Handling Disclosures

It is difficult to imagine that anyone would want to harm a child. But the truth is that there are many people who will. About 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before they turn 18.

Sometimes, talking to children about topics addressed in the GERI books can lead to a child opening up about violence or abuse they have experienced. We call this “making a disclosure.”

It’s usually difficult to receive this disclosure, but it’s important to remember that this is a result of your support. The child felt safe enough to tell you. This is important because, all too often, children and teens don’t initially disclose abuse out of fear.

Below are three important steps you can take following a disclosure:

1) Thank them for trusting you and let them know you believe them.

2) Let them know that what was done to them was not their fault and that you’re sorry they were harmed.

3) Keep them away from the person who did it. 

Talking with Teens About Consent

What Do Teens Know About Consent?

One effective strategy to talk to young adults about consent is to ask questions about things they already know. This demonstrates that you trust them and believe they are capable of having conversations on these topics.

Ask questions like:

  • Have you learned about consent?
  • Do you know what it means?
  • Where have you heard it used?
  • What does it mean to people your age?
  • What does it mean to you?

These last two questions are extremely important. Your teen can be an expert in their own experience. Allow them to own that expertise and teach you what they know. This is a good way to measure what they still need to learn about and where they stand mentally and emotionally with the subject.

Teaching Teens About Consent

After you gauge what they already know, remind them that their body belongs to them. They get to decide who has permission to touch, kiss, and eventually have sex with them. We may not be ready for our teens to start having sex or even date, but it’s important for these conversations to happen now. This gives teens time to form boundaries with peers and partners in the future.

Ask questions like:

  • How do you let people know when you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel it’s easy to tell your friends/person you’re dating “no”?
  • What are some boundaries you have already established with people?
  • Do you feel like you are prepared to tell someone “no” if they want to have sex with you?
  • What would you do if you wanted to have sex with someone and they didn’t?
  • What are some ways that you have respected the boundaries that someone has set?

These questions can help you work with a young adult to learn how they can form boundaries when someone is making them uncomfortable. This can also lead to other conversations about how young adults can respect others’ feelings. Just as important as being able to set boundaries is acknowledging that their “no” is not the only “no” that matters. Other people also have boundaries that need to be respected.

Talking About Consent with Teens and Tweens

Conversations about consent are going to look and feel a lot different for tweens and teens. Things like puberty, the beginning of dating relationships and the normal challenges and struggles of growing up can cause stress or worry around having conversations with your kid. It is normal to experience this or to be unsure of where to begin.

One important recommendation is to avoid having the “The Talk”–a single conversation about topics like sex and consent. Instead, begin to normalize these conversations and ease the tension by having multiple and ongoing conversations with your child through their developmental stages. Encourage and empower youth to speak to the adults in their lives about the hardships or questions they have.

Rules to Share with Kids About their Private Parts

Once a child knows how to name their genitals and other parts of their body, share these rules that help keep them safe. Explain it with this acronym that’s easy for children to remember:

PANTS

P – Privates are private.
A – Always remember, your body belongs to you.
N – No means no.
T – Talk about secrets that upset you.
S – Speak up so someone can help you.

What I Just Read Has Triggered Me!

Reading about any sort of violence can be hard. If you have experienced violence or abuse, it can be especially difficult to talk to your child(ren) about topics that remind you of your own abuse.

What Are Triggers?

A trigger is a connection to a traumatic event that may cause a deep and emotional reaction. Triggers can be smells, colors, songs, touches and even certain words. Triggers can be anything, and there is no way to fully prevent the potential of a trigger. Reading these books with a child or discussing the books can bring up difficult feelings. These feelings are normal.

Support When You are Triggered

To address these challenges, try building a system of support that helps you as you begin to explore more of these topics in-depth with the children in your life. These additional supports will help you process those hurtful reminders and understand the responses you may have to them.

Supports may look like:

  • Calling hotlines that specialize in domestic and sexual violence
  • Reaching out to advocates at local domestic and sexual violence agencies
  • Contacting a friend, family member or a partner who you can speak with
  • Putting a pause on the discussion until you’re emotionally ready to continue

You aren’t alone, and don’t have to go through it alone. On page 11 of this toolkit, you will find information on resources in your community.

