In today’s episode I interview Kimberly King. She is a sexual abuse educator and author of several books. As a freshman in college, Kimberly started her work with sexual abuse prevention as a women’s health Peer Counselor and Human Sexuality teaching assistant to the renowned Dr. Sandra Caron.
After more than a decade of teaching kindergarten and proactive momming, her son had a body safety scare with a friend that triggered a shift. She realized she wanted take the scare out of sexual abuse prevention.
Now, Kimberly helps parents, and all who care for kids, learn to talk about body safety with ease so they can prevent abuse and protect their kids.
In this interview, we talk about sexual abuse. This is such an important topic and one that a lot of times we would rather not have to talk about, but we need to in order to raise awareness and help people recover and prevent sexual abuse from happening in the first place. Often parents report that it was by observing the experience their children are going through that they started to realize that they had a similar experience in childhood, but it was never addressed.
In fact, sexual abuse is more common than we realize. This type of trauma can paralyze children and adults with fear. In this interview, Kimberly shares ways to talk about it in a very kid-friendly or just simple matter of fact way. She describes that by having these conversations with your children, you can help to protect them and avoid anything from happening to them. When you think about it that way, the topic becomes easier to talk about.
How Common is Sexual Abuse?
It’s shocking that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they’re 18 years old. That’s a terrible statistic right there but what’s even worse is that only 38% of children ever tell anybody, so most of sexual abuse is not even reported. So, we don’t know the real number but it’s of epidemic levels which is why prevention is so important.
90% of children who are sexually abused will be sexually abused by the people in their inner circle of trust, the people that they already know including family members, siblings, cousins, distant cousins, teachers, and people they already trust.
Sexual Abuse and Smartphones
When you give your child a cell phone, they have access to apps, and they have access to everything. Predators know that kids are on phones and are hanging out on these apps. So, to give your child a cell phone is dangerous unless you get very prepared and empowered to prevent sexual abuse.
These conversations must happen with our children very early, way before they have access to cell phones, so that they understand body boundaries, body safety rules, they know who to tell if something happens, they know who they’re safe with. And then you must start implementing online safety measures on these devices to make sure that your kids are protected.
We Need to Normalize Talking About Sexual Abuse
This is a safety concern. The goal is to prevent sexual abuse. The topic of body safety needs to be as approachable as possible. We need to teach our kids about this just as we teach them to put on their bike helmet and to buckle up in the car.
It should just be common language like of course we know our body parts, and of course we know we have rights to protect our bodies and of course if we have a problem, we’re going to tell our parents or our safe adults. So, we must normalize talking about these things so that it’s not so taboo that children are terrified to tell us when something happens.
Sometimes we don’t really teach our kids but it’s so important. They don’t have to respond or comply when an adult is demanding a hug or physical attention or being mean or saying something dangerous. We do have to empower them to use their voice because we’re not always going to be there to protect them.
There are very few people talking about this with children. We need to talk about the real risks that they face so that parents understand and do an assessment of where and when they are putting their children at risk. We can certainly educate our kids about this but as parents we must make really good decisions. Is it a great idea to let a random babysitter that you hired on Facebook watch your two-year-old? NO! It’s not!
The Effects of Sexual Abuse in a Person’s Lifetime
The healing process is different for everybody. Having a history of sexual abuse can increase the risk of drug dependency, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, psychiatric disorders, academic problems, criminal problems, etc. It really does blossom into pretty much every disorder that you can think of, especially if left untreated.
Even one incident can create a lifetime of anxiety and depression. It would really be ideal if we could get ahead and prevent this from happening but for the people who went through something like this earlier in your life, it’s very important to get help and start the healing process. Just talking about it with someone safe will help by letting it out of your head.
Does Sexual Abuse Tend to Repeat Itself in Families?
The data on that is not very well studied but if you are a victim of sexual abuse once you’re more likely to be a victim of abuse later. If you were abused as a child, you’re more likely to be abused again later and this comes from a lack of awareness of what abuse looks like.
If you were abused by, say your stepfather, and were threatened or blackmailed and you felt responsible and he blamed it on you, if you were raised in that environment and you didn’t even know what you were going through, then when you get to be a young adult, you’re still not going to know what is normal and what isn’t. This puts you at risk and this is why education is so critical.
