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Protecting Black Girls: Here is how I intend to protect my Daughter from Sexual Abuse and Assault

posted Feb 22, 2019, 6:21 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Feb 22, 2019, 6:23 AM ]
Reposted from Rochaun Meadows Fernandez at Daily Kos 

Looking at my newborn daughter is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Although she is just one month old, her personality and zest for life already shine through. But the headlines I’m seeing in the news these days have given me something to fear. As we move through the process of exposing those who have committed sexual abuse in the #MeToo era, I wonder what her future as a young black girl will bring.

Authentic Engagement & Open Communication

Parent and child standing together enjoying a sunset. RAINN suggests that authentic engagement with your children in the form of open communication is another way to prevent sexual assault.
Authentic engagement with your children in the form of open communication is another way to prevent sexual assault. 
Talking openly about sexual assault can decrease the chances that your child experiences it firsthand.
Signs that a child is being abused include withdrawal from loved ones, lowered performance in school, and disruptive or self-destructive behavior.  If your child, or any other child for that matter, informs you that they are being abused, contact your pediatrician, local child protective organization, and/or the police.  

There’s already so much research that shows black girls are perceived as less innocent than their white peers. This difference starts as early as age 5, and the ripple effects of that perception are all around us. You can see it in higher rates of school suspension and incarceration, and (terrifyingly) in the increased rates of sexual abuse experienced by black girls. A recent documentary series about singer R. Kelly that was watched by millions made it clear that our girls need to be protected. But many of us, myself included, were left unsure if anyone cares enough to intervene.

The six-episode program revealed horrific details of abuse. Girls as young as 14 have experienced physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Kelly. Yet shockingly, he and many other child predators continue to abuse and walk free.

As a sexual abuse victim myself, watching the program was painful. But as the mother of a newborn girl, I found the program downright terrifying. My heart shatters at the thought of my daughter experiencing the lifelong pain of sexual abuse. I know firsthand that the pain seeps into every area of your life.  

Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent child abuse from happening to our loved ones. But there are a few things we can do to lower its chances of occurring. The following is a list of several things we as parents can do to decrease the likelihood of our children experiencing abuse.

Teach body Autonomy

Setting a foundation that includes teaching your child that their body belongs to them, and no one should have access to it without their permission, is one of several ways to buffer against childhood sexual abuse.

However, teaching this lesson might require unlearning some of the things you were taught during your own childhood. For example, many of us were expected to hug and kiss relatives—including those that made us uncomfortable.

Forced affection goes against the fundamental principles of body autonomy. Assuring your child that they are within their rights to refuse touch from anyone when it is unwanted will assist them on the path to a healthy sense of self. And in the event someone violates this principle, they will be more likely to tell a trusted adult.      

Keep in mind that it’s equally important to emphasize body ownership with our sons as it is with our daughters.

Practice open communication with your Child

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), authentic engagement with your children in the form of open communication is another way to prevent sexual assault. How do you engage authentically with your children? By asking questions about their life from a place of genuine interest. The sooner you start, the better.

With younger children, you can ask questions about their daily interactions and who, including names and descriptions, they met along the way. It might seem strange at first, but with time it will become second nature. If you start during the early years, it will be much easier to talk during the “teenage angst” stage we all know and love.

Using the news as a conversation-starter is a great way to learn more about your children's thoughts and perspectives. When the relationship you have with your child goes deeper than surface-level, you can more easily spot abnormal behavior.

If your child is hesitant to speak to you about tough topics, work with them to establish another trusted adult relationship so that they feel comfortable reaching out to that person if something happens.

Openly discuss abuse with your Children

Talking openly about sexual assault is difficult, but it's important if you want to decrease the chances that your child experiences it firsthand.

In order to do this, it's important that we teach our children appropriate words for areas of the body. As uncomfortable as you may feel with the idea of your child using the term penis or vagina in a public setting, you'll be much more uncomfortable if you find out your child was a victim of abuse and didn't have the vocabulary to tell you so.

Spend time reading resources about abuse, like those found in the #MeToo toolkits. Their resource on grooming, which they describe as “the process in which sexual predators gain the trust of children, teenagers, or vulnerable adults with the intent to sexually abuse them,” is particularly helpful.

After reading them for yourself, take the time to develop an age-appropriate plan to discuss sexual assault with your child. This way, if they find themselves in a questionable situation, they have the knowledge to recognize the signs of abuse when they are present.

And lastly, make sure your child knows you will always take their concerns seriously, even if the culprit is someone you believed you could trust. It’s also helpful to make sure they are aware of sexual abuse hotlines, like the one available through RAINN.

Monitor interactions Closely

No one expects their child to be a victim of sexual abuse. But unfortunately, when it does happen, the abuser is often someone close to the family.

Combat the likelihood of abuse by carefully screening anyone who will be around your child. Enrolling your child in day cares and schools that have “open door” policies so you can check in and participate in class activities is also helpful.

Pay close attention to how your child engages with every adult they interact with. Look out for any signs of fear or general discomfort in the child, or over-friendliness on the part of the adult, and never leave your child with someone that seems to take an unusual interest in them.

Trauma presents in different ways from person to person. Other things to watch for are emotions that are out of the child’s normal emotional range (like increased irritability) and strange role-play with their toys.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that other signs that a child is being abused include withdrawal from loved ones, lowered performance in school, and disruptive or self-destructive behavior.    

And lastly, if your child, or any other child for that matter, informs you that they are being abused, contact your pediatrician, local child protective organization, and/or the police.  

About A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez

A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist. Rochuan's content can be found in the Washington Post, InStyle, the Guardian, and other places. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter

She is a writer, speaker, and activist with a zeal for learning. Her passion for health, diversity, and equity are the cornerstones of her career and she is always open to opportunities to share her experiences and expand her knowledge.

She is also a National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Salute to Excellence Award recipient and the author of Investigating Institutional Racism, an educational resource released through Enslow Publishing, which will be available for purchase in December of 2018.
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