Never Force a Child to Hug Someone and 5 Other Ways to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse


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An independent review that revealed details of abuse victims by Catholic priests in Colorado was recently released, and said that since 1950, 166 children were sexually abused by 43 priests.

Joelle Casteix is a founding member of the board of directors for Zero Abuse Project, and has been a guest writer for Mothering Magazine. She responded to the review, speaking at the Denver Press Club and called on the Archdiocese of Denver to be more transparent than what was detailed in the report. Saying that the Catholic church won’t tell the worst part because they don’t want us to know, Casteix said that who the abusers were and are needs to be known.

Casteix was abused while in high school in California, and when she moved to Colorado, she met other sexual abuse victims. In addition to her advocacy and writing, Casteix travels all over the country speaking about how to protect our children, and why we need to hold abusers accountable.

In Colorado, she’s seeking reform on the statues of limitations in Colorado so that all victims can have the chance to come forward, and she wants the Catholic church to support the legislative change as well. Saying that victims and survivors coming forward empowers other victims of child sexual abuse, she hopes that female survivors (who were underrepresented in the report, she claims) will come forward too.

The Archdiocese of Denver states that it will adopt all the recommendations of the report and will also open a compensation fund for the victims.  Casteix says that the apology and fund are well and good, but not enough. She wants more details–about the priests and other members of the Church. It was her suing the Church that led to the release of additional documents, and she wants to ensure that no young girl is ever again blamed for their victimization at the hands of the Church. Saying she was told her abuse was her fault because she was promiscuous, Casteix advocates for girls to be listened to and never be given the blame for their abuse.

Casteix’s main goal is to see the complete removal of statutes of limitations for survivors, period. She says voices need help and help is available, and she is committed to ensuring that survivors are protected and supported.

In 2015, we published the following guest article from Casteix. She was about to debut her book, The Well-Armored Child: A Parents Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse, and her words still hold true today:

It’s July and summer is in full force. Kids have had time to shake off the last remnants of school projects, report cards, and tests, and are now focusing on what’s important: having fun.

They are off to camp, playing video games, and running around outside well past dinner. Community pools are at capacity. You’re surrounded by sunburn, bug bites, and bickering.

But summer is about more than just hot weather. Children are relishing the new freedoms summer offers. Without the constant watchful eyes of teachers, kids can interact freely, test new boundaries, and have the ability to be far more self-sufficient and creative with their time. When they aren’t complaining about being bored, of course.

With this freedom comes challenge. No one wants to think about bullying and child sexual abuse when we should be focusing on swimming and lemonade stands. But anytime your child is out in the world, he or she can encounter people and situations that are scary.

If you armor and prepare your child with real tools, self-esteem, and decision-making skills, your child will do much more than have fun. Your child will blossom and grow. By the time fall rolls around, you will send a more mature and confident child off to school.

Here are five things you can do to help your child have a safer summer:

1) Teach your child to have strong body boundaries.

Do not force very young children to hug or kiss adults. Tell your children that they have power over their own bodies and must show respect for their own and other people’s bodies and space. For older children, reinforce the fact that no one is to ever touch them anywhere if they don’t want it. Tell them that “no means no” when it comes to wrestling, tickling, hugging, etc. Encourage your child to take a self-defense class. Tell your children that no one if to look at, touch, or take pictures of their genitalia, and vice versa.

2) Show your children the importance of following their “gut.”

Summertime is full of new people, situations, locations, and events—many of which will be totally unfamiliar to your child. Fortunately, your child has a special weapon: the gut instinct. Even scientists call the gut our “second brain,” with capabilities to harbor emotions, reactions, and instinctual decision-making capabilities. Talk to your child about his or her gut feelings. Discuss times when you or your child didn’t follow that “gut instinct” and ended up in trouble. Show that when your child’s gut tells says it’s a bad idea, it probably is.

3) Explain sleepover and overnight camp rules.

Now that your child has stronger body boundaries and understands how to use his or her gut, talk about sleepovers and overnight camp rules. Make sure your child knows that he or she is never to be behind a closed door with an adult. Reinforce that an adult should never ask a child to keep a secret—especially if someone is hurt or there may be abuse involved. Tell your child that it’s always okay to report suspicious or bad behavior, even if someone threatens them if they do. Tell your child that it’s okay and safe to tell you anything, even if your child has done something wrong or against the rules.

4) Empower your child against bullies.

Most children will be bullied at some time in their lives. Summertime is no exception. Tell your child that it is okay to stand up to aggressors if they see or experience bullying. Show them that it is safe to report bullying. Help prevent cyberbullying by requiring that all internet-enabled technology remains in common areas of your home. Teach your child Internet safety and monitor your child’s use of the Internet. Do not be afraid to step in and respond if you see bullying behavior at the beach or playground. Do not tolerate or condone aggressive, bullying behavior in your child. If your child is bullied at a camp or organized activity, report immediately and demand action.

5) Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The most important weapon in your child safety arsenal is open communication with your child. Encourage frank and honest conversations with your children. Ask open-ended questions (questions that require more than a yes or no answer). Answer their questions as honestly as you can. Spend time together. Time with you is the best gift you can give your child and the best thing you can do to prevent child sexual abuse.


well-armored-childA former journalist, educator, and public relations professional, Joelle Casteix has taken her own experience as a victim of child sex crimes and devoted her career to exposing abuse, advocating on behalf of survivors, and spreading abuse prevention strategies for parents and communities.

She has presented to hundreds of audiences all over the world, including on the TEDx stage, on subjects such as abuse prevention, victim outreach, victims’ rights in the civil justice system, and parenting safer children. She is a regular speaker for the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma and The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Casteix’s blog, The Worthy Adversary, is one of the leading sources for information and commentary on child sexual abuse prevention and exposure. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed graduate work in education at the University of Colorado, Denver. Her book The Well-Armored Child: A Parents Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse is available on Amazon.com as well as at other fine booksellers.  To learn more visit: www.WellArmoredChild.com, or visit her site.

Image: Barney Moss


5 thoughts on “Never Force a Child to Hug Someone and 5 Other Ways to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse”

  1. Remember to explain overnight rules as they pertain to other children as well as adults. Predators can be older/younger siblings of friends, or even friends themselves. Make sure children know to always be on guard and to get out of any situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.

  2. You are placing all the responsibility on the child. The child is not responsible. As a parent, you must talk to all the adults who are taking care of the child and let them know your safe body rules and tell them that you and your child don’t keep secrets, etc… Talk to the people in charge of your child. Rule #1. I’m kind of annoyed after reading this article that this #1 piece of information is not included.

  3. I was planning to post this on FB, but after reading and seeing that it was written by a former journalist and contained many “typos” I am reconsidering. I also agree with the comment made by “B”, that there was no mention of children being to sure to use their body boundaries with other children. Many children are sexual abused by other children and teens, and I don’t think this is addressed enough in these types of discussions.

  4. We have the ‘good surprises, bad secrets’ conversation:
    Planning a surprise party for someone, which we don’t tell them about, is fine.
    Not telling what the present is before the party – also fine.
    Anyone asking you to keep something secret from Mum and Dad – not OK
    Especially not OK – a ‘secret’ which involves anything that is hurting/frightening someone.

  5. Forcing your Preschool child to follow all your instruction is not right. They cannot differentiate all activities done by other. It can make them far from the right community, their friends. and I also appreciate your blog writing to share this point of view with us. You must tell about bad activities, but you must take proper child care, and make a friendly behaviour with them, so that you can know what is going with them.

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