We teach kids the importance of wearing seatbelts, helmets, and the consequences of hot objects, but until recently we hadn’t taught kids how to protect themselves against sexual abuse. According to Rainn, in a school of 1,000 students, 98 (1:6 girls and 1:33 boys) will likely be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Fortunately, my home state, along with 34 other states, have adopted Erin’s Law which requires schools to teach students pre-k-12th grade topics of sexual abuse awareness and prevention. The importance of this lesson weighed heavily on my mind and I desperately wanted to get it right, but I wasn’t sure where to turn for resources.
How do we explicitly teach body safety?
One of my colleagues, Laura Filtness, suggested Ruby’s Studio: The Safety Show and I can say unhesitatingly that it was worth every penny. Ruby (Kelsey Collins Keener) is warm, inviting, and has a style reminiscent of the late Fred Rogers which makes kids feel cared for and empowered. This is a tough subject that could easily have been frightening, but instead, it was informative and empowering.
The video covers important topics; what to do if a child is lost, what to do if they’re being touched in a way that they don’t like, what to do if someone unexpected claims to have been sent by a parent, and the importance of asking permission before changing plans. I like that they use “unexpected adults” instead of strangers because according to research, 59% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by an acquaintance and 34% are by family members. That statistic starkly contradicts the deeply held conventions of the dangers typically relegated to strangers, not to say that those dangers don’t exist, it is just far more likely that someone we know would be the perpetrator of a violent crime against us.
Communicating with the people at home is important.
My letter home to parents regarding this lesson was a compilation of the letters used by Laura Filtness, Talia Nathan and Counselor Keri. I sent an email and a paper copy of the letter to families on the same day I taught the lesson, rather than in advance, to ensure that no students were deliberately kept home to avoid the lesson. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of parents who reached out to express gratitude and support for this lesson. A few parents shared that they’d wanted to have this conversation with their children and just hadn’t had the tools but the letter home gave them plenty of tactics to facilitate the conversation.
Here are some of the sample questions to ask throughout this lesson:
- Who is the boss of your body?
- Does a kid have the right to say ‘no’ to an adult that is hurting their body?
- Do you have the right to touch others without their permission?
- Do others have the right to touch you without your permission?
- Should adults you don’t know ask you to keep secrets?
- What’s the difference between a secret and a surprise?
- Should you leave with an unexpected adult–even if it is someone you know?
- Should you check first with an adult before you change your plans?
- Do you know the phone number and full name of your safe adult?
Empower students to listen to their bodies.
We discussed the importance of listening to their “uh-oh feeling” and then saying no, leaving, and telling a safe adult which can be simply paired into a quick little reminder of “No, Go, Tell.” It is important for us to make sure that kids know that no matter what happens they are never at fault for someone hurting them or touching them in a way they don’t like. This might very well be the most important lesson that I’ll teach all year and it’s something that I hope will be taught in every school.