As parents, knowing or suspecting that your child is being sexually abused can be incredibly traumatic. It can be difficult to know how to begin to do something about it. We understand that reporting your concerns is not easy, particularly when the abuser is someone that you know and trust. However, to protect your child, it is vital that you do speak out.
Child sexual abuse happens when a child or teenager is forced, or enticed, to take part in sexual activities. No matter the level of violence, and regardless of the child’s awareness or agreement to what’s happening, it is sexual abuse. It may involve physical contact such as touching a child’s genitals or private parts for the abuser’s sexual pleasure, making a child touch someone else’s genitals, playing sexual games or having sex by putting objects or body parts inside the mouth, anus or vagina of a child. Sexual abuse also includes things that don’t involve contact, such as showing a child pornography, encouraging a child to take part in the making of sexual images, watching sexual acts, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways. Abuse can take place in person or online, through internet based technology or a website your child uses.
The importance of early education on sexual abuse in the home cannot be over-emphasized. It is important that you teach your children about sexual abuse because the strength of the predator is in the ignorance of the child.
Here, I have the privilege of discussing child sexual abuse with Mr. Steve Harris.
Steve Harris, fondly called “Mr. Ruthless Execution” is a trusted authority in the fields of Life & Business Strategy, a highly sought-after Management Consultant and Chief Executive Officer of EdgeEcution, Motivational Speaker & Author. In May and September 2015 as well as in April 2016, Steve Harris was listed among the ‘World’s Top 100 Business Coaches To Follow On Twitter’ He is also a certified member of the International Coach Federation (ICF), a member of the Life Coaches Association of Nigeria (LCAN), the American Association of Small Business Consultants, Texas, USA and the International Certified Consultants Association, Canada.
SA: Thank you so much Sir, for lending your voice on this issue.
Steve Harris: It’s my pleasure.
SA: For a start… what comes to mind when you hear about child sexual abuse?
Steve Harris: I think it’s terrible. No child deserves to be put in that kind of position. I think to some degree, there’s a bit of negligence. Some parents perhaps are not entirely hands-on; however, you can’t put all the blame on parents because sometimes as a result of our busy schedules parents today tend to leave their kids with their housekeepers. That is why it is important to educate kids, way before time, about what sexual abuse is. I have some amazing friends in the field, like Praise Fowowe who has written an amazing book on the topic, where he highlights how parents can easily teach their children and pre-teens everything about sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is terrible. Perpetrators should be arrested, they should be locked up, and as far as I’m concerned, the keys should be thrown away.
SA: Were you taught about sexual abuse as a child, whether at home or in school?
Steve Harris: No, I wasn’t taught about sexual abuse as a kid. My parents never had ‘the Birds and the Bees’ conversation with me-no one should touch here or there. It was pretty much because at the time my parents were very much hands-on, we didn’t have housekeepers because my mum was always present so nothing could happen. But today, it’s a lot harder because our environment is such that parents have less time to sit and watch their children grow up, so they outsource that.
SA: Speaking of sex education, at what age do you think is ideal for sex education?
Steve Harris: We started educating my daughter when she was 2 years old. We were very direct with the information that we believed she needed, we didn’t color anything. We told her what her vagina was, what her breasts were. No one should touch you here or there. I think the moment your child is intellectually aware and can ask some questions, then that is the right time… in our case it was from 2 years old. The earlier the better and it should constantly be reiterated through poetry, through games:
Que: “Can anyone touch you here”
Que: “If someone touches you here, what should you do?”
Ans: “Tell your mummy and daddy”
Que: “If someone touches you, what should you do?”
Que: “How should you scream?”
Que: “Scream louder!”
It should be reinforced as often as possible.
SA: Since children can be sexually abused well before nursery school, and even a baby can be abused, do you think education and awareness for sexual abuse and sexual violence in general should be incorporated in couple’s counselling in church?
Steve Harris: Yes. I think so, I don’t think it is one of the things churches manage during counselling. It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect, but we live in a crazy world with the proliferation of the internet; children are more susceptible to online predators, paedophilia, sexting, etc. I think the earlier the better, so it should be incorporated. Maybe to some degree, the reason they don’t talk about it is because they don’t really have a solution, but I do think it’s imperative.
SA: What about in school, should sexual abuse and sexual violence be included in school curriculum, at every level?
Steve Harris: Of course. Absolutely.
SA: Can you explain what bad touch means, as if you were speaking to a child?
Steve Harris: If anyone touches you in a place that made you feel uncomfortable and then says, don’t tell your mummy and daddy – that’s a bad touch. If anyone touches you and asks you not to tell someone, that’s a bad touch. Anything that needs to be hidden from your mummy and daddy is something that is bad.
SA: The dynamics of victimization is such that children are abused by people who are close to the family, how can parents explain this to their children without turning them off relatives and friends?
Steve Harris: Technology makes it easier, having CCTV cameras clearly defining what the rules are, helps. In my home, we raised my daughter not to be carried. My daughter doesn’t hug anyone that is not her mum and dad. She doesn’t let anyone carry or hug her, from the moment she was conscious, she learnt not to hug people except us, her parents. Sometimes you may risk offending people, but protecting your child is ultimately more important than risking offending anyone. So, it doesn’t really matter.
SA: Oftentimes the responsibility of setting boundaries for how children allow adults to touch them is left to the children: “my daddy said I shouldn’t allow any uncle carry me on his lap”, do you think that parents should bear the responsibility of limiting excessive or unhealthy physical access to the children? How can this be achieved?
Steve Harris: Yea, just explain: “we don’t let her hug anyone,” the end. It’s your house, it’s your rules… it doesn’t leave room for interpretation…
SA: So, do you say that as people come in?
Steve Harris: No. If they tried to hug or carry her and she doesn’t… “oh, let me hug you!” and she doesn’t let them, we immediately say: “don’t worry about it, we don’t let anyone hug or carry her” it’s as simple as that. Protect your child, risk offending people. It doesn’t matter. They’ll forgive you, but your child will never forgive you if something happened to them that you could have protected them from.
SA: The signs of sexual abuse are often not so easy to spot; how do you think parents can create the relationship or atmosphere that will encourage disclosure?
Steve Harris: Just be close to your kids. Be as open with your kids as possible, your kids must feel that they can talk to you, they can share with you. The only time they would hide something from you is when they feel they can’t talk to you. So, you must be their best friends. You should be their guardian and you should protect them, but you should also be their friends, where they feel they can tell you anything.
SA: Oftentimes, children who disclose sexual abuse to their parents are either hushed, the incident downplayed, and not given the needed intervention; what do you think can be done to make parents understand the significance of the impact of sexual abuse and the need for immediate intervention?
Steve Harris: Well, I think the reason parents don’t do anything is because they’re ashamed. They’re afraid of how people would feel, but in doing that they fail to put the child’s feeling into consideration because it’s the child that carries that through their lives. I know people who were abused when they were kids and they are 30-year olds, 36-year olds, 40-year olds, and they’ve not been able to have wholesome relationships simply because they were abused as a child. So, I don’t think how the parents feel should override the child’s wellbeing. They should address it, they should get help for the child as quickly as possible. Therapy, whatever help is necessary.
SA: Speaking of therapy, we’re very much averse to therapy in our society and there are hardly child psychologists around, that means the first place to seek help in the case of a child abuse is usually at church which is hardly the best choice, what’s your opinion on this? Should parents really go to a Pastor in such situations?
Steve Harris: It’s a start…
SA: But most Pastors aren’t trained to handle these issues.
Steve Harris: Well, I’ll say it’s a start. Like you said, there aren’t enough trained professionals. If we had trained professionals who are readily accessible they would go there. In reality, what we need is a critical mass of trained professionals who can stand in the gap so parents can be aware of the help they should seek. They go to meet Pastors because pastors are people who give advice, but they may not be trained professionals in that field, and this may have them talking about forgiveness or deliverance, but forgiveness is not the answer. To answer your question, I think we do need critical mass of people who are trained in this field, who can go out there and let parents know that they’re available to help victims.
SA: Finally, what can you say to the readers who argue that adults, who didn’t come forward about their abuse in childhood should forget about it and just get over it when they may want to speak up later in life, for whatever reason?
Steve Harris: You can’t tell people to get over it because it’s not that easy. Emotional scars are the hardest to heal. Physical scars can heal, if you have a physical injury it can heal but the scar is always going to be there, how much more something emotional that is not visible. So, saying get over it isn’t the answer… people do need help. It’s not as easy to say get over it, you’re 40 years old, it happened since you were a kid… No! that’s the wrong response, that person needs help, needs therapy.
In addition, the sooner the person even realises that they’re a survivor and no longer a victim, the better. You can choose to stay a victim, or you can choose to use that pain to empower others. You can say: this happened to me but I’m not a reflection of what happened to me. I’m going to use my pain to empower other people. Yes, you’ve been a victim, but can you take that pain and rather than wallow in it, you can turn it into power and use it to help other people who have gone through the same thing. In you helping others, you help yourself as well.
We’re truly grateful to Mr. Steve Harris. You can follow him on social media at: Twitter – @IAmSteveHarris, Facebook – Steve Harris, Instagram – @iamsteveharris.
The conversation is far from over. Oftentimes, parents focus on abstinence alone while giving sex education but that hardly helps. Did your parents give you a comprehensive sex education? Were you taught about sexual abuse as a child? Do you think parents and schools can and should do more? Church or professionals (therapy)? Use the comment session to share your thoughts.