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Whether we are aware or not, we probably all know someone who was abused. My friend Jennifer (a pseudonym) was not as fortunate as me. When she was only 6 or 7, a neighbor started abusing her in the woods behind her house.
"He had porn in front of me while he was abusing me and touching himself. I remember sitting on his lap while he flipped pages," she said. Jennifer's parents paid little attention to her whereabouts, and she never told them.
In the fifth grade, Jennifer chose to follow Jesus. But she struggled with depression, drinking, and suicidal thoughts as a teen and into adulthood. She saw various counselors. In her twenties, she began renting sex-saturated rated-R movies. When she got an Internet connection in her apartment, she gained easy access to online porn, which led to a masturbation addiction.
Today, in her early forties, Jennifer is much healthier. She joined a supportive church and participated in a ministry for Christians seeking healing from sexual brokenness.
Fear Stops Us
The road to freedom can be long and arduous for survivors of child sexual abuse. So why don't more families, churches, and schools warn children about inappropriate touch and teach them how to report it? The simple answer: fear.
We don't want to scare or sexualize them at an innocent age.
My husband teaches elementary school. I harbored hopes that he would discuss abuse with children in his fourth-grade class. Each spring, teachers separate boys and girls for talks about basic sexuality. I urged him to add warnings about sexual abuse.
"I'm afraid parents would get upset," he said.
Fourth grade is too late anyway for children like Jennifer and many others. One in seven children reported as sexually assaulted is under age 6, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Rather than embed fear or sexualize our children, we can convey a positive and effective message. That's what Jodi Jacobsen did in a massive public school campaign. Before the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, Jodi and a team of Christians blitzed schools with an abuse-prevention assembly. The dual aim: prevent child trafficking surrounding the World Cup and empower children to help stop childhood sexual abuse.
Their simple curriculum included praising God for making our bodies. They warned children, "Don't let anyone touch your body under where you wear a swimsuit." In an after-school club, each child sketched a picture of someone they could call upon for help.
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