Prevention of sexual abuse training begins with children’s natural abilities, what they already know, and the experiences they’ve already had. The fundamental messages in prevention of child abuse by people known to the child include:
- Your body belongs to you.
- You have a right to say who touches you and how
- If someone touches you in a way you don’t like, in a way that makes you feel funny or uncomfortable inside, or in a way that you think is wrong or your parents would think is wrong, it’s okay to say “no.”
- If the person doesn’t stop, say, “I’m going to tell” and then tell, no matter what.
- If you’re asked to keep a secret, say, “No, I’m going to tell.”
- If you have a problem, keep talking about it until someone helps you.
Children learn that they can have some control over what happens to their bodies when we teach them, and when we show them through our own behavior, that their bodies do indeed belong to them. Children as young as two and three already know what touch they like and what touch they don’t like. Touching they don’t like makes them feel uneasy and seems wrong to them. This approach to prevention simply gives them permission to speak up. It teaches them how to speak up effectively and in a way that is appropriate.
These prevention of child abuse techniques must be learned not just as ideas, but as real skills. This means practice. Part of effective prevention education includes role-play, giving children an opportunity to see how it feels to say “no” in a difficult situation. Parents can do some of this, but the essence of the classroom programs is actually giving children an opportunity to practice these skills so they can really use them if they should find it necessary. Just as children don’t learn to ride a bicycle by talking or reading about bicycling, children don’t learn to prevent child abuse without opportunities to work with the techniques, to practice and feel comfortable with the skills.