3 Ways To Help Kids Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
One of the most devastating things to hear about is that a child has been sexually abused.
Many parents wonder what they can do to prevent it from happening to their child. Others wonder how they can teach their children about boundaries.
Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, talks to Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL! A Creative View of Personal Safety. Kimberly has taught personal safety to over 1000 students in grades preschool through fifth grade.
3 Ways To Help Kids Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
Through Kimberly’s experience and training, she learned the tragic reality of childhood sexual abuse. She wondered why she didn’t learn the prevention skills she was teaching when she was a kid. This led to her Say “NO!” and TELL! book series for kids.
The goal of the books is to help parents teach their kids about personal safety, or boundaries. She believes that if kids are taught personal safety, they can learn how to prevent and stop sexual abuse from happening to them.
Kimberly points out that sexual abuse is not just physical touching.
“It can also be non-physical sexual abuse, which is what a child might see, such as pornography, or what a child might hear, which would be inappropriate language about private parts from a grown-up to a child.” Kimberly Perry, author
For many abused women, pornography addiction is part of the abuse and there is legitimate concern that our children have been or will be exposed to it.
Kimberly talks about her three-phased approach to teaching personal safety to kids.
“Basically, with personal safety, kids learn to say ‘No’ to unsafe touches, by protecting their bodies with boundaries, to prevent or stop sexual abuse.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
3 Ways To Help Kids Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
- Teach Body Awareness
- Explain Boundaries
- Introduce Personal Safety
Anne uses Kimberly’s books to teach her kids about personal safety.
“As a parent, I’m able to use [these books] to meet my kids where they are and teach them these concepts that apply to a variety of personal safety issues. Not only to sexual abuse but also to physical and emotional abuse. The books give such great examples and the concepts are applicable to many situations for kid safety.” -Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Teaching Kids Body Awareness Can Help Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
Phase 1 of Kimberly’s approach teaches kids about their body.
“We all know that kids get very curious early on about their bodies. You can teach them about hygiene and bathing, health and safety, for swimming.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
Kimberly believes that teaching kids about their body, even as young as three, empowers them to take ownership of it. It helps them to know that it’s THEIR body and theirs alone. This prepares them for the other phases.
Explaining Boundaries To Kids Can Help Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
Phase 2 of Kimberly’s approach teaches kids that they have the power and the right to say “No” and protect their body.
She suggests teaching them more than just physical boundaries. She explains that, “Phase 2 is explaining boundaries with more unique safety concepts, such as internet safety, stranger safety, and just general people safety.”
Kimberly explains that, “Boundaries define our personal property and allows us to take care of it by setting limits on others and internal limits within ourselves.”
She says that saying “No” shows ownership.
“It lets others know that we exist apart from them, and that we are in control. Whether that be emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, boundaries are important so that we know where we begin and someone else ends.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
Teaching kids about boundaries prepares them for the third and final phase of Kimberly’s approach.
Introducing Personal Safety To Kids Can Help Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
Phase 3 of Kimberly’s approach teaches kids about personal safety.
This phase teaches kids about safe touches, especially the private parts of their body. This phase also teaches about safe secrets.
Kimberly researched predators and their tactics to strengthen this phase of her approach. She took the tactics she learned about and turned them into life skills for kids. She wants kids to be on the offensive, not the defensive.
Her books contain scenarios that contain these tactics that include privacy, private moments, safe secrets versus unsafe secrets, bribes, threats, safe games, etcetera.
With her background in teaching kids, Kimberly came up with a rhyme to help kids remember what to do if something does happen that makes them uncomfortable or unsafe.
Remember to say “NO!”
GET AWAY if you can!
KEEP TELLING until it stops! Take a stand!
Kimberly encourages parents to remind your children that it’s okay to say “No” any time they feel uncomfortable with any touch.
“Focusing on boundaries, safe touches, which feel comfortable, telling them, ‘Your body belongs to you.’ It’s okay to say, ‘No, thank you’ to any touches, whether it’s a safe touch or, especially, an unsafe touch. If they don’t feel like having a hug, they don’t have to have a hug. That way, they’re knowing that they’re in charge of their body.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
She also reminds parents that, as kids become more independent, they should be allowed to have their privacy, which reinforces what they’ve been taught.
Teaching Kids To Listen To Their Body Can Help Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
From Kimberly’s research, she created tools for parents and educators to teach kids the things that she was using to teach her own students.
One of the things she strongly encourages parents to do is to teach their kids about listening to their instincts and trusting them.
Kimberly says learning to pay attention to and trust that “Uh-oh” feeling is key.
“That is something that’s letting them know that something is not right, and they need to talk to somebody and tell them and get help.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
5 Steps To A Personal Safety Family Plan
Kimberly also advises creating a Personal Safety Plan as a family.
The Personal Safety Family Plan, which can be downloaded from We Stand Guard, covers five areas.
