How do I talk to my kid about sexual abuse?
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse, Evelyn Yang. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is sexual abuse?
To discuss sexual abuse, I'm going to talk about each word individually. Sexual is a word referring to your private parts, the areas of your body that are just for you that are almost always covered. Abuse refers to when someone touches, shows, does, or says something hurtful to you on purpose.
So when we put the words together, sexual abuse, it means when someone touches shows does or says something hurtful to, or about your private parts. But let me be clear: sexual abuse does not have to physically hurt to be sexual abuse.
Listeners, sexual abuse is a challenging topic for kids and grownups alike to talk about. When something is not talked about openly in public, we refer to it as taboo. And unfortunately, by keeping sexual abuse taboo, by not talking about it, we give power to the people that abuse others.
Sexual abuse is taboo because it involves our private parts, which we don't often talk about. We don't see each other's private parts, so we don't usually talk about them. But sexual abuse is something that we should talk about because it's important to keep us safe and our bodies safe. Kids need to learn the signs of sexual abuse to be able to recognize it in case it ever does happen and also learn how important it is to talk about no matter what.
Sexual abuse is also taboo, because so many people walk around with trauma related to sexual abuse. Because there are so many survivors that means there are a lot of people who are hurting, who have never been able to talk about their experience.
By talking about it we can heal each other and be better at keeping each other safe and healthy.
That’s tricky, right? It feels like a subject we shouldn’t be talking about because it involves our private areas, and yet by not talking about it, it’s hard to understand just how frequently people, and especially kids, are sexually abused.
There are different statistics and different organizations have measured it over time. And the one that really stung was as many as one in four girls and one in six boys. I even think that that number for boys might be underreported because it's harder, I think, for boys in our culture and men in our culture to come forward with these stories.
“Tell someone” is a line you will read over and over in A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse. It’s the line that stuck with me when I first read it and it’s the line that’s on my mind right now which is why I want to tell you what I’m about to tell you.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I was sexually abused by a member of my church. His name was Marc and he was not someone I knew, but he was someone my parents knew. He was a teenager and my mom and dad paid him to babysit my younger brother and me once or twice. And each time he did, he sexually abused me. He played a movie on our tv and while it was playing he told me to do things to his body. I was confused. I didn’t know why he was telling me to do those things. But I also knew that he was in charge and that made me feel like he wouldn’t tell me to do something that was wrong. He took advantage of me and it is still something that affects me today, over 30 years later.
I can’t remember if I told my parents, but I can remember that this experience became a thing that I locked away in my brain and didn’t talk about until much, much later when, as an adult, I began seeing a therapist. My therapist, Dr. Cara, helped me to understand that it was not my fault. It was never my fault. And together we called the police department to report this crime that happened when I was a kid.
I’m okay. And I’ve found a lot of strength in being able to understand and talk about my story. That’s actually why I’m sharing it with you now: to help give you some of my strength in case you are a person that needs it.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse, which means someone did something hurtful to me in this way. It can really happen to anyone, especially kids. One of the most important things to know is that sexual abuse oftentimes happens when someone we know hurts us.
In my case, my doctor hurt me. I was confused because I thought my doctor was someone I could trust. So this means that even someone you care about could possibly be capable of sexual abuse.
It’s important to know that if sexual abuse happens to you, it is not your fault.
For kids, sexual abuse usually happens when bigger people want to feel powerful. They don't have to be bigger than you, but most of the time they are. When a grownup has some kind of authority or power, they can take advantage of people who are smaller.
So it could be someone who's older, hurting someone who's younger than them. It could be someone like a doctor, in my case, having power and control and who liked making me feel small and helpless.
It’s also important to know that talking about sexual abuse can lead to preventing it from happening again or from happening to someone else.
Unfortunately, this particular topic is one that we do not talk enough about given how prevalent it is. So many people are sexually abused. So many people are walking around with the trauma of sexual abuse. And so the more we talk about it, I'd like to think that the less it can happen or the less it can continue to happen. And the more we can support each other because you can't support each other unless you know what happened.
If you ever find yourself in a situation when you are being hurt by someone you thought you could trust, do not feel guilty. It's important that you remember that it's not your fault. It's never your fault.
I had one last concern that came to mind when I was speaking to Evelyn. I know that sometimes we ask our friends to keep secrets for us. To make sure they don’t tell anyone else. Often, it’s because we’re afraid that it could make the situation worse. If a friend tells you a secret about them that has anything to do with sexual abuse or, really, any topic that makes you worried or concerned, Evelyn shares this advice.
If a friend confides in you, it's important to tell a trusted adult. It's the only way that you can help them. It's important to remember that this is a very serious problem that only an adult can help with. You should not, however, tell other friends because it might make your friend feel embarrassed.
The number one thing to do is to tell a trusted adult.
You should always trust the power of your voice. Speaking up when you think something can be wrong. Trust that you will be believed and that what you say can make a difference.
Also, should you ever find yourself in an abusive situation, oftentimes it can feel so overwhelming, that maybe everything you've learned about what to do, like say “no” and running to a safe place, could all go out the window. That is very understandable. And the most important thing to know is to tell a trusted grownup about what happened.
It’s worth saying aloud again. If something, anything happens to you, tell a grownup that will listen. And if you don’t feel like they listened, find another grownup and tell them. Just make sure that you tell someone.
So kids, any situation, any situation where you might feel speaking up is uncomfortable, but it could help yourself, it could help other people... It's a really important life lesson, I think, to just use your voice and it will be powerful and you can change lives.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we have Evelyn Yang, the author of A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse.
A quick note: This episode is about a topic that might be sensitive to young viewers. The content is appropriate for ages 5 and up and does not include explicit or graphic language, but it's probably best to listen to this episode or read this transcript with a trusted adult in case you have questions. (Questions are always a good thing to have!) If for any reason you suspect a child is being sexually abused, please seek additional help and local resources. If you are in the US, you can talk to someone who is trained to deal with these situations by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.