It’s critical that kids, especially teenagers, understand what abuse looks like because you don’t want them to make a mistake just because you haven’t talked to them about it or because they don’t understand it. Why risk it when you can teach them about it. You could really get ahead of it and save them a lifetime of hardship by preventing abuse from happening. It doesn’t matter what age your child is – just start talking about it now.
So, having that conversation with your teen about alcohol for example, do not mix sex with alcohol because it will never go well or that you could you could actually be in some type of a sexual situation with a girl or a boy and they can change their mind in the middle of it and just because she or he is your girlfriend or boyfriend or partner, it doesn’t mean that you can keep going. You have to stop. Conversations about consent and what that looks like for your children and for their relationships are critical to have.
Healthy sexual activity with consent can be so beneficial to our health, but that doesn’t mean that we get to just force that on someone and overlook these important boundaries, and so the more that these conversations can happen at a young age, the more we will be preventing the type of behavior that could push past these boundaries.
Having this education and being empowered in this space will also prevent things like sexual harassment in the workplace. Our kids when raised and taught these things aren’t going to accept this behavior from their boss. They will have their boundaries in place and they will not be afraid of speaking up if needed.
The Fear of Speaking Up for Yourself
Being an authoritarian parent is not an effective way to parent because it can make it so that children don’t feel comfortable going to parents when they are dealing with sexual abuse, bullying and/or depression. You want your kids to be able to communicate with you, no matter what the topic. You want to develop a relationship with your kids that involves you being an active listener and not a dictator.
Studies show that children with authoritarian parents are more likely to develop anxiety and depression than kids with parents who are more open to talk about anything. A style of parenting that includes structure as well as calmness, gentleness, and very good listening skills makes it so that your children will talk to you and share these things with you, so that you know when they need help.
This is critical in the topic of body safety because kids have to know that when something is wrong, they have the right to speak up and they need to speak up and they need to know who which adults are safe for them to go to for help. Not all kids understand that, and not all parents teach that. There are kids who are worried they’re going to get in trouble if they say something about sexual abuse.
A good option is to make a list of safe adults in case mom is not available. Who is it that you love and trust in case of an emergency or who is it that’s super easy to talk to and can be on your body safety team. Some examples are people who have never asked your child to keep a secret, or they’ve never violated a body boundary, and they follow your family safety plan and rules.
We need to learn to protect ourselves not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually at the same time. And we are not really trained on how to protect ourselves very well. And so learning what does that mean to better protect ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Having conversations about what are the feelings that make us feel good or green flag feelings and then the red flag feelings such as butterflies, or maybe you’re nervous, maybe your hands are shaking, maybe you’re sweaty, maybe you’re angry or scared or stressed. We need to teach our children to recognize these feelings and how their bodies feel when they’re experiencing those emotions.
This helps them communicate with you better, and it doesn’t have to just be about sexual abuse it can be about anything like feeling nervous because the teacher raised her voice. Where did your child feel that in his or her body? Ask your child if they want to talk about it. It’s about processing all these emotions instead of just keeping it all inside because they don’t know how to talk about it or they don’t know how to express themselves.
Then we can make a list of who are the green flag people and the red flag people, and then why are these people in the red. This is a great way to have a conversation about it and it’s an easy way to talk about it.
Good Communication Is Critical in Preventing Sexual Abuse
When we’re able to be in such deeper real authentic conversations with our children we can reduce rates of trauma in future generations and the more we can prevent trauma experiences, the more we’re going to be preventing health issues and abuse and addiction.
We also need to open up the conversation about what adults and parents have experienced and how can they heal in the process, because sometimes people are afraid to have conversations with their children because they’re afraid of what they might feel as an adult.
You might not be ready to share your story with your kids, and that is fine. You can even just say something happened to me and I don’t want it to happen to you so let’s talk about it.
If you avoid these topics completely, it’s like you’re rolling the dice. Maybe your kids are going to be lucky, and they’ll get out of childhood unscathed, but the statistics are not in the favor of that. So, even if it’s difficult, even if you have to get through some stuff to talk about it with your kids, you need to have this open communication.
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