While it may not be something we love to talk about, child sex abuse is something we as parents need to be aware of. Many caregivers shy away from the topic, but we’re here to break the stigma and lay it all out to help give you the tools you need so we can help protect our kids. Rosalia Rivera from Consent Parenting is here to talk with us, and get the conversation going.
Rosalia is incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, and started the CONSENT parenting website to help educate others. We’re discussing how to spot signs of potential abuse, how to be proactive in helping your child say no, and getting involved within your community to make sure all the proper precautions are in place. While this is a bit of a heavy topic, it turned into a really great episode, and I’m sure you’ll love our talk with Rosalia!
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How to Teach Consent to a Child – What you can do to prevent child sex abuse
Healing Your Inner Child
Parenting Spirited Kids
Rosalia Rivera is a consent educator, abuse prevention specialist, sexual literacy advocate, TEDx speaker, change agent, and the founder of CONSENTparenting™. She is the host of the AboutCONSENT™ podcast and creator of CONSENTwear™. Rosalia teaches parents, particularly child sexual abuse survivors, how to educate their children on body safety, boundaries, and consent so that they can empower their families to prevent abuse and break intergenerational cycles. Rosalia is on a mission to end child sexual abuse, dismantle shame, and help survivors heal and become thrivers.
Rosalia is certified through the Canadian Centre for Child Protections COMMIT TO KIDS® program, and Darkness To Light Stewards of Children® program, as well as the human trafficking prevention training program: OnWatch™ by Safe House Project.
Although Rosalia was born in El Salvador and grew up in NY, she now resides in northern Canada with her partner and three young kids.
In This Episode We Talk About
0:41 – What is CONSENTparenting?
01:33 – What is child sex abuse?
2:55 – What are the potential risks to kids right now?
7:25 – How do we help our kids prevent sexual abuse?
14:35 – Laying the foundation of body empowerment.
24:03 – What is grooming? What can it look like?
30:36 – What we can do as allies and parents.
38:35 – Forming questions to ask.
40:32 – Empowering people to question their schools, daycares, and other places their kids go.
45:14 – Resources.
50:25 – Where to find Rosalia and CONSENTparenting
Watch the Video
Listen to the Audio
Join the UM Club!
10 Child Grooming Signs So You Can Prevent Abuse PDF
Sleepover Safety Checklist
Darkness to Light
Child Rescue Coalition
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Canadian Centre for Child Protection
Commit to Kids
Erin’s law Information
Sharenthood: Why We Should Think before We Talk about Our Kids Online
Read the Full Conversation
Welcome Rosalia! Let’s hear a little bit more about yourself and everything you do with CONSENTparenting.
Sure! So I am a consent educator and child sexual abuse prevention specialist, sexual literacy advocate, most recently actually also nominated to be chair of an organization called SAGE which I will be sharing more about in this coming year. Yeah, and also the founder of CONSENTparenting, the host of the AboutCONSENT Podcast, creator of CONSENTwear – there’s a bit of a theme going on with consent. And yeah, I’m also a survivor of child sexual abuse, but I also consider myself a thriver now, and I’m really passionate about helping survivor parents and all parents who are wanting to empower and protect their families to learn how to do that. So that’s what I do.
And you are just so knowledgeable and I love, from what I’ve seen from your content, how you really cover all different aspects of it, all different age ranges, all different sides of it. So I’m looking forward to digging into things with you. So let’s set a baseline. What is child sex abuse? What are the actual risks?
Yeah. So child sexual abuse is essentially one person, it can be an adult, or a peer, a child or a teenager, assaulting or abusing a child with the intent of sexual gratification. So that can also encompass online sexual abuse, it can also encompass things that are not necessarily – where there is no physical touch. So a lot of people aren’t aware that Child Sexual Abuse material, which was formerly known as child porn, is included in this category. Showing a child sexually explicit content, or exposing themselves, all of that is also included in this definition. So it is any kind of sexual harm that is perpetrated onto a child. And that age range can span from zero to 18.
Okay, so it really can come in a lot of different forms. I like that you touched on that it’s not necessarily just adults that can be committing these acts, but also peers. I think that’s important to be aware of. So what are the real risks? What do things look like right now? Because you might hear like, “oh, I don’t know anyone who’s had that happen to them. We live in a good place, we don’t really need to worry about that. So what is the actual situation like? What are the real risks to kids right now?