5 Steps To A Personal Safety Family Plan
- Memorize your name, address, phone numbers, family “codeword” for danger and “check-in” rule.
- Know how to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency. Rehearse and role play. Breathe and stay calm.
- Know the safe people to call in an emergency and TELL them you need help.
- Remember to TELL and keep TELLING! It’s NEVER your fault!
- List five safe people to call for help (with phone numbers).
Kimberly recommends keeping the Safety Plan somewhere accessible, such as on the fridge, in a certain drawer, or in the child’s binder.
When coming up with the family “codeword” for danger, it will need to be something that may come up in a normal conversation to keep the kids from getting into further danger.
Your “check-in” rule could be that the child call home at a specified time to let mom or dad know how things are going. Another option could be to text a parent, if they have a phone to do so, and let them know how things are going. This could also provide an opportunity for them to use the codeword, if necessary.
Knowing how to handle emergencies is an important part of safety planning. Being able to explain what’s happening will help emergency operators know the best help to send.
Helping kids understand who the safe people in their lives are is important. Usually, this list would consist of family members and close friends.
It’s also important to let kids know that people that were considered safe may do something to make them unsafe. When this happens, they will need to be removed from the safe people list.
Always remind kids that if someone does something to cross their boundaries, it isn’t the child’s fault and they won’t get in trouble for it. Many kids don’t tell for this reason, they’re convinced that they’ve done something wrong, often by the perpetrator.
Anne points out that kids aren’t always in danger from strangers.
“It’s not just about strangers. Statistically speaking, a child is more likely to be abused by someone they know than by a stranger.” -Anne, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Kimberly agrees that friends, family members, and acquaintances are more likely to be a danger.
“According to Darkness to Light, 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.” -Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL!
Betrayal Trauma Recovery advocates for safe, healthy families. As part of this effort BTR offers Individual Sessions on Protecting Children and other relevant topics with a Betrayal Trauma Certified Coach.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. I’m Anne. Today, I have Kimberly Perry, author of Say “NO!” and TELL! A Creative View of Personal Safety for Maisie (girls) and Daxton (boys).
Kimberly’s professional background includes 15 years of teaching and coaching in public and private schools in California, Michigan and North Carolina. She specializes in grades from preschool to 5th grade. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology and a Master of Arts in Teaching. After teaching Personal Safety to over 1000 elementary students, she was inspired to write the Say “NO!” and TELL! book series.
Kimberly: Thank you, Anne, for having me.
I have these two books, Say “No” and TELL! Daxton and Say “No” and TELL! Maisie in my home. I’ve used it with my sons and my daughter. I am so honored to have you here today, because these books are incredible for helping children.
Anne: Kimberly, why did you write a book about personal safety for young kids?
Prevention Strategies Aren’t Just For Physical Sexual Abuse
Kimberly: My reason for writing the book is two-fold. Statistics and the training and teaching experience I’ve had. First, while serving as a Health and Physical Education Teacher in the Michigan public school system, I taught a unit called Personal Safety to over 1,000 elementary students. I wondered why I had not been taught these prevention strategies when I was a child. Personal Safety, essentially, means sexual abuse prevention of a child.
Sexual abuse is two-fold. It can be physical sexual abuse, which most of us think of when we hear that term. It can also be non-physical sexual abuse, which is what a child might see, such as pornography, or what a child might hear, which would be inappropriate language about private parts from a grown-up to a child. The statistics were shocking to me.
How can it be that at least 2 out of every 10 girls and 1 out of 10 boys are estimated to be sexually abused before their 14th birthday. According to Child Protective Services, every eight minutes they respond to a sexual abuse report. According to the CDC, about 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
With my experience of teaching these children, and seeing the statistics, I developed this passion to share the message of personal safety for grown-ups and kids and families, so they can be empowered to prevent this tragedy.
Anne: This is a wonderful thing that you’re doing. I live in Utah, and, right now, they’re doing a public service campaign with billboards and Facebook groups where you learn more about child sexual abuse. This is on everybody’s radar right now, especially those of us with children. It’s so important to make sure our kids are prepared for this. What is personal safety?
Kimberly: Personal safety, essentially, is learning how to keep your body safe. Some might call it “body safety.” In the educational world, as an educator, the term often is called personal safety, which is a little more all-encompassing, like I mentioned earlier. It’s not just the physical body abuse, it’s the non-physical, which includes pornography, and can be a grooming technique that a predator may use to groom a child into child sexual abuse.
Basically, with personal safety, kids learn to say “No” to unsafe touches, by protecting their bodies with boundaries, to prevent or stop sexual abuse.
The Three-Phased Approach To Prevent & Stop Child Sexual Abuse
For instance, these Say NO! and TELL! books empower kids with Personal Safety by using a THREE-phased approach ™ based on a proven and straight-forward sequential method, that I developed after teaching these 1000 kids, so I could make it user-friendly for a grownup to read with a child.
