Sexual Safety at Home
In sexual violence prevention, we often talk about the behavior we DON’T want to see. But what about behaviors that we DO want to encourage and teach - those that will help keep people safe from incest and child sexual abuse? Many incest survivors tell stories of growing up in families in which boundaries were crossed, secrets were kept, children were blamed for adults’ behavior, and kids were shamed or even penalized for speaking up about abuse.
Can we prevent incest? Yes. A major part of incest prevention is educating ourselves so we can create home environments in which incest can’t flourish. How do we start?
Learn about sexual development and behaviors. As a first step, adults can learn about sexual development and normal, healthy behaviors, and talk with younger family members about sexual development in a positive, age-appropriate way. Discussions of boundaries and safe touch are essential, so that children know the difference between healthy and unhealthy touch. Children are sexual beings, just like adults, and are very curious about sex. Yet there are differences between normal sexual behaviors in children and those that may signal problematic sexual activity. Adults should learn these differences and have a plan for addressing a developing problem. This colorful poster can be hung as a reminder to children and adults about body safety rules.
Create an environment of communication, trust, and openness. One of the challenges in incest prevention is that the people best suited for creating a sexually safe home, such as parents, grandparents, and older siblings, may also be the ones perpetrating or covering up incest. Understanding this, it’s vital for all adults, regardless of their role in the family, to create an environment of safety, trust, and openness for others. Even older adolescents and adults without children can be a lifeline for a younger family member experiencing abuse or being groomed. Open lines of communication with children will raise their comfort level for asking questions or finding help if a family member has crossed a boundary or hurt them in some way. You can read and share with others this simple parent guide to the prevention of sexual abuse
Take steps to lay the groundwork for a safe home. This easy-to-read information sheet from the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents is excellent guidance for family members trying to create a household or extended family with good boundaries and knowledge of the warning signs of abuse. This creates a foundation for incest prevention and early intervention. Here are some of their recommended Do’s:
Establish a trusting relationship with your child so they will feel safe talking to you about anything.
Do all you can to increase your child’s self-esteem.
Teach proper names for body parts to convey that there is nothing wrong with them and to help children accurately report abuse.
Tell youth that their bodies are theirs and they have a right to say “no” to unwanted touch.
Be inquisitive when children talk about potential abuse warning signs and follow your gut.
Explain to children in simple, non-graphic terms the ways in which offenders groom, manipulate, and sexually abuse.
Remind youth that saying “no” goes hand in hand with reporting the behavior and not keeping secrets.
Learn more about aspects of prevention and intervention that you know little about. The following guidance and resources can help all members of a family learn about sexual development, healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors, and strategies for creating a safe home for children and adults:
Stop It Now has links to resources such as sex education for adults and children, tips for caregivers for talking to children about sexuality, sexual development information, and instructional materials for keeping kids safe from child sexual abuse. They have a practical tip sheet on age appropriate sexual behaviors for children from preschool through adolescence, as well as guidance on embracing sexuality education as a prevention strategy.
These guidebooks cover the fundamentals, including understanding children’s sexual behaviors and helping children with sexual behavior problems, as well as links to articles on incest.
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents is for caregivers who need help answering children’s questions about sex, learn how to respond to sexual comments and behaviors, and do all they can to prevent child abuse. Their guides to male and female reproductive systems, information on sexual development, and positive messages to send to children can be a starting point for caregivers who don’t know where to start.
Sex Positive Families’ offers a library of sex education videos as well as workshops on puberty, “creating a consent-conscious home,” pleasure talk, and pornography. Their Sex Positive Families The Podcast invites sex positive experts to share insights that strengthen sexual health and body awareness talks in families.
Finally, these “Messages We Can All Agree On”, developed by the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents, are those we all can begin reinforcing today at home and throughout our extended family networks:
You decide who touches you.
You should never force another person into sexual activity.
Sex is dangerous when it is not freely chosen and when there are no precautions taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Sex can be wonderful between consenting adults who have taken the necessary precautions.
You can talk with me about your sexual concerns.
You have the right not to be in a sexual relationship.
"I think back to my experience and wonder, didn't anyone notice? Yes. Yes they did. But everyone chose to remain silent."
- Suzanne Isaza