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My Body Belongs To Me

Guest Post: Author & NY Prosecutor Jill Starishevsky

bodybelongsbookKeeping your children safe from child predators sounds like a scary proposition, but it doesn’t have to be.  We used to teach children about “stranger danger”, but studies have shown that most sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child.  He might seem like the friendliest teacher, neighbor, uncle or coach.  Unfortunately, this person, who is always showing an interest in your child and working to develop trust, can sometimes be a child predator.   The way to prevent child sexual abuse is to educate children about their bodies and encourage them to inform a trusted adult if someone touches them inappropriately.

Just as we teach children about the dangers associated with crossing the street or going near a hot oven, we must talk to them about how to keep their bodies safe.   As a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City, I am all too aware of the importance of having this discussion with children at a young age.  To that end, I have written a children’s book called My Body Belongs to Me to help facilitate this dialog.

I have a short list of “tips” that have helped me talk to my children about safety.  Here are some suggestions:

1.         No secrets. Period.
Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable.  If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem.  The way I effectuate this rule is as follows:  If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to my child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret”, I firmly, but politely say “We don’t do secrets in our family.”  Then I say to my child  “Right? We don’t do secrets.  We can tell each other everything.”

2.         Don’t dress children in clothing or accessories with their name on it.
Customized clothing breeds familiarity, which can create a false sense of trust.  If a stranger comes up to your child and says “Jenny, your Mom told me to bring you home so you can have dinner”, your child may be more inclined to go along because this person knows their name.

3.         Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts.
This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable

4.         Practice “what if” scenarios.
Say to your child, “What would you do if someone offered you a treat, or a gift when I wasn’t there?” Help your child arrive at the right answer, which is to say no, and ask you first.  Many parents also encourage children to walk or run away in this situation.

5.         Teach your child their name, address and phone number at an early age.
Start teaching children at an early age their name, address and phone number.  When young children are separated from their parents, even for a short time, they are potential targets for child predators.  If a child has their parent’s cell phone number, the child can be reunited with the parent more expeditiously.

6.         Prepare a child with what to do if they get lost:
Teach your child to find a safe person if they become lost.  A safe person is a police officer, someone in the store with a store uniform or wearing a nametag, or a mother with children.  It is quite helpful toward a speedy reunion, if your child knows his name, address and your cell phone number.  Children should also learn to stay in the general area where they last saw you so you can find them when you retrace your steps.

7.         Internet Safety:
Install a safety browser on your computer so that you can make the decisions about which websites are appropriate for your children to view.  Teach your child never to give out their last name, address, or phone number to a person on the Internet and never to meet Internet friends in person without a parent’s supervision and consent.   Parents should help children choose a screen name that does not disclose information about their location.  Teach children not to post pictures with identifying information such as a school uniform.  Ideally, children should not post pictures on the Internet at all.  Always keep your computer in a public area of your house – not in a child’s bedroom.  If multiple computers for multiple children are necessary, consider laptops with wireless Internet.

8.         Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection.
Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable.  Even if they are your favorite aunt, uncle or cousin, your child should not be forced to be demonstrative in their affection.  While this may displease you, by doing this, you will empower your child to say no to inappropriate touching.

9.         Teach children the buddy system.
Children should learn it is safer to be with a friend or trusted adult than to be alone.

10.       Teach your child that adults do not need to ask children for help.
Predators use tricks to lure children, for example, asking them to help find a lost pet, give directions, or help carry something.   When you are sitting down talking to your child, use these examples as part of your “what if” scenarios to reinforce the lessons about safety.

Young children respond well to these tips and they should be revisited often.  We can teach our children about water safety and not make them fearful of the water.  We need to do the same when it comes to keeping their body safe.  If a child does disclose any type of abuse, it is important to take the disclosure seriously and report it to the appropriate authorities promptly.  By doing these things, together we can help break the cycle of child abuse.

About My  Body Belongs to Me

My Body Belongs to Me endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. Parents and educators should use it as a tool to facilitate an open dialogue with youngsters. It is my hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Order the book at MyBodyBelongsToMe.com

About Jill Starishevsky

JStarishevskyHeadshotJill Starishevsky is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Outside the courtroom, Jill’s fondness for writing led her to create thepoemlady.com, where she pens personalized pieces.

Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me. A mother of two, Jill is also founder of HowsMyNanny.com, a service that enables parents to purchase a license plate for their child’s stroller so the public can report positive or negative nanny observations.