Yeah, it’s so important to talk about this, because like you said, a lot of people have the misconception that it’s not something that is happening in their neighborhood or in their home, within their family or community. So the statistics, particularly in the United States, are one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. If we want to look at survivors that are adults, if you look at a mom group of four women, one of them is likely a survivor. So if you put it into context that way, I think a lot of parents realize, “oh, that’s a lot.”
And so when we’re talking about a classroom of kids, of 20 kids, it can be anywhere between four and five of those children are being abused. And again, this is actually just based on reports. And we know that the problem is under-reported. So these statistics are likely higher than what evidence we have, because we know that children typically don’t report for a long period of time if it is happening. And beyond that, what we also need to understand, is that 90% of abuse happens at the hands of people that a child in their family knows and trusts, so the idea of Stranger Danger is antiquated. I think a lot of people have that misunderstanding still because it was something that became really popular in the 80s and kind of carried on. But through research and evidence that we’ve seen, it is contrary to that.
So really, within families, it can be within communities, within schools. As we’ve seen with the MeToo movement, exposing that this can happen in religious institutions, sports organizations, youth serving organizations like the Boy Scouts, those kinds of youth serving organizations. It can happen within family, incest is something that most people just cringe thinking about. But unfortunately, the reality is that 30% of that 90% is family members. So it’s a significant amount. So we need to be more conscientious of educating kids, this isn’t something that is going to magically disappear because we don’t talk about it, it’s actually perpetuating the issue. And what has exacerbated and made it way worse is the pandemic and the lockdown, because kids don’t have access to a lot of those mandated reporters that would have normally spotted signs of abuse to be able to help support that child.
So we know that the rates that we’ve seen from call centers, like the RAINN Center, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they have seen record numbers of calls coming in from children or their family members reporting, and over 100% to 180% increase in reports in the last two years. So the problem is getting worse, not better. And we’re also seeing that this is also increasing the rates of peer-to-peer abuse, which is also a significant issue that we need to be looking at.
So not to say that to sound very doomsday, because I know after saying that, people are like, “oh, my gosh.” But the reality is that this is what’s happening. And there is hope. Because on the flip side of the 90% of children being abused by someone they know, the flip side of that 90% is that abuse can be prevented through education. And we’ve seen the evidence that 90% can be prevented through consistent education. So there’s so much hope and so much possibility for us to safeguard our children, and I want people to start with the mindset of that. It is actually very simple solution, and we can be at the head of that.
I love that perspective of it. Because it is big and heavy and daunting, and thinking about all the possibilities, it’s a lot. But when you put it into terms like that, yes, it’s with people that we know, but we have the power to give them tools to prevent that. So how do we do that? How do we help with the prevention and preparing our kids?
Yeah, so I call it a 50/50 solution. 50% is educating our children, giving them the tools and resources to be aware of what’s appropriate and not appropriate, to have some tools and skills to learn how to set boundaries and how to vocalize that they understand their safety rights, but also that they learn to practice that and that we’re supporting them through that. The other 50% is us as parents stepping up and becoming the vocal advocates that we need to be on behalf of our children as they learn, right? So one part is that our kids are learning and it takes time, as we know, children take time to learn – how many times you need to tell your child to brush their teeth before they do it? So with that in mind, we need to give our children that space and grace of time to learn these things. And in the meantime, the other 50% is us vocalizing and advocating for them, and speaking up to our communities, our families, the places where children are being cared for to say that we are doing these safety measures at home, we need to talk about this, here’s why. And then starting to actually do it.
Yeah, it’s not just a one size fits all approach to kind of solving things, there are a lot of things that we need to try to do. So let’s dig into that first 50% for preparing our kids first, and then we can move into the other stuff. So how do we help prepare our kids? I’m assuming we can start quite young and it’s going to change obviously, as they grow. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, so one of the things that I hear a lot of parents asking is “what’s the talk?” They see it very similar to having the sex talk eventually with their teenagers, or when they get to puberty and you’d have the talk. In reality, you have to look at it as something that is part of the fabric of your parenting. We need to weave it in in all the opportunities that we can, because this is something that’s going to evolve with the child and the child’s understanding. So it’s not about having the safety talk, it’s about really shifting our perspective on how we engage with our child so that that becomes the expectation in the world. So that means first learning about what it means to give your child a certain amount of autonomy and body autonomy specifically, so asking for permission before hugs and kisses. And I know a lot of parents are starting to do that. And it’s trending, which is great. But it also needs to be something that’s practiced in the home, on different levels and in different ways. So when we start thinking about abuse prevention, we have to really start with the basis, the foundation, of teaching our kids about their body rights, about boundaries and consent.
And that’s where everything else will jump off from, because once we start doing that, then we can talk to our children about the correct names for private parts, and the understanding of safe versus unsafe touch, how to speak about our boundaries, right? First of all, we need to figure out if someone does do that, then how do you respond as a child, and also letting the child know that if something were to happen, it’s not their fault. And here’s the blueprint for accessing help, so it hopefully doesn’t happen,” but giving our children the tools if something happens that feels uncomfortable, that feels unsafe, helping them listen to their body and their intuition. And then having the courage to report that, because it does take courage, if that person is someone that the child cares about, and they have a good relationship and then this happened, it can be very confusing. So we need to give kids those tools. And, again, this is why when parents hear me talk about this, they’re like, “that sounds like a lot of stuff.” So to kind of lay it out, it is a gradual process of educating. So we don’t want to cram all this into one lesson, or buy the book, and then teach the book, and think that’s it. These are layered conversations, and one builds onto the next.
So when you hear me talking about this, don’t feel overwhelmed and say like, “how can I teach all this in one shot?” It’s about a gradual understanding for the child. And in the process of that, we are also simultaneously doing the other 50%, which I talked about before, of advocating. So we want to start with some of those basics, the body autonomy piece, the boundaries, consent.
Then we start entering conversations around actual body safety, and prevention skills, right? So this usually can start between the ages of two to three, when they’re potty training, to start giving them that sense. Because they’re also developmentally at the age where they want to start really owning their body. We’ve gone from this infant stage where everything was done for them, to now really having more physical capacity and wanting to really test that. So it’s a perfect opportunity for us to engage with them in that way, and start to give them that sense of independence, to own it. And of course, there’s parts where we want to make sure that they’re healthy and safe, and doing all the things that they need to be doing to stay healthy and safe. But along with that, it’s this sort of balancing of both of those.
So we start with those basics. And if your child is six, and you’re like, “I didn’t do any of that,” it’s never too late, you can still start with those basics. You can do that up to when the child is 10 or older, it’s just a matter of changing the conversation, they can understand more things, more complex things. But ultimately, these are the foundations that you want to start with, so that they have some core sense of empowerment. And this is really why parents are scared of having the conversation, they think they need to jump to the scary piece of like, “if somebody touches you…” If you haven’t laid down this really strong foundation of body rights, which is so empowering for children, of course they’re going to be scared, because they don’t have an understanding of what their rights are. So we want to start with that foundation of educating about the rights, letting them know that we advocate and support their rights. And here’s what you need to know about safety. So I always recommend starting with the empowerment piece, then you can start going from there to more of the complex safety pieces.
Okay, so let’s dig into the empowerment piece and the boundaries a little bit more. So I’m assuming, like you had mentioned, asking for hugs, and things like that. Not pressuring our kids to have to hug or have to do certain greetings to other people, giving them options. What are some other ways we can be laying this foundation?
Yeah, so even things like tickling, that seems to be something that is always done in affection. And you know, I do that in air quotes only because there are situations where someone could be grooming the child. And tickling is a way of testing physical boundaries. So we want to make sure that the child knows, it doesn’t matter what kind of touch it is, even if you’re going to a doctor’s office, and you don’t want them to check your ear, you have the right to speak up and say that, so we want to empower them to know that their voice, to say “no” or “stop.” is going to be valued and is going to be heard. And so this is where we want to let them know if grandma comes over and starts tickling you, and you don’t want to be tickled, you have the right to say “stop, I don’t want to be tickled” or “please don’t tickle me.” You can give them some different phrases that they can use, or you can ask them to think of what would you want to say to that person, if you don’t want to be tickled. So really engaging them in that practice of thinking critically of how they would want to use their voice.
And so things like that, where everything from – even if the child is full, and they say they don’t want to eat anymore, right? Respecting their body rights and saying, “it’s your body, you’re listening to your body, and you say,you’re not hungry, that’s fine. I’m not going to give you a cookie in 15 minutes if you’re hungry, though.” There are some parameters, you are even practicing how to set boundaries and showing them how to set boundaries by setting boundaries. So you can say, “this is when we’re having lunch, and this is what’s being served, and you can eat as much as you need to, and you listen to your body cues.”
So helping children to identify what it is that they’re physically feeling. If they feel nervous around someone, you know, helping the child to identify what that feeling is in their body so that they recognize what uncomfortable feels like, if someone makes you feel uncomfortable. How does that feel in your body? If you’re nervous, or if you don’t feel happy because of a particular feeling that someone gives you, where do you feel that in your body? And if you feel that, you have a right to speak up and say “please don’t.” So it can be anything from like, Grandpa comes over and rubs your head without permission. You’re allowed to say, “Grandpa, please don’t do that. I don’t like that.” And helping children learn to use their voice in different ways.
So those are some additional examples of how parents can help a child really develop their sense of body rights and body autonomy, and practice using their voice. So I always encourage parents – it’s great when your child says no to you, you don’t want to put that flame out. You want to encourage and say, “okay, that’s the idea. I’m glad that you’re using your voice to tell me no, you’re self advocating. That’s great, can you tell me why?” And so, a lot of times when it’s like, “I don’t want to wear those rain boots, I want to wear sandals,” and it’s raining outside or it’s cold, you can talk about it. But don’t tell your child “no, you have to do that.” Letting them recognize that their voice is valid and being heard is really important for them to develop that muscle and feel like their voice really does matter to you. And it should matter to anyone who’s engaging with them.
Yes. And I also really liked how you tied in helping them identify what an uncomfortable feeling is. Because I find with my kids, right now they’re two and a half and almost four, we have the different sibling rivalry. My older boy is a lot more energetic and gets right into my daughter’s face. And so I’ve been teaching her you stand firm, when you run away, he thinks that’s a game. You need to stand firm and tell him stop, tell him no, tell him I don’t like that. But I’ve really liked that you’d mentioned identifying those uncomfortable feelings. That’s something that I hadn’t really thought of. And in those interactions, that’s a really good opportunity to talk about those with our kids. How do you feel when they’re doing that? And as parents, we really do have so many opportunities every single day, we just need to kind of be aware of it, like you said, and weaving that into the fabric of our parenting, with the arguments over the coats or the sandals. If they’re being really stubborn, and they’re saying they’re wearing those sandals. Okay, you can wear the sandals and we can bring the boots. And when they get cold, we can have a conversation about it and “see, this is why I wanted you to wear your boots, next time let’s do that.”
Right, right, exactly. And it really helps also to let your child know that you are a safe person to communicate with, that you’re not going to just shut them down, right? And it really helps them to develop their communication skills too, in tandem with that. The other piece, too, is a lot of people don’t realize that for children to identify their feelings and to have those feelings honored really helps to develop their intuition, and listening to that voice. If they’re with someone who has always been wonderful and is gift giving, and just seems like this incredibly awesome person, and then they do something that makes them uncomfortable, they may second guess that sense of uncomfortableness, and be confused by it, because they’re not really quite sure. They might not vocalize it, they might not say anything to the parent. And then it can escalate pretty quickly from there, depending on the person. But if the child understands this doesn’t feel right, something doesn’t feel right, my mom said if something doesn’t feel right, then I have the right to speak up, they’re much more likely to speak up, either to that person or to you, as a parent. And that’s a really important part of prevention, because you can get ahead of a potentially abusive situation, if the child just says “he was rubbing my shoulder, and there was something weird about it, I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t feel right,” versus not saying anything, because they’ve never been taught about using their voice to speak up or to speak up to you and say XYZ happened.
I think a lot of times parents over emphasize private parts safety, but I always say you have to teach overall body safety, not just private part safety. A child should know that any touch that makes them uncomfortable is still a valid concern. And it can really help a parent recognize a potential predator before they do something. So we want to make sure that our children are listening to their body, to those cues, those signals, and to their intuition, which you can help them foster and develop, which is our sixth sense basically saying “pay attention, something’s off here.” And so if we can teach our kids – they have that innately, if we can help foster that, that can be a really big part of an effective abuse prevention strategy.
Yeah, absolutely. And I really liked that you touched on, it’s more than just the private parts, because that primarily has been my thoughts in terms of body safety, and in the bath and being able to identify things, and that’s for you. But that’s a really, really good point. It’s so much more than that. And you can be uncomfortable from the shoulder rubber, different things. And when we give them the tools to be able to identify it, and then talk about it, we can really get ahead, because I’m assuming – I don’t have much personal experience on it – but with the grooming, it’s not automatically going for the private party touch, right? It’s going through the process. And so if they’re able to identify those things, and we can have those conversations, we can get ahead of it before it reaches that part.
Mm hm. And that’s the other 50%, is really as adults, educating ourselves on what grooming even is. A lot of parents still – they hear that term, and they think, “oh, that’s brushing hair or brushing teeth, or taking a bath.” It’s really about understanding what are the behaviors that offenders use, what strategies they use to gain access to children, and one of those is non-sexual touch, right? So they will test the boundaries of how comfortable the child is with touch in general. If there is a touch that borderlines sexual touch, and the child doesn’t say anything, they may seem physically uncomfortable with it, but they’re not vocalizing that discomfort, then that predator knows this child is not secure in being able to speak up about their boundaries. So the more that we can help our children practice that vocalization, that’s a red flag to the predator, to say, “oh, this child is being coached on how to speak up for themselves, and how to recognize an uncomfortable touch, so they’re not going to be an easy target.” That’s what we want.
Let’s dig into the grooming a little bit more, to lay that foundation. So what is grooming? What does it typically look like?
So grooming, as I said, are those strategies, right? And there are a number of them that can seem almost innocent. And when a lot of parents hear these, they’re like, “well, my mother-in-law, or the grandfather does that, but it seems totally innocent.” So things like asking for more one-on-one time with the child. So that can look like offering babysitting, or offering to pick up the child from school. You know, finding those opportunities to be one-on-one with the child without another adult is a red flag. Another red flag could be – and I say this, you know, I just want to preface it by saying that if you see this in conjunction, you know, if I’m listing out five and you’re seeing three of these with a particular person that you also have this odd sense about, that gut feeling, the intuition, that’s something that you definitely want to pay attention to. If you see this from an adult where you’re like “I totally trust this person, and they’re still doing these three things,” then that just means be vigilant, and just pay attention and keep the lines open with your child, ask more questions about what activities they’re doing with that adult, a lot of times it can be through play. So if you’re noticing these things, but you’re like, “I totally trust this person,” then you just need to keep those lines of communication open, you need to make sure that you’re being vocal with that person about what you’re practicing in your home, and just being present, being proactive. But again, if you see those signs, and you have a gut instinct, then I would recommend to make sure you’re removing one-on-one access with the child, that you’re stepping up sort of those measures of safety and prevention.
But in terms of those things that you can look for, those red flags I would say, you want to also look at is this person giving gifts that seem kind of unusual, like they’re constantly giving your child things that are outside of birthdays or holidays? Are they asking your child not to tell you, have you found out that they went for ice cream, but didn’t say anything to you, and then you found out from your child? And they were told “it’s our little secret,” and you find out. that’s a red flag for sure. It’s important to teach our kids about secret safety too, which is another component for a little bit of an older child, like five and up, for them to understand that concept of secret safety.
But things, like I said, with getting access to your child’s one-on-one time, gift giving, again that non-sexual touch, excessive things that you may feel uncomfortable with, like maybe the child is sitting on the adult’s lap often or they seem to tickle them and maybe the child doesn’t seem like they’re enjoying it, but the adult isn’t really stopping. So where you see that they’re pushing physical boundaries, but aren’t sexual yet, is another red flag to look for. Other things are they seem to really favor your child, and want to spend time more than with other children. So these kinds of things, there’s others to the list. And I don’t want to go through all of them because there are a lot, but if anyone’s interested, I do have a PDF of the 10 grooming signs that you can look for, it’s a free download.
So it’s important to know when you recognize those signs, be more vocal with that person, particularly if it’s a family member, let’s say it’s a grandparent and you’re noticing these things, and they’re like, “oh, they should come and sleepover more often,” and you’re seeing these signs, make sure that you’re not allowing unsupervised time with them. If you’re noticing these things, start being more vocal. Some of the things that I also recommend to parents are start putting up safety posters in your home, if that adult is coming to your home, they start to see that there’s signs of your child being educated, that safety is a priority in your home, that you are proactive, vigilant parent, that’s going to really turn off a potential offender because your child is no longer an easy target. They’re looking for easy targets. Because those are the type of children that are least likely to report. So if you show signs, if you’re being that advocate and really being proactive, and you see the signs, it can be a really good prevention strategy as a parent to signal hands off. So recognizing those grooming signs are really important as the parents job of stepping forward and being the advocate and ally for your child’s rights.
