Last month, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Boston area native, published a memoir revealing his experience with child abuse. In his book “Against All Odds,” Brown describes growing up poor, his mother’s violent marriages, and his sexual encounters with a male camp counselor on Cape Cod.
Such stories call to our attention some of the harsh realities that exist in almost every community. Brown’s book reminds us that abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere. What makes his experience so frightening is that we expect places like camp to be safe. We trust teachers, counselors, and other adults who work with children to be positive role models with good intentions.
Discussing safety is an ongoing responsibility. Most schools address safety issues, but information provided at home is equally important. Repeated conversations are crucial because children find themselves in different situations at different stages in their lives. In addition, their ability to understand and protect themselves changes and grows over time.
We often talk about how children should behave, but we rarely consider how adults should behave. Children assume that adults are always right because, after all, they’re adults. Explain to your children what actions are unacceptable from a grown-up and equip them with strategies and language for self-protection.
Talk to your kids about the following:
- Who is allowed to touch them, where, and when
- How to identify a safe adult
- What to do when they feel in danger (scream for help, run away, report the incident, etc.)
Like many young victims, Scott Brown did not report his camp experience to his parents at the time. Shame, fear, and anger prevent many children from sharing. Observant parents can still detect signs of abuse if they know what to look for. Abused children tend to withdraw, become more or less emotional, act out in school, engage in strange sexual behaviors, or have difficulty with adult relationships.
Parents who notice these signs should engage their child in a calm conversation. Bring up the topic slowly and assure the child that it’s okay to share what happened. Children must understand that abuse is never their fault. Long term effects are unlikely to disappear if untreated, so parents who have trouble initiating a conversation may prefer to have the child speak with a school counselor first.
As uncomfortable as these conversations may be, they are critical to a child’s safety when out of parental care.