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Posts tagged ‘child abuse prevention month’

Why Teaching Our Kids “Stranger Danger” is Not Enough

By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

Blank Danger And Hazard Triangle Warning Sign Isolated MacroKeeping children safe is a common thread that binds us all together, no matter our differences. April, being Child Abuse Prevention Month, is a good time to remind ourselves of this bond.

Over the past year, our headlines have been filled with national and local events that challenged this common thread. Whether it was the thousands of stories of the #MeToo movement, the trial of the U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, the family in California that held their 13 children captive, the inaccurate information about Prop 1 in Anchorage, or any one of the many stories of Alaska children being harmed by a trusted adult.

Each of these stories spurred conversations about child abuse and neglect online, in the paper, or at the watercooler. And each of those conversations usually ended with a similar question, “How do we protect our children?” 

For many, our quick answer is to teach the old adage, “Stranger Danger.” But when we look at who is hurting our children, the data gives a very different answer. Nationally, approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children knew their perpetrator.[1]

That number is even higher in Alaska. According to the 2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, 96 percent of the victims in Alaska between the ages of 11 – 17 years old knew the suspect.[2] The report further shows that 74 percent of sex offenses occurred in a residence. That means these abusers are trusted friends, family, teachers, coaches and religious leaders.

We need to ensure we provide the right information and tools so our children know what to do not only when a stranger approaches them inappropriately – but when a trusted adult does as well. Parents are encouraged to:

Engage in direct dialogue with your children.

  • Ensure that your young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.
  • Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
  • When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.

Teach children about secrets.

  • Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kinds of secrets are OK to keep, like birthday presents, and what kinds are not.
  • Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.

Talk about their rights.

  • Talk about when is it okay for a child to say no to an adult, even if that adult is a relative or trusted friend.
  • Let them know that they don’t have to hug someone if they don’t feel comfortable. It is OK to give a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump.

Learn about and advocate for institutional policies.

  • Inquire about the policies for background checks with the care providers you use, such as babysitters and childcare or afterschool program staff.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to be a parent to help tackle this issue. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can help protect children in your community. Warning signs of child sexual abuse include:

  • Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior for their age level
  • Sexually explicit drawings
  • Highly sexualized play (e.g., simulated intercourse with toys, pets or other children)
  • A child being fearful of a specific person or place
  • A decrease in academic performance

If you suspect abuse, it is critical that you make a report to the authorities by calling the Alaska report line at 800-478-4444.

Most importantly, when a child shares a story about an inappropriate encounter, believe them. Many victims recount the time they tried to share their story with an adult, and the adult made an excuse for the perpetrator or ignored it completely. It is important to validate the child and notify the appropriate authorities to ensure the validity of the information is investigated appropriately.

All of these stories, media reports and discussions have brought more light to an issue that has plagued our communities for way too long. Due to the nature of the topic, it can be very difficult for a victim to step forward and share their story, just as it is difficult for a community member to intervene. But the more we all acknowledge and accept these responsibilities, the greater chance we have to change the current trend. As the old proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

[1]Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H., & Hamby, S. L. (2005). The victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment, 10, 5-25

[2]2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, prepared by Christen L Spears and Kathryn Monfreda.

“I think that might be child abuse. What do I do?”

4 things you can do to help prevent abuse and neglect

By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

Most of us have observed an interaction between a child and a parent that leaves an uneasy feeling in your stomach. It was on the line of being potentially abusive. I was faced with such a situation not that long ago. I was at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon when I witnessed a dad at his wits end and his son who was struggling. The situation was escalating and I was getting that uneasy feeling in my stomach. What do you do?

Each year, thousands of Alaska children experience or are at risk of experiencing child abuse and neglect. It cannot simply be removed with one swift action or policy. Rather, it is the accumulation of individual decisions, moments, and actions that can truly prevent child abuse and neglect.

As a witness of these potentially negative interactions between a child and a parent, we have the opportunity to be an active – versus passive – bystander. Our culture has conditioned us to believe that it is not our business, nor our responsibility, to intervene between a parent and their child. Many times, this culture is correct. But when we witness both the parent and the child struggling, and when this struggle seems to be leading to potential abuse or neglect, it is our responsibility to extend a helping hand – just as we would offer assistance when witnessing an accident.

In recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, here are four ways you can be an active bystander and help prevent child abuse and neglect.

  1. One of the easiest things you can do is distract. In general, no parent wants to abuse or neglect his or her child. Usually, several stressors have mounted over time and the current situation is the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” A distraction could be asking the adult in the store if they know where a product is located. Or compliment the parent on how cute his or her child is. Or do something silly that gets both parent and child to smile at you.
  1. Another technique is to delegate. Find others, such as a friend, staff member or other witness, who could help you intervene in the situation. You could speak to the parent as the other individual checks on the child. The more people intervening, the greater the impact.
  1. Sometimes you must delay your intervention. For many reasons, you may not be able to do something right in the moment. You may feel unsafe or you are unsure whether or not the situation requires intervention. You may just want to check in with the child later, if possible, or monitor from a far.
  1. The next technique is direct intervention. This involves stepping in and addressing the situation directly. Deciding when to intervene in a public space requires a quick calculation on the degree of risk. If safe, directly address the situation without being confrontational. This is important because most people become defensive when confronted. Instead, validate the parent’s stress and just offer them some help. You could say something like, “Kids can be really difficult. Is there anything I can do to help?”

No matter which intervention technique you utilize, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect. It can vary depending on the type of abuse or neglect. Check out www.reportchildabuse.alaska.gov for more information. And finally, if you suspect child abuse and neglect, call local authorities or make a report to the Office of Children’s Services (OCS).

That day in the grocery store, I realized my uneasiness was not just caused by what I was witnessing but it was also the natural fear of being an active bystander. Then I remembered a quote by Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Being an active bystander usually only takes a quick moment of one’s time and is a responsibility we all have as community members. So, I reached for an item that was next to the dad and commented on how cute his son was and how fun it can be to have kids – all done with a smile. The father and I shared a little laughter and you could feel the mood change in the air. If more of us become active bystanders, together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

Get Out Your “Go Blue Day Best”

Go Blue Day on Friday, April 7

ACT GBD Facebook eventMark your calendar and check your closets … Friday, April 7, is Go Blue Day! Dress or decorate in blue to show your support for safe, happy kids and raise awareness of national Child Abuse Prevention Month.

You are also invited to attend a Go Blue Day rally in your community:

  • Anchorage, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo on Northern Lights
  • Mat-Su Valley, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo in the Target parking lot, 1701 E Parks Highway
  • Juneau, 12 p.m. noon, Capital steps

Then, on Go Blue Day, post photos wearing your “Go Blue Day best” and be sure to tag @AlaskaChildrensTrust!

Let’s come together and show our love for Alaska’s kids. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.