The great news is that the rate of child sexual abuse has gone down over the past two decades. FBI stats, as well as national surveys and studies are all showing this decline. This is a celebration-worthy accomplishment!
For my Teachers, my teammates and I, this is excellent news. For years we have worked with families, institutions, organizations and children to promote the awareness and prevention of child sexual assault. We have worked long hours, often for free, usually with very little recognition.
Over the years, we come up against the concept of “Stranger Danger” over and over again. Our job, then, becomes all the more challenging. Not only do we need to teach the knowledge and skills that can really and truly help keep kids safer, but we’ve also got to spend our precious time debunking this currently popular and ingrained theory, which really does NOT make kids safer at all!
Most kids are assaulted by someone they know. Assailants are family members, friends of the family, or people whom the family trusts, like a minister, neighbor or coach. My sense is that because of this, many grown ups find it awkward to talk with kids about sexual assault. Enter “Stranger Danger”, which is flashy, it rhymes, it’s cute, and gets lots of TV news time. Could it be that talking about strangers, abductions and kidnapping is somehow more comfortable for us grown ups?
Here’s the reality: Children are assaulted by people they know. Period. “Stranger Danger” is bunk, and teaching children to be afraid of strangers does NOT help our kids stay safer, it just makes them afraid of strangers! The US Department of Justice did some research on abductions. They found out that within the same year, there were 203,900 family abductions, 58,200 non-family abductions (friends and acquaintances) and only 115 stranger abductions! THIS is the reality we are talking about! THIS is what children are facing.
I’m a mom. I know the panic that strikes when our little one goes missing at the Zoo or in a mall. I know how the fear of our children getting hurt – or worse – can keep us up at night or wake us up in a sweat. But I honestly feel that filling kids up with fear, keeping them on a tight leash and warning them against strangers is not only a disservice, but it’s giving them a false sense of reality as well. And it doesn’t make them safer! As adults, maybe it makes us feel better, gives us some sense of control, but it gives the very beings we want most to protect a false sense of security, an unbalanced sense of reality and it doesn’t make them any safer!
So, how do you explain to kids that actually, most adults are good people, care about kids and want them to be safe? How do you tell them that there are just a few “bad guys” out there, and one of them might be our neighbor, our soccer coach, our minister or our aunt’s new boyfriend? How do you teach this without creating a bunch of anxiety-filled and paranoid kids?
Well, it’s not easy! For sure, it’s a fine balancing act, and one that absolutely cannot be defined by a cute one-liner like “Stranger Danger”. My Teachers, teammates and I have worked together for years to find a way to empower kids while at the same time giving them a fair and reasonable sense of what’s real and what’s at stake. Kids are strong, and I believe that they are also smarter and more powerful than most adults give them credit for.
Our kids’ self-defense classes are called No! Go! Yell! Tell! All of us who teach these classes are martial artists with years of training and real-life experience. Many of us are moms. Classes are fun, high-energy, and super informative. Kids feel challenged and empowered and parents always feel grateful. Our classes open up honest conversations that can (and we hope will) continue at home. Honest communication equals safety, and that’s a fact.
So let’s enjoy hearing about a crime statistic that is going down, but let’s press onward and keep up the good work. Let’s make a pact to teach kids what’s real, to share information and teach skills that empower children and keep them safe. Get your kids training with us and you’ll be setting them up for success, you can count on it.
Places you can train:
My School: Tulen Center
In SE and North Portland Portland at One With Heart
In Oakland, CA at Studio Naga
In New York
On Cape Cod
In the Netherlands