“With frank language and compassion. Joelle Casteix demystifies sexual abuse.” – Jeff Dion, National Center for Victims of Crime
Tragically, a hot topic these days is child abuse. And, the upcoming new book, The Well-Armored Child: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse by Joelle Casteix, which hits bookstores on September 15, 2015, touts that there is more to say and much to clear up. Child sexual abuse is surrounded by myths and misconceptions. The nation’s leading children’s advocate, LA-based Casteix, further discusses why child sexual abuse is under-reported, misunderstood and confusing to adults and caregivers. She also has comments on the recent settlement news on Los Angeles Unified School District and a former teacher, the Dugger’s and Jared Fogle. Casteix also describes the five things one can do to help prevent abuse. First parents, educators, and caregivers need to understand healthy sexual and social behavior in children and know when and how to intervene.
The Well-Armored Child: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Sexual Abuse is an affirming, easy-to-read “toolkit” book that empowers parents with age-specific strategies to help their children become ‘hard targets’ for sex predators. Written by an expert on abuse prevention—who was also a victim of child sexual abuse—The Well-Armored Child will help parents understand how predators “groom” children, why many of our trusted institutions cover up abuse, and how to empower children without shame, fear, or inappropriate discussions of sex.
Q&A with Author Joelle Casteix:
Q1: What is your definition of a well-armored child?
A well-armored child is a child with strong boundaries and good communication skills. He or she is a child who knows the real names of his/her genitals and that no one is to look at, take photos of, or touch those body parts inside or outside of clothes (except for certain medical situations where mom or dad are present). He or she is a child who knows that it is okay to “tattle,” that secrets are NOT okay, and that it’s right to report bullies.
A well-armored child has parents who ask open and honest questions, who understand the signs of predatory grooming, and who insist on transparency from schools and clubs. Both the well-armored child and his/her parents know how important it is to “follow your gut” when situations do not feel right. Both the well-armored child and his/her parents are safe and proactive when it comes to the use of phones and internet-enabled devices. The child knows that his or her parents monitor all social media, emails, texts, and internet-enabled devices because predators and cunning and bullying is prevalent. The well-armored child also knows that women and other children can be predators, and makes sure that he or she makes strong decisions to stay out of harm’s way.
Q2: What are the five most common misconceptions about child sex education?
*note: I only have four
1) We need to remember: sex education and sex abuse prevention are not the same. Teaching your child to be safer against sexual abuse need not have any mention of sex at all.
2) There is a misconception that sex education is one-size-fits-all. How you educate your child about sex education is a personal decision—children given abstinence-only sex education are no more likely to be abused than children taught about birth control. Communication is a parent’s #1 weapon against abuse.
3) There is a misconception that sex education prevents child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, predators are cunning and use manipulation and flattery to confuse children into becoming victims who do not fight and and who “love” their abuser. Sex education can’t combat that.
4) No school program takes the place of a parent’s role in protecting a child from abuse. But if parents work in strong partnership with schools/sports teams/clubs, we can help all children be safer from abuse.
Q3: If a family has learned that their child has dealt with sexual abuse, what are your suggestions on actions they should take and how to cope?
The most important thing that parents can do is stay calm. Flying off the handle, getting angry, etc., will only succeed in scaring the victim. Tell your child how much you love him or her, that he or she did NOTHING wrong (even if the child is scared or ashamed), and that you are proud of the child for telling you. Encourage your child to keep talking.
Immediately inform law enforcement. Police and investigators nationwide have come together to create victim-friendly forensic interview techniques that will not hurt your child. They will also point you towards victim services. At the same time, find a good therapist who specializes in child sexual abuse. Non-offending family members will also need to talk to a good therapist about guilt and how to best help the victim and stop the cycle of abuse.
Q4: How should parents talk to their children about child abuse and the signs they should look for in potential predators?
Talking to your child about abuse can start as early as your child has language skills. It starts will teaching your child the correct names of body parts, the NO SECRETS rule, and that no one is to touch/take pictures of/ask the child to touch body parts. This need not be a scary discussion and should be treated like any other rule, for example, “Don’t hit your sister, don’t color the walls, and no one should ever touch your penis.” Also be sure to tell your younger children that they never have to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to … and this rule applies for life.
Be open with your child about predators. Tell him or her that if anyone does or says anything that makes the child feel odd, that it’s okay to tell you. Tell your child that you believe and trust them. Talk to your children about the signs of predatory grooming (you can find them in my book or website). Bring up “what if” situations to illustrate your point and help your child understand.
