This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Empowering children to combat sexual abuse

As one of two staff members who works to implement a sexual abuse prevention policy for our church, I have an enormous and difficult task. We have a good policy. We train, screen and keep in regular contact with teachers. One additional way to protect children is by empowering them and their families.

A few weeks ago I purchased several books available for parents to check out. These are books that help children to learn boundaries, appreciate the sacredness and goodness of their bodies, and open up a safe space for dialogue with caregivers. My hope is that these books will be an additional defense as we protect children against sexual abuse.

51heVE3xoHL._SL400_Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman

We’ve owned this book for a long time and it’s what we use to begin laying a foundation for later conversations. It’s a great book for all ages, but particularly accessible for toddlers and preschoolers.

There is nothing explicitly stated about sexual abuse in this book. It is a helpful guide for beginning a conversation about appropriate and wanted touch, and “bathing suit areas.”

jpegDo You Have A Secret by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos

Moore-Mallinos is a social worker for children and her book covers a wide range of “secrets,” including bullying. Do You Have A Secret is less explicit about sexual abuse than some others, using the language of “if someone touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable and yucky inside.” This made me think that this is a good book for younger children. It’s interactive and provides a lot of material for conversation. The primary lesson is distinguishing between good secrets and bad secrets.

jpeg-1I Said No! by Zack and Kimberly King

Kimberly is the mother of Zack and they co-wrote this book after Zack had an experience of being inappropriately touched at a sleepover. While Kimberly had talked with her son about boundaries she realized in retrospect that conversation had not been forthright and specific enough. So she wrote this book. It is great for mid- to older elementary ages. It’s much wordier and complex and incredibly helpful for children ready to think in more nuanced ways. She uses the language of red and green flags as aids for making distinctions, and this can be a helpful tool for caregivers. She cover bribes vs. rewards, caregiver/doctor care vs. stranger touching, keeping a good secret vs. keeping a bad secret.

jpegSome Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders

I found this book very helpful because it’s written as a narrative. It’s accessible and interesting to read. There is also helpful guidance for parents in terms of how to read the book. It’s probably not one you want children to pick up on their own. It needs to be processed and discussed with trusted caregivers. The story is to the point and explicitly names the experience of a child being touched in the privates by an adult. I also loved that this book helped equip me. I could see the author pointing me towards warning signs of abuse and how to respond if I started to see those signs in one of my children.

It can be scary and hard to think about sexual abuse. We like to think that there is no way this could happen to us. As a pastor to children I want to partner with caregivers to ensure that we are each doing all we can to create a safe environment for our children’s faith to flourish.

Caregivers can also look at the following sites for additional ways to protect children:

Melissa Florer-Bixler is a licensed minister in Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Mennonite Conference and a member of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. She is the minister of children at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, N.C., and holds a master’s degree in religion from Duke University and an M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She blogs on a theology of childhood and other things at where this series on talking to your children about race can be found.

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