You teach body awareness. We all know that kids get very curious early on about their bodies. You can teach them about hygiene and bathing, health and safety, for swimming.
Explaining boundaries with more unique safety concepts, such as internet safety, stranger safety, and just general people safety.
This is when you introduce personal safety, the prevention awareness of safe boundaries, specifically for private parts.
Anne: That’s fantastic. My ex is physically abusive. He’s grabbed them, pushed them, that sort of thing. I’ve been able to tailor it to their needs, as well.
What’s really cool about these books is that, as a parent, I’m able to use it to meet my kids where they are and teach them these concepts that apply to a variety of personal safety issues. Not only to sexual abuse but also to physical and emotional abuse. The books give such great examples and the concepts are applicable to a multitude of situations for kid safety.
Kimberly: Anne, I am so delighted to hear you say that. I’m telling you, it warms my heart, because this book is meant to be a toolkit.
As an educator, I have layered it for the counselor, for the parent, for the educator, for the adult that works in a youth organization, because I want you to be able to tailor it to what you need, your family values, your family terminology, and your story, so that you can change your story and move and shift in the direction of a healthy, safe, protective future for your kids.
For instance, you were talking about just abuse in general. Boundaries is one of those concepts. Boundaries defines our personal property and allows us to take care of it by setting limits on others and internal limits within ourselves.
We teach our kids self-control, that would be an example of an internal limit. The boundary of saying “No” defines ownership.
It lets others know that we exist apart from them, and that we are in control. Whether that be emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, boundaries are important so that we know where we begin and someone else ends.
Personal Safety Toolkit For Parents & Caregivers
Within the book, there are three parts.
Part 1 is the story where Maisie Monarch or Daxton Dolphin—where the characters embark on a journey of growing up and their bodies change, and they prepare to migrate.
Their parents teach them Personal Safety before they go. Throughout, you’ll see open-ended questions where, as a grownup, you can define your terminology, your values, and make it your own. You can pick and choose what it is you feel your child is ready to hear, depending on what age.
Part II of the book has 8 scenarios, in which I researched the predator and turned those tactics into life skills for kids, so that we go on the offensive, and not just be defensive. Some of these examples of the scenarios are privacy, private moments, guarding your eyes and ears, what are safe secrets versus an unsafe secret, what is a bribe, a threat, what is a safe game, etc.
Part III has solutions with numerous tools. There’s a quiz, a Personal Safety Family Plan, there’s resources. There’s a removable section for grownups. They have all kinds of statistics, as well as I go into greater detail of the three-phase steps, which we spoke about earlier, that gives you practical ideas of “How do I talk to my kid about body awareness? What do I say?”
Anne: I loved when I got to the safe secrets part, because we have a rule in our family that our family has no secrets. We call things for birthdays or other presents, stuff like that, we call those fun surprises.
When I got to that section in your book, I was able to say, “There are no secrets, we only have safe surprises.” I changed the wording there to match our own family’s terminology of what I’ve been using for years.
It was so validating to be able to share that in a book with my kids, because I hadn’t seen that in a book. That was really cool!
Repetition Helps Kids Remember How to Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
Kimberly: Anne, you picked up on one of the themes throughout the book. You’ll notice the repetition, which, in my training as an educator, that repetition is important for our brain so that we’ll memorize. You’ll see over and over again, “Tell and keep telling until it stops.”
It might seem overdone, but, for the child, to become a part of what they know to do, because when there is a questionable encounter or something that it can be possibly traumatizing, our amygdala kicks in and we’re in this fight or flight.
It’s really nice to know that this simple, “Tell and keep telling until it stops!” these kinds of slogans can pop into their minds and help them to move into action.
Anne: That’s great. In your books, you urge parents to talk to their young children about personal safety from a very early age. Some parents may worry that telling their kids about personal safety means they have to tell them about sex too early, so what is the best age to begin talking to a child about body safety.
Kimberly: As I get involved more and more with this movement to protect kids, and to end sexual exploitation, there seems to be a consensus that it’s not too young to begin around preschool through the elementary ages, so ages 3-9.
Particularly, when you notice a child becoming curious about the body and about gender differences, which can be very early on and is a natural part of developing body awareness, it’s really key to affirm this stage and phase that it’s not a shameful thing, it’s a beautiful thing.
When you emphasize the boundaries, rather than the reproduction of the purpose of private parts, then you can stay within that area of preserving the innocence and using wisdom to balance that naivete.
Focusing on boundaries, safe touches, which feel comfortable, telling them, “Your body belongs to you.” It’s okay to say, “No, thank you” to any touches, whether it’s a safe touch or, especially, an unsafe touch. If they don’t feel like having a hug, they don’t have to have a hug. That way, they’re knowing that they’re in charge of their body.
