(File photo of Elida Murray, Operations Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, with 2 year old yellow Lab Kelly, a specially trained service dog, to comfort children as they talk about sexual abuse. AP Photo/The Daily Record, Maximilian Franz)

First person: Talking to our kids about inappropriate touching – and sexual abuse

During the Thanksgiving break, we watched an award-winning movie on Netflix called “Polisse,” about a police child protection unit in Paris.  The movie was based on real events.

These were some of the scenarios presented: a young girl molested by her 74-year-old grandfather, a young boy molested by his gymnastics coach, a coach who believed he had a ‘relationship’ with the student he was molesting, a girl who went to boarding school because her father “loved her too much,” a father who claimed children had “sexual liberty” to make decisions about their sexuality, a  mother who admitted touching her infant son inappropriately to get him to fall asleep (and who didn’t see anything wrong with it) and a teenage girl who lured a “friend” to an alley to be raped by a gang of boys.

Yes, this is very disturbing stuff.  But we cannot deny these things happen.

The movie got me thinking about talking to children about what is “appropriate” touching and what is not appropriate behavior.

When should parents have this conversation? At what age? Are parents even having this conversation with their children?

I remember when Enzo was an infant I was changing his diaper and I said, “This is your penis and no one should touch it.” Of course, he was a baby and was too little to understand.

After watching the movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about the scenarios, so I did some research. According to the Advocacy Center, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused by age 18. That is one statistic that makes me sick to my stomach.

Another one is this: according to the American Psychological Association only 10 percent of child molesters are strangers. 60 percent are individuals are known adults (but not family members) and 30 percent are family members.

In our Hispanic culture, talking about body parts or sex can be taboo. Yet this is an incredibly important topic. Children who are touched inappropriately or who are sexually abused may feel ashamed or be afraid to get in trouble if they say something.

Moreover, because the perpetrators are often people they know, children may feel they don’t want to betray the adult engaging in the inappropriate conduct.

It is important to remember that child abuse can happen to anyone. Race, gender, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status are all irrelevant. Children of all backgrounds can be victims of sexual abuse.

Also, it is important to stress that abuse is not only limited to inappropriate “touching.”  The Advocacy Center cites these examples of abuse: “sexual touching, oral-genital contact, rape, incest, any penetration with objects or body parts, making a child touch someone else’s private parts or play sexual (“pants down”) games, exposing private parts to a child, showing pornography/making child watch sexual acts, taking sexual pictures, watching a child undress or go to the bathroom and obscene/sexual language.”

Experts recommend talking to your child as early as possible. As with all things, repetition is key. As soon as we start talking to our children about their bodies, which can be as early as two years old, we should be telling them about what is OK and what is not. It is necessary to continue the conversation as children get older as well. In some cases, perpetrators are older children molesting younger children.

If you wish to start a conversation about inappropriate/appropriate touching with your child(ren), here are a few places to start:

Read a book: My Body Belongs to Me written by Jill Starishevsky, a child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor in New York City. This book, written in rhyme, talks about a child who was touched by her uncle.

Introduce your child to “The Underwear Rule” developed by the European Council.  It was created to start a discussion on appropriate/inappropriate touch.

Check out these other resources:

Talking to Your Child about Sexual Abuse

Steps to Take if You Think a Child is Being Abused

How Do I Approach Inappropriate Touching Between Children?

I know this is a tough topic, but I can’t stop thinking about these alarming statistics and how important it is for us to talk to our children about appropriate and inappropriate touching.

Body parts and sex can be difficult topics to broach as parents, but it is necessary to discuss these in order to protect our children.

NBC Latino contributor Diana Limongi

Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

%d bloggers like this: