Monday, May 9, 2016

Tips For Educators

Your Role

Your role, no matter what you are told, in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse is huge. This is not because you can be a child's hero, this is because you are with the children in your circle every single day. You see how they behave, how they emote, and how their family dynamics work. You have a window into a child's life. Because of that, you can spot things that other people may not see. You may spot things that strike you as odd, uncomfortable, even gut-churning, both from adults and from other children. Imagine a big flashing sign next to you: "Trust Your Gut!"

Write these things down. Keep a journal detailing what child was involved, what struck you, how it felt, and what you thought. Sometimes, they are nothing. But if you are seeing things and reacting a certain way multiple times, each time you could say to yourself "It is just my imagination, it's nothing." Dismiss it only after nothing else happens. If you are really organized, you could organize your journal by date, by person, or even by emotion. The important thing is that you write down what you see that strikes you as odd.

Warning Signs

Know the warning signs of an at-risk adult. Know the warning signs in an at-risk child or teenager. Know the difference between sexually appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior. If you think a child may have been sexually abused, or abused in general, ask the child questions. Some examples:

  • Has anyone ever touched your penis/vagina/butt (use the specific body part, not the catch-all "private parts")?
  • Has anyone ever hit you?
Other questions may be situational, but the point is that you have the right to ask the child questions to know that the child is safe. You are likely a mandated reporter, which means you need to report known or suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. You should know about the existence of child advocacy centers. In my experience, they should be the first place that you turn to. They know how to ask a child the proper questions and how to react to their statements so that the child is not further traumatized by questioning if abuse has occurred. For more information, please see my post about reporting allegations of abuse

How You Can Help

The reality is, you can help in a number of ways. You can see things that are out of the ordinary in individual children, and you can see things that raise red flags. Many times people dismiss these red flags, thinking that they are nothing. That is why it is great to write them down. Even if you spot nothing more than the first red flag, it is easier to remember that the first one happened if you write it down.

You can also see students struggling with something. It does not matter what they are struggling with, what matters is that you can spot them struggling. That means you can have the courage to ask them if something is wrong. Sometimes it is something totally benign, but other times they might be seriously struggling with something someone said to them, like bullying or verbal abuse. They might be struggling with controlling their anger, or have anxiety or fear around certain things. They may be LGBTQ or struggling with their sexuality. They may be noticing they are attracted to children, if they are old enough.

It is inherent in most struggles to believe several lies about the struggle. They usually believe they are the only ones struggling with it, or that no one will care. You can counter those lies. The beginning of a mental health spiral, and the formation of maladaptive beliefs that can lead to such a spiral, often starts in childhood. You cannot get into your students' heads to see what they are thinking. However, you can see their behavior and you can see some of how they think by what they say and do. You can raise concerns with parents and with other teachers.

A Word About Sexuality

Sexuality is an important part of development. You may have the opportunity to teach sexual health classes. Keeping in mind that you may be limited by what you can or cannot say, you should read over Stop It Now's explanation for why discussing sexuality is an important part of preventing child sexual abuse. What I will tell you is that if you do not create a safe environment in which a child can share uncomfortable topics or struggles, they will never tell you important information, like the fact that they were sexually abused, felt uncomfortable with someone's behavior, or even that they are struggling with their sexuality and how it is developing. You have the opportunity to create that kind of a safe space. Even if a child raises an issue you cannot answer, you can tell the child that you cannot answer it but can direct them to someone who can. You can be the child's biggest resource.

Realistically Speaking...

Obviously, you are a human being. Even if you wanted to try and do everything, there only so much you can do. You have many concerns that seem to be far more pressing. Grading homework, parent-teacher conferences, all of the minutiae of day-to-day interactions and ensuring at the end of the day you still have a job to put food on the table... you have a lot going on just being a teacher. The most important tool you have is your gut. If something feels off, if something feels odd, write it down. Talk about it with other teachers. Stop It Now has a hotline you can call or you can just click "Get Immediate Help" on their main page. You may feel helpless to affect certain situations, but you are not helpless.

Resources Available

This blog has a number of resources available to you. I discuss a great deal of information and prevention tips on this blog. Trying to condense them all into one post just is not feasible. As I explain in my "Tips For Parents", you need to know how to navigate your options and think critically about what you are reading. Let this blog be your friend. You can search this blog on the right-hand side right above my bio, or you can find essential posts on the top of the page. I also link to many other sites discussion the issues, where to find more information, where to get help, and other resources. If none of that answers your question, leave me a comment on one of my posts, and I will reply to it as soon as I am able (typically within two days. The main reason I put this blog together was to have as many reliable resources as I can in one location.

Why Come Here?

So why should you read my blog? Why get your resource here? Why should you trust my word over what you have been told? You tell me. Why should you? Am I trustworthy? Do I cite sources for what I say? Do I paint things with an overly wide brush to be popular, or do I challenge your ideas and present ideas that you think could be repulsive? If all I am doing here is giving you information, then I have failed, dear educator. I see my job as the same as yours: To get people thinking. I want you to think about the issues surrounding child sexual abuse, because if you are not thinking about them, you cannot fight child sexual abuse. My content is limited. Your capacity for reading my content is limited. In the words of one of my favorite teachers of all time, "Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!"

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