The Together Project is a Fort Worth Moms Blog initiative to support local non-profits impacting women and children in North Texas and to mobilize FWMB readers to meet immediate needs. We are honored to partner with The Women’s Center, which offers trauma-informed, specialized services free of charge to victims of sexual violence and their families. Together — because your family is my family.
The statistics are startling. Every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted. And unfortunately, many of those victims are under the age of 18. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Given these statistics, the first step in the fight against sexual violence is prevention and education — and this can start with children at a very young age.
Prevent Sexual Violence
While most parents struggle with how and when to start this conversation, it really isn’t any more complicated than other safety discussions parents have with their children, such as fire safety.
For example, include touching safety rules when you discuss other types of safety. The conversations are as simple as, “If anyone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or afraid, tell me or your teacher about it. We will believe you and help you.” You can also help children identify other trusted adults that they can tell. Then, reinforce the message often, just as you would safety in public places or car safety. By doing so, parents reduce the stigma of shame and embarrassment children may feel when talking about sexual safety.
Another important step in prevention is helping children develop assertiveness skills. Teach children that they can have boundaries when it comes to their bodies and can say no when something feels uncomfortable or confusing. Help them understand that there are some things adults or older children shouldn’t do, such as touch their private parts unless it’s for health reasons or to help them get clean.
This does not need to be a scary conversation. And when talking about these issues, it is important to let children know that most adults will never hurt them in these unsafe ways. Most people will only give safe touches. By teaching children safe touch and making it a comfortable topic of conversation, abuse may be prevented before it begins.
Victims Can Heal
Sometimes, however, in spite of best efforts, parents may find themselves in a position of learning someone has touched their children inappropriately. The results can be devastating and leave parents feeling overwhelmed and wondering how to best help their child. It’s important to remember that no matter what may have happened, you can help your child begin to heal by simply being a safe person who listens. The best gift you can give your child during this time is to start by believing him or her! Listen to what he or she tells you, and show your support. Affirm and acknowledge what happened and that it was NOT your child’s fault.
You can also help by being mindful of daily routines that reassure your child’s sense of safety, such as walking him or her to school or reading a bedtime story. Be patient with any regression in behaviors or stages of development — this is common among children who are handling a lot of emotions or life changes. Show your support and empower your child by including him or her in age-appropriate choices. Your child’s already had someone take his or her choices away, so it is important for him or her to feel in control when possible. Finally, let your child know you will get the help needed to feel better.
Help for Families
Regular support from specialized professionals can help parents successfully navigate through these challenges. And that’s where The Women’s Center can help. Professionals are here to provide hope and healing for those who may have been impacted by child sexual abuse. No matter when the victimization may have occurred — whether it happened one week or 20 years ago — it’s never too late for a survivor to find enough safety to disclose. It’s never too late for hope and healing to occur.
The Women’s Center offers trauma-informed, specialized services free of charge to victims of sexual violence and their families, as no survivor should ever have cost as a barrier. The Center provides a continuum of care to survivors, starting with the 24-hour crisis hotline. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, victims or loved ones can call and speak with a compassionate advocate who can help them navigate the next steps in getting help. Group support and Intro to Trauma classes are immediately available for crime/abuse victims and their loved ones.
Healing can continue through individual therapy/play therapy, provided by master-level, licensed clinicians. Finally, all instances of suspected child abuse are required by law to be reported to local law enforcement agencies or Child Protective Services. This process may be intimidating for parents, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or close family friend. Center staff is available to support parents as they navigate the criminal justice process.
The goal of The Women’s Center of Tarrant County is to turn pain into the possibility of a bright future for victims of sexual violence. If you or a loved one has been impacted by sexual abuse, please call the hotline at 817-927-2737. No matter the age or gender, for victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, hope starts here.