It’s perhaps a parent’s greatest fear – that at some point his or her child will become a victim of sexual abuse. The statistics are alarming: Approximately one in five children will become victims by his or her 18th birthday. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have responded to parents’ concerns by writing God Made All of Me, a resource for moms, dads, and caregivers who want to protect and educate their children.
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: The book is for 2-8 year olds. We wrote it because we have two young children and know that parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes. Our goal is to help parents and caregivers in protecting their children from sexual abuse. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.
GCD: You were intentional about using the terms “appropriate” and “inappropriate,” when referring to kinds of touch, instead of the words “good” or “bad.” Why?
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: It is important to be clear with adults and children about the difference between touch that is appropriate and touch that is inappropriate. Experts discourage any use of the phrases “good touch” and “bad touch” for two main reasons. First, some sexual touch feels good and then children get confused wondering if it was good or bad. Second, children who have been taught “good touch” or “bad touch” would be less likely to tell a trusted adult as they perceive they have done something bad.
To your child say something like: “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s OK. Let me know if anyone—family member, friend, or anyone else—touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
GCD: How did you approach talking about this issue with your own children?
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: We started by teaching them the proper names of their private parts at an early age and telling them that their bodies are strong, beautiful, and made by God. We read books to them from an early age on this topic and would talk about who can help them in the bathroom or bath and that it was OK for the doctor to check their private parts at appointments when mom or dad is present.
We would also roll play different scenarios to get them thinking what they would do if someone approached them and wanted to touch their private parts, show theirs, take pictures, etc. Play the “what if” game with them at the dinner table with different scenarios to see their thinking and problem solving skills. “If someone asked you to show them your private parts and promised to give you candy if you didn’t tell anyone what would you do?” Remind them that they can tell you anything and anytime without fear of getting into trouble.
We’ve also tried to instill a sense of control our kids have over their own bodies. We would tell them to say “no” or “stop” when they were all done being hugged, tickled, or wrestled. We encourage them to practice this with us so they feel confident saying it to others if the need arises. We also tell them they don’t have to hug or kiss a family member if they don’t want to and teach them how to express this without being rude. It is important to empower children to be in charge of their bodies instead of at the mercy of adults.
GCD: What are some practical things parents can do to protect their children from sexual abuse?
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: In our book, the last page is to parents and called, “9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse.” Some of the key practical things parents can do are: teach proper names of private body parts, talk about touches, throw out the word “secret,” and identify whom to trust. You can read about all 9 here.
GCD: It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, but what should a mom or dad do if they suspect their child might have been the victim of sexual abuse?
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: You can call your local sexual assault crisis center and talk with a child advocate or hotline volunteer about your concerns. They will be able to point you to the proper authorities. Some areas would have you speak with a detective where other areas would have you talk to a victim witness advocate. Don’t ask probing questions that could instill fear in your child. Just assure them that you are so proud of them for telling you what happened and that you believe them and that your job is to keep them safe.
GCD: Tell us about GRACE. What does it offer to the church and families?
JUSTIN & LINDSEY: GRACE stands for “Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments” and the mission is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse. We help educate churches and other faith based organizations how to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse and we help churches love and serve survivors of abuse who are in their midst. Check out GRACE at www.netgrace.org.