A child sex abuse prevention charity is emphasising the importance of teaching children the correct names for their body parts.
Giving nicknames to their genitals can cause confusion and delay when children are disclosing sexual assaults, according to Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (Scars)
“It sets children up and puts them in a vulnerable position to people who want to take advantage of them,” chairman Jon Brunson told The Royal Gazette.
He said that children need to be taught the correct names because it ensures that they “can communicate in a clear, concise way that anyone can understand”.
Executive director Debi Ray-Rivers added: “It causes so much confusion and can really delay the child being protected.”
But both Mr Brunson and Ms Ray-Rivers made clear that this is only part of the narrative that needs to be employed to prevent child sexual abuse.
Their comments came after forensic nurses revealed that they are seeing an increasing number of sexual assaults, and the majority involve adolescents.
Of the 19 incidents reported last year to the sexual assault response team, five involved victims under the age of 12 and five were teens.
“Given what we do day in day out, it’s not surprising,” said Mr Brunson, who added that nine is the median age at which children tend to be abused.
He also pointed to figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, which he said indicated that more than 88 per cent of sexual abuse cases were unreported. “The most important message is that the majority of time the crime goes unreported, so the instances could be far worse,” he said.
According to Ms Ray-Rivers, the offences go unreported by children because they feel guilty, responsible, threatened or that they will not be believed.
“They don’t understand what has happened to them,” she added. “That’s why training is so important and teaching children names properly so that they can tell.”
In its training programme, Scars uses an example of a girl who was taught to refer to her vagina by a different name, which resulted in an inability to properly explain a sexual act forced on her by an uncle.
“It’s a big thing we have here in Bermuda where body parts have so many different names,” said Rebecca Madeiros, a forensic nurse, who examines victims of sexual assaults.
She also said that it was very important that children know the proper names for their body parts because “that way there is no confusion in what they are reporting to an adult”.
According to Mr Brunson, talking about body awareness, sex and appropriate boundaries historically have been uncomfortable for parents.
He said this also sends a message to children that this is an awkward subject.
“The body is nothing to be ashamed of,” he added. “We have to get to grips with that. You start early, talk often and call body parts what they are.”
He said parents need to establish a “good communication line with their children” and to find a holistic and age-appropriate way to speak about the body and to establish boundaries.
Ms Ray-Rivers said this enabled children to say “no, I’m going to tell” if someone does cross those boundaries.
She added that the “bathing suit area” is a useful tool for parents to communicate to their children that no one should touch them and that they should not touch anyone else in that area.
The mouth is also included in the body map. But Mr Brunson added that sexual abuse was not just about touch; voyeurism, exhibitionism, using adult material and inappropriate subject matter are also part of the problem.
“If anything makes you uncomfortable, you should be able to feel comfortable enough to tell a trusted adult,” he said.
Scars offers the free “Darkness to Light Stewards of Children” sexual abuse prevention training programme that educates people on how to prevent, recognise and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
By Lisa Simpson The Royal Gazette