably if I did this. Because abuse does exist. Statistics show it’s real, it’s prevalent, and it needs to be talked about. One in five girls will be a victim of sexual abuse, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. A 2003 National Institute of Justice report found that three out of four adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well. This is not okay. We need to bring things to light so we can take action against it happening again.
Experts believe statistics, as shocking as they are, are probably even more devastating due to underreporting. (I have heard friends, family, and church members, and my heart breaks for the pain you’ve suffered — a lot of times very secretly. This pain crosses generations and race and economic status and largely isn’t talked about. I think of you brave women (and men) all every time I read another sensationalized article, and I want you to know that you are loved and being hurt is never, ever your fault. Ever. If you’re the parent of a child who has been abused, I’m so sorry either of you ever had to experience these horrors.)
I think about the time I was a college student church volunteer, leading a small group of 6th grade girls, when one sweet girl started sobbing, sharing how she was repeatedly abused by her father, who was now in jail. She felt like she had to forgive him and wanted me to tell her how. I had no idea what to say or what to do.
I refuse to sit by. I can’t put a bandage on the world, I know, and I can’t always protect children, but there are things I can do — and you can do — to help create a safer, better world for the most vulnerable. I’m not a trained therapist, counselor, or social worker. I have no expertise, only the belief that we can do better. As parents, we have a pivotal role to do everything we can do create safe environments for our families.
I keep coming back to four pieces of the puzzle:
- Children need to know surprises are okay, but secrets aren’t. A few months ago, I read this short article written by a mother and counselor outlining a simple way to be proactive against abuse — no secrets. We’re trying to intentionally bring this up in conversation with our four-year-old and two-year-old. First, we talk about safe touch and about what to do if something happened. Then, we talk about how secrets aren’t okay. They can and should tell us anything. Surprises, like for a birthday, make people happy when they find out. Secrets are meant to be kept quiet forever and they’re often meant to make sure people don’t find out something that would make them sad.
- Children need to be empowered. When we raise our kids in a culture to be “seen and not heard,” we’re fostering a shame-based system that devalues our children’s voices. We can teach our children to have manners, but we also need to teach our children to say no to older children and adults in compromising situations, too. We need to create interactive relationships, and sometimes talk about awkward things, because when we are open to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, we help create safe and trusting bonds, allowing our children to talk about the good, bad, and ugly, too.
- Children need to be raised in cultures of respect. Raising children in home and church environments where boys are encouraged to take charge and violence is celebrated is dangerous. When children see that it is good for only men to make decisions, and only men to be in charge, we create an environment where girls learn to be submissive and quiet their voices. When this happens, we unintentionally create a culture that leaves room for boys to hurt girls, leaving victims to feel shame, and to be silent about it.
- Children need to be seen. I have the privilege of staying at home with my children in this stage of life, and as the weather gets warmer, we’ve been spending a lot of time at the park. I’m all for my children getting to explore without a mom helicoptering around, but I also make sure I have eyes on them at all times. There are some children who we see frequently in our small town park who break my heart. They are young (5-7) and often alone. There have been things they’ve said or done that give me an inkling things aren’t great at home, and they often want to explore the outer edges of the park, out of my line of sight. My children are young and will follow others, so I need to be diligent that they’re not following others into park bathrooms alone, even if it could be innocent. I don’t want my son exploring the church basement alone with an older child, even if that older child was “raised in a Christian home.” There are boundaries and while I want my kids to be free to roam and explore, they need to do it in safe ways.
There’s so much more to say and that could be said. We need to talk about keeping children safe at church. We need to talk about keep children safe with friends. We need to talk about keeping children safe with caregivers.
We need to talk.
Being a parent isn’t easy, but I know I need to be part of the conversation. And that’s why I’m listening to those who know more than me, and trying to use my voice, too.