Also, that privacy is okay, as they start to feel like, maybe, they’re becoming more independent, then they can learn about having privacy. Specifically, only safe caregivers may see, examine, or clean private parts while you’re really young and you still need help. Once you become independent, you can do those things on your own and have privacy.
Anne: Yeah, I have found that three is not too young. My children are able to talk about things. It’s really cute, because my two-year-old, right now, she calls a penis a peanut, because she can’t quite talk. She’ll say, “Mom, where’s my peanut?” I’ll say, “You don’t have a penis because you’re a girl.” She’ll be like, “Oh.” Because she’s seen her brother’s, her brother is four.
Kimberly: That’s cute.
Anne: I think teaching the real anatomical words—the other thing, I think’s really funny, and I appreciated about your book, is that my sons hate mermaids because they’re immodest. My seven-year-old is like, “Mom, I do not know who invented mermaids, they are ridiculous, they only have those shells for breast covers. They are so immodest. Whoever invented those is just ridiculous, I do not like them.”
I think that’s cute, that they can talk about when they feel uncomfortable about things that are immodest. They have the words to be able to describe their discomfort or their curiosity, which I think’s really important for kids.
Kimberly: That’s another important key in the book is teaching kids about their instincts, that “Uh-oh” feeling that’s deep down in their belly, and learning—encouraging them to learn to trust that. That is something that’s letting them know that something is not right, and they need to talk to somebody and tell them and get help. You’ll also want to know that this book does not cover reproduction, which is saved for an age-appropriate time at your discretion.
Anne: Even though these books don’t cover reproduction, there are other age-appropriate books that do, that I use with my children, and other books that talk, specifically, about pornography or other issues, that I use with my children.
I appreciate that it talks specifically about the unsafe touching and that I can apply that to the different situations. Because talking to kids is so important, what do parents need to know when they’re teaching their children what to do when they’re exposed to a questionable encounter?
Kimberly: The simplest way I boiled it down to was four steps, say “No,” get away, tell, and keep telling. I developed a jingle that the kids can memorize that has a rhyme to it. The rhyme goes:
Remember to say “No”
Get away if you can
Tell someone and keep telling until it stops
Take a stand.
That last part is really important because statistics show that kids will often share with a friend their age, or they seldom tell. Even if it is reported, it doesn’t mean that it’s always reported to the right person that can stop it. With that, I encourage the grownup to ask themselves, “How would you like to have a peace of mind when your child is away from you, or out of your sight?”
A Personal Safety Family Plan Can Help Prevent & Stop Sexual Abuse
The way that we can go about that is developing a Personal Safety Family Plan. I do offer this as a complimentary download at my website: www.westandguard.com. It, basically, covers five areas and it’s just one page.
The Personal Safety Family Plan is something you want to keep accessible in the kitchen, in a certain drawer, or on the fridge, or a photocopy in their binder, so they always have it. It includes these kinds of things:
You want to make sure your child has their address and phone number memorized. You’ll want to develop a family codeword for danger. For instance, if your child is at a play date, or an overnight sleepover and they can check in with you and say the code word for, “Come pick me up, things are not going great.”
It is also important to develop a “check-in” rule for a certain time, or that you text each other just to see how it’s going, when they’re away from you.
It’s also important that kids know how to dial 9-1-1.
You want to explain to them who the safe caregivers and the trusted grownups are in your lives. Choose five of them, where you write their name and you write their phone numbers.
This is a real important distinguishing point on this Family Safety Plan, if anyone ever tries an unsafe touch, whether it’s physical or non-physical, that person is no longer safe.
That’s an important time to tell, whether it’s somebody you know or don’t know, or you thought this someone was safe. Well, they were, until they tried that.
Anne: Yes, I talk to my children about that quite a bit. It’s not just about strangers. Statistically speaking, a child is more likely to be abused by someone they know than by a stranger.
Kimberly: Yeah, according to Darkness to Light, 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.
Anne: Making sure that kids are safe from strangers and being abducted is super important, but 90% of the time, it’s going to be someone they know, so talking about how to determine whether someone is safe, and if they seem safe and then become unsafe. Those are important things to talk about.
For you listeners, what ideas do you have for personal safety? How have you talked to your kids? Please go to btr.org/stories, find this post. You can comment anonymously about what you do with your children that helps or post your questions there. We’d like to see some interaction.
You can also join our community. I will send you an email to join our secret Facebook group where you can interact with other women who are married to sex addicts or pornography addicts, so that you can interact about how to keep your kids safe in that situation.
I’m so grateful to Kimberly for being here today.
Kimberly: Thank you, I really enjoyed it. I’m so encouraged that this message of personal safety is being shared. I know that we’re going to be able to help a lot of kids and keep them safe.