By the age of 18, 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys will experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult, as reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, created to operate the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org, and rainn.org/es) across the country.
Taking into account that every 9 minutes Child Protective Services agencies find strong evidence indicating that 57,329 children were victims of sexual abuse and 93 percent of the minors are related to their abuser, parents should start talking to their kids about boundaries.
Committed to helping child sexual abuse survivors who are now parents learn how to educate their children, Rosalia Rivera, consent educator, sexual literacy advocate, speaker, and change agent founded CONSENTParenting. Certified in Conscious Parenting Mastery with Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., as well as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Commit to Kids: Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Training Program, Rivera spoke with BELatina News about her platform and how parents can talk to their children about consent and abuse.
What is CONSENTParenting?
CONSENTParenting is my platform offering online programs, workshops, and a membership with the mission to help adult CSA* survivor parents empower their child about body safety, boundaries, and consent so that they can prevent sexual abuse and break intergenerational cycles.
Why did you found CONSENTParenting?
When I started educating myself about abuse prevention for children (so that I could then teach my kids) I found it very triggering and difficult to continue doing. There were times where I would stop and just think “I’ll just not let them do sleepovers and let them go to friends’ houses till I think they’re old enough, or wait until they’re a certain age to talk to them about XYZ…” and then I’d remember that that is what my mom did with us (she’s also a survivor) and that didn’t turn out well for us either because we were ill-equipped to deal with people crossing our boundaries when it inevitably happened. I didn’t want to repeat history with my own children. And I realized I needed support, but when I looked for abuse prevention programs for adult CSA survivor parents I found none. And I realized that this was a huge problem because there are so many survivors that are now parents that need help, guidance, and support to get through this kind of important education and training for their families.
In fact, the stats say that children from adult CSA survivor parents have a five times greater chance for abuse than children of non-survivor parents. This, along with seeing the dramatic rise in online abuse, which is compounding the problem offline, made me finally face my calling. I knew I needed to step up and create the programs that were missing and help adult CSA survivor parents, and any parent who wants to truly protect their children, by educating and empowering them. That was the birth of the idea for CONSENTParenting.
What is consent and why is it so important?
Consent is the request, or the question, for permission to do something with you or to you without the use of force or coercion and that is informed. And it’s important because it’s at the heart of human rights. And we need to learn about this innate human right from a very young age so that we can foster a culture of consent, both in how to develop, implement and uphold our boundaries, but also respect the rights of others.
Please tell us the best way and age to start talking to our kids about consent.
The best age to start talking to kids about consent is at the age of 2 to 3 based on the child’s language comprehension. Though, I believe we can begin practicing consent with kids since birth! But to answer the question about kids; the best way to talk about consent with kids is by beginning to talk about body autonomy and body boundaries. Explaining to a child that they have the right over their body and no one can tell them what to do with that body. This includes practicing it by respecting their body autonomy, not just saying “Your Body Belongs To You.” So that means not telling them you need to brush their hair, but asking if you can brush their hair. Because these nuances can be tricky for most parents, I teach about how to navigate the situations that will arise when kids challenge our requests. And teaching consent as part of your parenting style is the most powerful way to teach about consent, but it requires patience and improving our communication skills. But it is the most powerful way to teach kids about consent — by respecting their body autonomy. Then you can start to teach about body boundaries and how consent works.
Some parents like to sugarcoat things when it comes to talking about consent. Do you recommend being clear and specific?
I absolutely recommend being clear and specific. Kids need to know the right language to use, how to use it, when to use it, and what to do if their consent isn’t respected. Kids need clear direction and guidance. Sugarcoating can lead to confusion and actually hinder their ability to report an issue of abuse or discomfort if they aren’t sure if a boundary was crossed because it was never clearly defined for them.
What do you think of the tendency of Hispanics asking kids to hug and kiss family members and friends?
It’s a habit that seems “innocent” but it sends the message to a child that their body or selves are for the pleasure of others and that a child does not have a choice in whom they give or receive affection from. This is the gateway for boundary erosion. It also does not foster boundary autonomy and certainly crosses the child’s body boundaries if they are not asked for a hug with the option to say no if they don’t want the physical interaction. It’s important to change this tendency/custom/social norm. It’s actually a habit in many cultures and one that should be put to rest. Grown-ups need to learn to respect the rights of kids and stop the practice of “childism.”
What are we to do once we confirm a child or our child has been abused?
It’s important to know how to respond to a child that discloses abuse or if a parent/caregiver finds out and approaches the child. First, the adult should remain calm in their response. Children need to know that they are being supported and believed, but also, that the adult will not freak out (as that may be one of their fears in disclosing). Remaining calm and letting the child know that they did the right thing by disclosing and that they are believed and will be protected is the first thing. The next is to let the child know that if they want, you will include them/involve them in the next steps. For outright violations of boundaries, assault, abuse, and even the act of showing them explicit content (like pornography or asking to photograph/video them): these are all reasons to report abuse to child advocacy centers and law enforcement. Begin with finding a local child advocacy center and get guidance from them on the next steps for reporting to law enforcement.
It’s important to note as many details on paper shortly after the child disclosed abuse so that information stays as fresh as possible for legal reports. If the adult’s response was calm and collected, the child will more likely be able to retell the information/details needed for the legal report without altering the story they initially disclosed.
90% of child abuse happens by people the child knows and trusts, so if they have a close relationship with the person who abused them, they may fear what will happen to that adult, even if they want the abuse to stop. And the way an adult responds to the disclosure will determine how the child will retell the story to authorities for fear of negative consequences to that abuser. So a calm response is crucial for not re-traumatizing the child, but to also get as clear of a story as possible from the child while supporting them.
Please send a message to our community on the importance of keeping our kids safe, especially when they feel uncomfortable around certain people.
Child sexual abuse is the most underreported crime globally. The consequences of this kind of abuse for a child is a lifelong process of pain and mental health issues if left unresolved, undisclosed, and not healed. Prevention is the best way to protect children, but also, giving kids the tools for how to get help when it’s needed is the second most important thing that parents have a responsibility to teach their kids.
If children are taught how to report and to know with certainty that they will be believed, no matter what, and that they will be loved, no matter what, they have a much greater chance of reporting and ending the abuse before it continues and gets worse.
And if you or your child feel uncomfortable around certain people, do not ignore this. Your intuition is never wrong and your gut is telling you something you should be paying attention to. Encourage kids to listen to their intuition — it’s actually one of the lessons of body safety. Don’t allow one-on-one time with that person and be vocal about your abuse prevention education being taught at home. That is one of the ways that parents can create consent culture within their family, extended family, and circle of friends and beyond.