My #1 Trick for Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse: Teach Them to Talk Sexy (sort of) and Defy Adults

Last year, in the interest of protecting children from sexual abuse, I did a thing.

I told my story of experiencing childhood sexual abuse to a group of community care providers, many of them practicing counselors.

My co-presenter was Robert Peters, President of SHIELD Task Force, Senior Attorney at The Zero Abuse Project, and a former US Marine.

Robert had never seen me present, and vice versa. To me, one of the most compelling things Robert shared was a relatively simple thing parents, guardians, and teachers can do to prevent child sexual abuse.

Simple, and yet not easy, for a lot of people.

To better protect children from sexual abuse, teach them the REAL names for their private parts.

Many parents teach their children cute (or bizarre) names for their genitals. This is a really bad idea.

Names such as “spot,” “cricket,” “woohoo,” and “Oscar Mayer Weiner” are problematic.

Sandy K. Wurtele, a professor of psychology and an associate dean at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, agrees. In a 2016 article in the New York Times, Wurtele said, “There are several reasons it’s important for young children to learn the anatomically correct terms for their genitals. Knowing the terminology may make children less vulnerable to sexual abuse; prospective offenders may understand that children who are comfortable with the right names for body parts are children whose parents are willing to discuss these subjects, and children who probably will have been told about the kinds of touching that are not okay.”

Wurtle also said,

“…if something disturbing does happen, knowing the (correct anatomical) names can help a child get help.”

“Without proper terminology, children have a very hard time telling someone about inappropriate touching,” Dr. Wurtele said. “If a child says someone ‘touched her cookie,’ it would be very difficult for a listener to know (that something inappropriate happened).”

But if a child is using anatomically correct terms, that could be a deterrent to a pedophile. This article at PsychologyToday.com supports this theory, saying, “…there is a general consensus among clinical experts that children who know the anatomically correct names for their genitals are better able to avoid abuse, or to talk about it if it happens.”

Parents, in the interest of protecting children from sexual abuse, take good care of your babies.

According to a document published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s — Child Molesters, a Behavioral Analysis — the typical molester “…frequently selects as targets children who are victims of emotional or physical neglect.”

To my mind, an emotionally-neglected child is also less likely to be taught proper anatomical terminology. The difference between a vagina and a vulva, for example. If a child knows the exact name for his/her body parts, they can tell a parent, doctor, and/or law enforcement officer exactly what they experienced.

So that’s why I’m telling you to teach your kid to talk “sexy.” Now, why do I recommend teaching them to “defy adults?”

In my part of Tuesday’s presentation, I said if I could change one thing in my story, it would be this:

Yell: At least 500 times over the course of my life I’ve regretted not yelling at the older individual who abused me.

“Get away from me, you pervert!” … “Stop!” …“Leave me alone!”

In my situation, any of those exclamations would probably have worked.

Which is why I recommend you teach your kids to yell. At anyone who makes them feel unsafe: a family member, a friend of the family, an older child. A coach, a pastor, a neighbor.

Even if it feels odd, have your kids practice yelling for help at home. Trust me, it’s better to feel weird now than sorry later. You want the behavior to come naturally to your child. Kind of like, “Stop, drop, and roll.”

Tell: I remember years ago as I listened to a radio story, hearing a survivor of Catholic priest sexual abuse say — in a hushed and forlorn voice — something to the effect: “I’m haunted by the fact that if I’d told someone what happened to me that very first time, all the other times may not have happened.”

This.

Yes.

Me too.

Man, do I wish there’d been someone in my life I trusted with my skeevy story. If only one of my schools — preferably elementary — had offered “good touch-bad touch” presentations via assemblies or health class. For kids like me whose parents shied away from the “Birds and Bees” conversation.

Parents, have the “Birds and Bees conversation” with your kids.

Not just once. More like, once a year. Or a quarter. Or a month. If you need help in this area, check out this blog post I wrote on the topic. It’s one of my most popular posts ever.

But don’t stop after telling them how babies are made. Plenty of kids, maybe the majority of them, need to hear “the rest of the story.” Things like:

  • Your private parts are called “private” for a reason.
  • No one should touch your private parts except you, your parent or guardian (when bathing and dressing you, and then, only until you can do it yourself), and occasionally, a doctor (with your parent or guardian in the room).
  • It is ILLEGAL for another person to touch your private parts until you are 18, and then, they can only do it with your consent.
  • The definition of consent.

Also important for your child to know is who they can tell if someone touches them inappropriately.

I didn’t tell anyone for a very long time. If on a regular basis I’d been educated on this topic and who I could go to for help if something happened, I believe I would have told someone sooner.

Tell your kids they can talk to people like:

  • Parents, guardians, grandparents
  • teachers, school counselors
  • doctors, nurses
  • law enforcement officers
  • The crisis text line. For more information about this option, click here.
  • their best friend

I heard the story recently of one young woman who told a friend what was happening to her and that friend got her help. And now that tricky dicky (pardon the pun) is behind bars.

Another thing your child needs to know is what constitutes sexual abuse.

It is not only rape in the traditional sense of the word. Inappropriate activity can include, but is not limited to:

  • Touching a child’s private parts (with hands, mouth, any body part, or a foreign object)
  • Asking a child to touch their private parts
  • Wanting a child to pose naked for pictures
  • Asking a child to kiss them
  • Showing the child pornography
  • Exposing their private parts to a child
  • Making obscene phone calls
  • Suggesting a young person send them naked pictures via texting (ie. “sexting”)
  • Asking a child to “play doctor”

People, we must be proactive about protecting our children from sexual abuse. And that means empowering them to protect themselves.

Note: At the onset of the pandemic, I collaborated with Shield Task Force to create safety videos for kids to watch. We created one set of body safety and online safety videos appropriate for K-5, and another set for middle and high schoolers. To view those videos, click here.

For more of my “lessons from a life half lived,” click here.

Howdy-hey from Almost Heaven, West Virginia! Here in my 110-year-old Sears kit-house, I drink coffee, write many words, snuggle soft mammals, repeat.

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