There are many actions that can be taken in preventing sexual assault. A big one that I’ve seen talked about more and more in the Navy world is stepping in and saying something. This is a great one for sailors who may be out at the clubs and bars, dancing and drinking. It’s also great for any other groups of young adults, especially the tight group of three or four that invite the new person in the division (or their co-worker or classmate) to come out with them and then leave to move on to another favorite haunt. The idea here is – don’t leave that new person behind! Don’t disconnect so much from your surroundings that you leave someone in the hands of a sexual predator. Step in, step up, and say something.
As good of a message as that is, and it definitely is – it’s not the only path to prevention. Another avenue to take is talking – to any and every one. And this is my favorite. Talk about it. Make it not-at-all taboo. Talk about prevention. Talk about statistics. Talk about triggers. Talk about healing. Talk about counseling. Talk about life after pain. Talk about pain. Talk about gut feelings. Talk about touching. Talk about our bodies. Talk about worth. Talk about all of it. Because it’s all connected and it’s all a way to stop cycles of abuse in families like Gail’s. It’s a way to educate young girls like I was. It’s talk, but it’s also education, support, and prevention.
Prevention. It’s Possible. But we need to actively pursue it. And talking to one another is as good a start as any…at least I think.
So, here are some ways you can talk…
- Talk to your daughters and sons about who can touch them on their genitalia. Give them the correct words for their bodies – vulva, vagina, breasts, nipples, penis, testicles, anus. Be clear that any touch that doesn’t feel right or seems inappropriate is unacceptable, though. “Bad touch” isn’t only with “private parts.” An arm around the shoulder that makes someone uncomfortable isn’t okay. Let your kids know that they can say no and be listened to. If you’re tickling them and they say, “Stop,” then stop. If they like the game, they’ll giggle and say, “Do it again, Mama!” If they don’t, then they’ve learned that you respect their wishes…and maybe others should to.
- Talk to your children about being behind closed doors. With anyone – kids or adults. It’s not necessary. We don’t always know who the sexual predators in our lives are. Guaranteed, though…they are there. So, know who you’re leaving your kids with and be clear that when anyone says, “This can be our secret,” your children need to tell you. Secrets may even be small, a kind of test, but reinforce that connection with you over that connection with someone who might be grooming your child. You don’t need to let your children know words like gaslighting or grooming, but you might want to brush up on them. God knows predators are always thinking outside the box. It irritates me, but we need to know what their strategies are to help educate ourselves, our peers, and our kids.
- Tell your kids you love them and they’re incredible people. Encourage them, praise them. Let them know that you’re a safe place to fall and be interested in them. If they’re looking for this acceptance and can’t find it with you, someone else can easily step into that role. Trust me when I tell you that I KNOW that that sounds like a relief sometimes. There are days, sometimes weeks, when I wish they’d stop talking to me about Ninjago, football, and whatever else. But then I take a deep breath or two and remember that it’s good that they talk to me. It’s good. And if they tell me about the little things, hopefully they’ll tell me about the big things too.
- Encourage positive self images. Each of us is perfect in our own way, no matter how imperfect we may be. Some may be tall, others short. Some may be good at math, others brilliant on a skateboard. Some may run fast, while others create masterpieces with a paintbrush. Some girls develop C-cups in 5th grade, others barely have a cup size at all, even by adulthood. When it comes to our kids, no matter what’s going on in their little lives, no matter how inadequate they feel – reassure them. Encourage them to see how worthy they are, how respected they are. Love them*. This isn’t relevant only to our kids. Think about the friends in your life who feel inadequate too. Bolster them as well. Everyone can use a reminder that they are enough. Confidence is sexy to our partners, to the people who love us, but it’s also a deterrent to predators.
So, educate, talk, converse, get on a soap box, chat – prevent sexual assault. But, also, listen. The best communication flows both ways.
*The easiest way to love someone else completely, is to love yourself completely. Work on that. I know this can seem like an insurmountable task to some of you. Years ago, I was there with you. I felt unworthy and confused that so many people cared about me. I didn’t know why they’d bother. Then a friend posted a meme to Facebook that stopped me in my tracks:
I was like, “YES! May we know them! Wait…be one? Oh, goodness…I’ve got some work to do.” I already had a little girl, full of giggles and sass. She was on her way to being a strong person, but I realized upon reading this that there would be baseball bats to the gut in her life, and during those times she’d need my strength. So, I got to work and, by golly, I love the me that I am now. It’s no longer a wonder to me what others see in me. I guard myself against undo arrogance and I’m honest about my flaws, but feel truly perfectly imperfect. Overall, though, I’m real (especially with myself) about being a content, confident, joyful, emotional, passionate woman. I love myself and that makes loving my kids (the boys and the girl) less of a struggle some days. (Just my two cents, for what they’re worth. 😉 )