First, to any parent out there who has allowed their child to sleep over and had the unfortunate experience of enduring the pain of your child being sexually abused, I want to tell you, “I’m sorry.” If you were standing in front of me right at this moment with your eyes looking down as you shared your pain, I would want to lift your head back up, take your hands and look deep into the soul of your eyes. I would want to tell you that it’s not your fault, that you are an incredible parent, and that your child will work through this pain and be better off because of the parent your child has. I would then hug you and not let go until you were finished crying your heart out. I would repeat again and again, it’s not your fault…it’s not your fault.
If you have allowed your child to sleep over and your child has been safe, if your children aren’t at the age for sleepovers just yet, or if you are pregnant with your first baby, I want to say a few things to raise your awareness. Please understand that it is not my intent to scare you; however, I do want to gracefully give you a list to live by if and when your child gets to the age of sleepovers and if your family chooses to allow them. I would also like to add that sleepovers can be healthy and fun for children just like they were for me…but, as the protectors of our children, I have faith you would want this list, just in case.
- We must educate ourselves about child sexual abuse and what that looks like. Please note that one out of ten children will be sexually abused by 18 years of age, 90% of the children who are abused are abused by someone they know, and that the majority of abuse cases happen between the hours of 3 pm – 4 pm (right after school) and 10 pm – 6 am (when the rest of the house is sleeping).
- We must educate our children about the Five B’s:
- Body Parts: children must be able to verbally use the correct anatomical names for Body Parts (yes, this includes vagina and penis).
- Boundaries: children must be able to understand their physical Boundaries and that no one is allowed to touch them on their private parts (or visa versa) without their permission.
- Be Brave, Yell and Tell: children must be able to understand that if someone does touch them or asks to touch someone else inappropriately that they have permission to Be Brave, Yell and Tell another adult until someone believes them and makes it stop.
- Bust Secrets: children need to be given permission to Bust Secrets and tell us anything that happens that made them feel uncomfortable.
- Be Bold and Believe: children must be empowered through healthy parenting to believe in themselves.
- We must know the first and last name of the parents, have spent a lot of time with their family and be comfortable with their values, the child, and all siblings. We must also be on that same level with everyone that will be sleeping over at the same time as our child.
- We must give ourselves permission to pay attention to our instincts. Instincts are a gift and must be utilized without apology. It’s okay to allow our children to spend the night with one friend/family member and not another.
- We must give children a way out if they do feel uncomfortable at any given moment while attending a sleepover. A great way to make this possible is by giving our child a phone to take with them. We can give them a special password that they can text or call us during any moment of the night and they understand that we would be right over to take them back home, no questions asked. Of course, there would be a lot of questions that would need to be asked the days following.
- If our child does disclose that sexual abuse has occurred, we must always BELIEVE our child.
- After believing our child, then we must stay calm and ask open-ended questions to understand the story better. Please take note that when someone is sexually abused, the story might be hazy and unclear. Sometimes, the details of the time of day/night and the exact order of how it happened might be unclear due to the trauma; however, the details such as what the offender was wearing, the smell of the soap they used, etc. will be much clearer. This is normal and NOT an indication that the child is lying. So, once again…let’s BELIEVE our children.
- If abuse has been disclosed, then we must be ready, willing, and able to make a very difficult phone call; after all, it was a family we thought we knew well and trusted (and it might even be our own family). We must call Children’s Protective Services (CPS) and/or the police. The reporting agency will take the report and do the necessary investigation to ensure (in a perfect world) that the other child or adult that did the offending does not harm any other child in the future.
- If abuse has been disclosed, then the child will likely face depression and/or withdrawal for a period of time. It is our responsibility as a parent to seek professional care for our child to get through this difficult time.
My hope is that every parent understands it is our responsibility, as adults, to protect our children. Even if you have decided that sleepovers are not a risk you are willing to take, it is still a must to follow these nine steps with your children. The statistics prove our children will need these guidelines to be taken seriously. Let’s do this together.
Jennifer Hillman is a licensed speech-language pathologist, producer of the award-winning educational DVD, “The Five B’s”, mother of two and an active advocate and speaker for sexual abuse prevention education in the home, churches and in schools.
For more information on this topic and Bailey Bee Believes® award-winning educational DVD on empowering children about body safety to prevent sexual abuse, go to www.baileybeebelieves.com.