During this COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has been turned upside down, and we are all trying to navigate this new way of living. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and I am reminded that children and teens, who are being or have been sexually abused, live in an upside down world every day of their lives. Over 90 percent of children know the person who hurt them, and 1 in 9 girls, and 1 in 53 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. It is well known these cases are underreported. Source: www.RAINN.org. We’ve had a lot of statistics these days, however, it’s important to know and understand them so we can continue the work of prevention and advocacy.
This month, YWCA Northeast Indiana has made efforts to bring awareness to sexual assault. Many of our original SAAM plans, such as Dine to Donate events and movie screenings with panel discussions, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. However, we know that sexual assault doesn’t stop just because the rest of the world seems to be on hold, and neither do our services.
At the beginning of the month, Mayor Thomas Henry signed a proclamation declaring April 2020 as Sexual Assault Awareness month in Fort Wayne.
Many YWCA staff members participated in and encouraged the community to participate in the day of action, wearing teal to raise awareness and show support for those who have been impacted by sexual assault.
Additionally, the city of Fort Wayne has shown support by turning the town teal. Below is a picture of the Wells Street Bridge lit in teal from earlier this month.
To learn about our services, call 260.424.4908 or visit https://ywcanein.com/sexual-assault-services
To get a glimpse into the life of a sexual assault survivor, please read about Annie. She is one of the people whose abuse isn’t counted in the statistics. The upside down world for Annie began when she was about four years old. Annie (whose name has been changed) is the youngest of four and the only daughter in her family. When her parents needed a sitter, their church pastor and his wife were glad to help. Annie went over to their house and played with their young daughter. Sometimes, Annie would stay overnight. It was during those times, she was visited in the middle of the night by the pastor.
Annie, who is 40 years old now, vividly remembers hiding under the bed when she heard footsteps in the hall that always stopped at her doorway. For some reason, Annie knew at that young age, what he did to her was wrong; it felt wrong, and she told her mother she didn’t want to go back. Then Annie’s world flipped again. Not having the words to tell her what he did to her, Annie told her mom she was scared of their pastor. Mom, not knowing how to help her express what he did that scared her, and not having any thought that sexual abuse could happen to her only daughter at their pastor’s home, didn’t do anything. In Annie’s world, she felt alone, ashamed, and burdensome, because she had to misbehave so she wouldn’t have to go over to the pastor’s house. Sometimes, it worked. Eventually, she was old enough to stay home by herself.
Everyone lived with normal routines, except Annie. At some point, she decided she would be the best at everything, get perfect grades at school, and be the most obedient daughter, hoping someone might notice her determination to be perfect. Also, she believed if she could be perfect, nothing bad or scary would happen to her. On the outside, she appeared perfect, but on the inside, Annie believed she was broken; unlovable. She believed what happened to her was her fault and would always be her fault. Even now.
In 2019, I met and had the privilege of working with 25 young people, ages six to 17. I had to earn their trust and respect, and I was responsible for ensuring they felt safe in my office while we looked at their upside down worlds. We played, we laughed, we cried, we got angry; sometimes, all in one session. We found truth, safety, purpose, hope, and a belief that someone understood their upside down feelings and accepted them. They grew more resilient; I grew with them, and felt humbled to be in their presence. I passed the baton, with some helpful resources, to their loved ones and caregivers.
You can help a child’s world turn right side up by doing these few things:
Listen to them; their fears, hopes, and dreams.
Believe them when they tell you something happened that made them scared or uncomfortable. Tell them they aren’t in trouble for sharing their scary secrets.
Tell them it isn’t their fault. It’s never, ever their fault.
You can empower a child and prevent child sexual abuse by:
Teaching proper names for all the parts of their bodies. When given the correct names, children have the vocabulary to tell.
Explain the rule that private parts are just for them, with very few exceptions. Give them words for what to do if that rule is broken. Roleplay personal space with a hula hoop and tell them no one can get into their personal space without permission, and vice versa.
Teach your child to be self-sufficient in the bathroom following rules of age-appropriate safety in the bathtub.
Have the sex talk early. Explain it’s for adults and not for children. Tell them what pornography is and why it’s not for kids.
Help kids create and maintain emotional boundaries too. Be a role model for healthy boundaries. Kids need to be emotionally empowered, because abusers pursue passive kids.
Check in regularly. Reinforce the personal space rules, and ask if anything scary or uncomfortable has happened lately. Practice what to do if the rule about touching private parts is broken. Update the plan as needed.
For older kids, help them understand the difference between desire for someone and the physiological arousal reactions to watching or touching. Arousal doesn’t mean they wanted it to happen.
Other resources for further help and information:
https://www.indianaprevention.org/child-abuse-statistics Indiana Prevention for Child Abuse
https://www.in.gov/dcs/ Indiana Department of Child Services
www.icesaht.org Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking
Know our state laws and definitions for consent, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Contact your local, state, and federal legislators to support any legislation that protects the rights of victims.
www.rainn.org Rape and Incest National Network
www.ncdsv.org National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
www.nsvrc.org National Sexual Violence Resource Center
www.1in6.org Support for men who have experienced sexual assault
www.metoomvmnt.org Me too resources and tool kits
www.D2L.org Darkness to Light: childhood sexual abuse
www.themamabeareffect.org: The Mama Bear Effect
You can always reach out for help by calling the YWCA of Northeast Indiana Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.441.4073 or 260.424.4908 for services.