Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention Month

Every child deserves a great childhood.  Every individual deserves to be safe.  These are basic human rights.  These are things we can agree.  

But if you’re not abusing or neglecting your own children – or if you or a family member has never been sexually assaulted – you may be thinking the ‘prevention message’ isn’t relevant to you.  And with our increasingly busy schedules you may be wondering how you can have the time or expertise to prevent child abuse and sexual assault.  

Your questions and reservations are valid.  Your intentions are good.  You are compassionate and caring and make every effort to help those in need. So how can you make a difference when you are already stretched thin and unsure how to help?

It is the goal of Tahoe SAFE Alliance to educate and empower our community and bring everyday consciousness to the prevention of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.  Having a month dedicated to awareness and prevention is a start but having prevention interwoven into the fabric of our daily rhythms empowers each individual to have an impact.

The first thing we can all do to prevent child abuse and sexual violence is be aware of the facts.  One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday; only 10% of abuse is by a stranger which means it’s someone inside a family’s network.   And, as our children grow up and go off to school their chance of rape and sexual assault increases; one in 5 girls will be sexually assaulted while in college.  Again, 80% of all sexual assaults are by someone the victim knows.  

While these numbers are staggering, there are things you can do right now to make a difference.  Here are five prevention tips and resources that will help you make an impact today:

       1. Be aware of the signs of child abuse and how to report. Signs include depression, anxiety, withdrawal from family and friends, and lack of appetite.  The Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive list at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/basics/symptoms/con-20033789.  To report child abuse call 911 or contact your local Child Protective Services agency. 

      2. Pay attention to parents around you and offer practical kindness.  Your compassion may provide the crucial pause a frazzled parent needs to keep calm.  This is especially true for new parents.

   3. Talk to your children about the 5 body safety rules that every child should know before age 5.  If you need a refresher or tips on how to have this conversation, a great resource is www.mamabeareffect.org

   4. Talk to your teen, both male and female, about sex and sexual assault.  While this conversation is stressful for many parents, it is important to keep this an on-going dialogue.  Topics should include age of consent, drugs and alcohol, trusting your gut, sexual assault and violence within a relationship, and ensuring them it’s not their fault if they experience a sexual assault.  Great resources include www.loveisrespect.org, www.rainn.org.

5. Believe children if they disclose to you.  Even if they are not your own.  A common reaction is denial but it is important to listen, be non-judgmental, and respect what the child is saying.  If it is a teen or adult that discloses, let them know it was not their fault and give them the number to a local Sexual Assault Agency.  For 8 tips on what to do if a child discloses abuse go to: http://www.speakupbesafe.org/parents/disclosures-for-parents.pdf

As you strive to create great childhoods for those in your own family, don’t neglect the childhoods in bloom all around you.  Together we can prevent child abuse and sexual assault in our community.

Dawn Harris
Fund Development and Outreach Manager
Tahoe SAFE Alliance