Safe, Unsafe and Unwanted Touches

Helping children recognize ways to explain their feelings is one of the many ways we can keep them safe. Often, it’s easy to use words like “good” or “bad” because they are simple for young children to understand. You might have even heard of “good touch, bad touch” used to teach kids about sexual abuse.

The problem with this phrase is that sometimes a bad touch can feel like a good one. Children can get confused by this because they aren’t at the developmental stage to explain nuances in a situation. For this reason, we don’t want to use “good touch and bad touch.”

Instead, use “safe and unsafe touch.” These phrases can be used to describe many situations beyond sexual abuse, which helps children become familiar with these words and how they can be used. For example, a parent or caregiver might redirect a child trying to touch a hot stove by saying “that is an unsafe touch.”

Explaining Safe and Unsafe Touch

The easiest way to explain safe and unsafe touches to children is by giving examples.

Safe touches are touches that make someone feel cared for or help keep them healthy and clean:

  • Grandma giving you a goodnight hug (when you consent)
  • Daddy giving you a forehead kiss before he leaves for work
  • The doctor giving you a check-up
  • A trusted adult helping you take a bath

Unsafe touches are touches that hurt or make someone feel bad or sad:

  • Being bit, slapped, punched, and pinched
  • Someone touching your private parts
  • Someone telling you to touch their private parts
  • Someone telling you to keep an unsafe secret

Using correct and anatomically accurate names to describe body parts, including private parts, is also an important piece of this conversation. Instead of giving nicknames for body parts, use words like vulva, vagina, penis, testicles, and anus. This helps kids be clear when they talk to adults.

What are Unwanted Touches?

Unwanted touches are kinds of touches that are safe, but a child doesn’t want. Just like adults, children don’t want to be hugged, kissed or touched all the time. Sometimes, they don’t want a good night hug or a good morning kiss. Normalizing this choice and respecting the boundary they are setting is an important way to mirror positive behavior.

Teach children that they have the right to say “no” or determine who they want to receive affection from. This is a part of helping them build strong and healthy boundaries.

The Basics Of Consent

Consent is permission or an agreement for something to happen. Consent needs to be clear. When talking about consent, it is often used in reference to engaging in sexual activity. But it is more than that. More broadly, conversations around consent should be rooted in the idea that everyone has the right to own themselves.

For younger children, a good way to start conversations about consent is around the topic of sharing. In addition, empowering children to respect when a friend doesn’t want to share something or engage in forms of touching (like hugging) are great ways to incorporate the basics of consent into your conversations.

A helpful acronym developed by Planned Parenthood is to think of consent like FRIES:

F- Freely given

R-Reversible

I-Informed

E-Enthusiastic

S- Specific

Freely given

A person does not feel forced or made to say yes.

● Example: “If you give Grandma a kiss we can get ice cream.” That is not a consenting yes, because in order to get the ice cream you had to be talked into doing something you maybe didn’t want to do.

Reversible

People have the right to change their minds at any point.

● Example: You agreed to a playdate with friends, but later decided you would rather stay home. You can change your mind at any point about the things you want and don’t want.

Informed

A person has to have all the information about a situation to decide if they want to do anything involving it.

● Example: You agreed to go to the park with your friend, but when you get there you realize the park is a splash pad and you don’t like splash pads. You might not have agreed to play with your friend if you knew it meant playing in the water.

Enthusiastic

For a yes to be a true yes, it has to be genuine. People may agree to do something, but are they happy to do it? Is there hesitation in their reply?

● Example: “ Yes! I will try going down the slide by myself!,” and “ Ugh, I am really scared to go down the slide by myself…but I guess I will do it.”

The first example is enthusiastic, while the second is not. The second example is also a good way to practice checking in with someone. In response to the second prompt, you could say, “Are you sure you want to go down the slide? If you do not want to, that is okay too.”

Specific

A person can agree to say “yes” to one thing and say “no” to another.

● Example: I can say “yes” to a hug, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be kissed on the cheek.

Talking about Consent at Different Stages

The way we talk to children and adolescents about consent is obviously going to be different. Throughout different developmental stages, it is important to emphasize with children and teens that they are the masters of their bodies and experiences. Empower them to know that they have the right to say yes and no when feeling unsafe.

Just as important to the conversation of consent is teaching children and teens to respect the boundaries that others set. If someone says no to something or shows that they are uncomfortable with something, it is not an invitation to try to convince them or coerce them into saying yes.