For older kids, tell boys that if any girl asks for a naked picture (online), that the asker is probably a 40-year-old dude. Your child will laugh, but he will get the point.
Q5: What are the different statutes of limitations for the criminal and civil prosecution of child sexual abuse?
These vary state to state. For the latest information for your state, visit http://sol-reform.com/ or http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-civil-statutes-of-limitations-in-child-sexua.aspx to review civil statutes and http://victimsofcrime.org/docs/DNA%20Resource%20Center/sol-for-sexual-assault-check-chart—final—copy.pdf?sfvrsn=2 fro criminal statutes. In ANY case of child sexual abuse, talk to prosecutors and a civil attorney who handles these kinds of cases. Statutes can be tricky to understand. You may have rights you didn’t know you had.
Q6: How do parents, educators, and caregivers need to understand healthy sexual and social behavior in children and know when and how to intervene?
We are all biological creatures who express healthy, age-appropriate sexual behaviors. Parents and educators need to intervene immediately and compassionately when these behaviors are expressed in public, with other children, or at school. The best thing to tell a young child is “Our bodies are very special and very important. That’s why we don’t (insert behavior here) at school or in front of other children.” If the behavior continues despite gentle reprimands, it can be a sign of bigger problems.
Any aggressive sexual or physical behavior between children or children and adults should be reported to CPS or law enforcement immediately. Violence and sexual aggression are never healthy.
Q7: Child abuse isn’t always adult-to-child and can be child-to-child. How do parents and educators recognize if abuse is happening by a child’s peer?
Almost 1/4 of all child sexual abuse is perpetrated by another child. The best way to keep your child safe? Make sure that school bathroom doors (unless it’s a single toilet bathroom) are always propped open.
Talk to your school and your children about bullying and immediate intervention. Brush up on local anti-bullying education.
Know what that signs of sexual abuse and bullying are: http://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/RecognizingSexualAbuse?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
Q8: Do bullying and sexual abuse go hand-in-hand? If so, what are the signs and how do we stop it?
There is a big intersection between bullying and child-on-child sexual abuse. Both involve the abuse of power. The more powerful an aggressor feels, the more likely the bullying can cross the line into sexual violence.
Talk to your children openly about bullying and tell that that it is always okay to go to an adult and stand up to bullying. Also tell your child to report any bullying he or she sees and to stand up for victims of aggression.
Every state has strong bullying laws based on the premise that every child has the right to attend school without fear. Make sure that your child’s school follows the law.
Signs of bullying include secrecy, withdrawal, hiding technology, fear of going to school, marks on the child’s body, depression, anger, and cutting … among others. You know your child—if you feel that there is something wrong, open the conversation.
Q9: How do we inform our child about the dangers of abuse without making them fearful in social situations and interactions?
Talking to our kids about abuse means empowering them with information, communication, tools, and strong boundaries. When we inform and empower our children, we help them build authentic self-esteem and gain the confidence built though good decision-making skills.
A child who is fearful is an “easy target.” If you think that your child may be fearful in social interactions and situations, help your child build authentic self esteem through hobbies the child enjoys, martial arts, self-defense, sports, or the arts. If your child is still fearful, consider looking into finding a therapist for your child.
Q10: What are the best ways that parents and schools expose abuse?
By reporting any seen or suspected abuse! If you are a mandatory reporter, follow the law EVERY TIME and report what you see, know, or suspect. If you are a parent and witness abuse or know someone who has been abused and is still in danger or distress, call 911. Otherwise call the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Trained crisis operators will walk you through the process and help you report to the appropriate agency in your area.
Q11: What books or activities do you recommend parents do with their children in order to educate them about abuse?
The best thing that parents can do is communicate: ask open ended questions, engage with their child(ren), find shared interests, keep a watchful eye, follow your gut, and don’t fly off the handle. Give your child positive feedback at home. Never use fear or shame to educate your child.
Teach your children strong body boundaries and that it’s never okay for an adult to touch their genitals or have the child touch the adult’s – even if it feels good. Tell your child to never be too ashamed to come to you if something happens, even if the child thinks it’s his or her fault.
Help your child learn good decision-making skills. This is a life-long lesson that will benefit your child throughout his or her life. Do not over-shelter your child and give them age-appropriate opportunities and freedoms.
My book has many age-appropriate discussion ideas that parents can use with their kids.
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