Reflections from a mother, advocate

SAAM 2013 is around the corner, and to explore this April's theme of healthy childhood development, we are excited to announce the "Talk early, talk often!" SAAM blog series. To kick-off the Talk early, talk often! blog series, the SAAM blog is excited to feature a guest post from Donna Greco, Training & Technical Assistance Director at NSVRC.  

As a mom, I often reflect on these words by Elizabeth Stone:  “Making a decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I live these words every day as the mother of two daughters, ages seven and two. Like any other parent, I want nothing but the best for them, for them to always be safe, happy, and healthy.

As an advocate who is committed to ending sexual violence and ensuring that survivors have access to sources of healing, I know that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18 (Finkelhor et al., 1990) and children are disproportionately represented among those victimized by sexual violence (Black et al., 2011). I know that sexual violence knows no boundaries and risk factors occur at individual, relationship, community, and societal levels. I also know that most people who sexually abuse children are known and trusted by the children they harm and are most often acquaintances and family members (Douglas & Finkelhor, 2005). I know too well that people in academic institutions, programs serving youth, and faith communities have often allowed child sexual abuse to occur when they could have intervened.

Navigating the two roles that I play in the world—mom and advocate—is not always easy. But no one ever said it would be, right?

I believe “knowledge is power;” however, sometimes, when my two little hearts are walking around outside of my body and the news brings more stories of violence and oppression, I want to crawl inside the old adage, “ignorance is bliss” and put my daughters in little protective bubbles where nothing can harm them.  As a parent trying to prevent harm against my children and as an advocate who cares about all children, I am often surrounded by risk reduction approaches—how to teach children to stay safe from those who may try to harm them. While talking to children about safety and trust is valuable, I know this will not ultimately stop a person from sexually abusing my child or someone else’s child. I know that to ultimately end sexual violence against children, adults need to take action and we need to be working toward primary prevention. Our society needs to take ownership of the issue and we all need to work together at establishing social norms that foster equality, safety, respect, and healthy sexuality across the lifespan.

This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) theme is on healthy childhood sexuality. By nurturing healthy sexuality across the lifespan, and promoting interpersonal equality, respect, and safety, we hope to shift social norms and ultimately put an end to sexual violence. This is music to my ears. By teaching children and adults about healthy sexuality, we can interrupt some of the social norms that allow sexual violence to occur.  We can plant a seed of respect, equality, and safety with our children and watch them carry this knowledge with them as they move through the world, making it better. By focusing on positive healthy childhood sexual development, we help teach our children about appropriate boundaries and respect not only for themselves, but for others as well. We help to model for our children positive interactions and behaviors so there is a backdrop against which sexual violence can be seen and understood and responded to. We help through our conversations with other parents and adults to mobilize communities in paying more attention to the safety and well-being of children, and getting involved in the prevention of sexual violence.

I know that as a parent, I have a tremendous opportunity to help shape how my children understand the world and I don’t want to mess it up! It helps me to turn to resources from Robie H. Harris, and re-read Packaging girlhood: Rescuing our daughters from marketers’ schemes annually. I have the privilege of being inundated with positive messages about sexuality, where I work at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, where we have started a parenting group for staff to talk about the intersections of work and parenting. I turn to approaches that show promise in preventing child sexual abuse, like those discussed in the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Packet and the National Plan to Prevent the Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children.

And finally, I turn to this year’s SAAM campaign, which is rich in resources for a mom-advocate like me. What resources do you turn to? How do you navigate dual identities as advocates and parents?

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