Yeah. And you had mentioned keeping the communication lines open with our kids about it, talking to them about the things we’re noticing, and then also with that other person as well. Would you recommend having these conversations with them? And I’m assuming, and talking about it, it’s showing them like these are things we’re on top of and educating about, and I’m aware of different things.
Yeah, absolutely. So an example of that could be you notice that at the family gathering this holiday season, you notice that person is tickling your child, your child’s uncomfortable, they’re not 100% sure yet of how to say no to tickling. This is where the parents’ job is important to step in and say, “oh, I noticed that Jimmy doesn’t seem very happy with you tickling, please stop. We only do consent touch.” Or “we only tickle with consent.” If you notice that it’s happened without checking in with the child, like, “oh, I’m gonna come tickle you,” and then the child kind of freezes up, this is where you step in and you say, “they didn’t agree to that. So please don’t don’t tickle them, we practice content touch only in our home.” So speaking up and saying, “this is what we practice, this is how we honor our child’s boundaries. And we’re asking you to do that.” As the parent, you step in, and you show that boundary, it’s also modeling to the child this is how you can set a boundary.
I was just thinking, that is such a great example for them to see us having those conversations with other people, and standing our ground, and showing them that it’s okay to be doing those things.
Now, let’s dig into that other 50% piece. We’ve covered some of it with grooming, but what can we do as parents, as allies, as advocates?
So this is where we need to really step forward and say, “hey, we’re practicing these things in our home, we just started this safety education, we’d love for you to be part of that,” so this can include conversations with teachers, with coaches, babysitters, family members, whoever is going to be in your child’s life that’s interacting with them on a somewhat regular basis. So for grandparents in particular, if they didn’t raise you that way, and so this is something new that you’re introducing, and you’re saying, “look, we’re not forcing our child to hug or kiss, we are teaching them secret safety, so please do not ask them to keep even what you call good or innocent secrets. We don’t teach that in our home. These are some of the ways in which we engage physically, and we’re asking that you don’t force that. So if our child says they don’t feel like a hug, don’t just regardless, go in for a hug.” So having these kinds of conversations in a doctor’s office, you know, that means coming in ahead with maybe something written down – I actually created consent letters for this purpose, because of the Larry Nassar case, which I don’t know if you know it.
No, I’m not familiar with it.
Yeah, so this is the doctor, the gymnast doctor-
Yeah, so that’s Larry Nassar. So he was doing procedures with parents in the room that he had said, you know, this is a medical procedure. But it wasn’t okay. And the child wasn’t aware that they could say no, because the parents had agreed, and the parent kind of just gave them carte blanche, right. So we want kids to know, it doesn’t matter who the figure of authority is, whether it’s a policeman or a doctor, whoever it is, if they’re behaving in a way that is unsafe, then they are not a safe person. So we want to teach kids about what a safe person is. And then just communicate to the doctor, this consent letter that I drafted, and it’s a template that’s also available for parents, basically says, “we are practicing consent in our home, we’re teaching abuse prevention. And we know that you are an integral part of our child’s life, being that you’re their medical caregiver. This is what we’re practicing, can you please support us in this?” And essentially, it breaks it down for a doctor to understand what that means. So in the letter, it’ll say, as an example, “if you need to check my child’s ear, please inform them. And then ask for consent.” So informing really means letting the child know what it is you need to do, why you need to do it, how you need to do it, and then requesting the permission to do it, and waiting for the child to grant you that permission.
So this requires a few things, this requires talking to your child ahead and kind of giving them a heads up of what to expect. And say you decide as the parent, whether this is something that has to happen, or is an option. So it can be just a wellness checkup, that you’re letting your child know just for them to practice and understand that a person should always ask you for permission before they just go in and touch right. This has tremendous ripples too, because as a child grows into an adult, you want them to understand their body rights in a medical perspective, everything from reproductive rights to health rights, and across the board. But in general, we can explain these kinds of things to everyone, including teachers, including coaches, if you’re going for a swim team, or for a swim lesson, this is something that they will now understand, this parent is really teaching their kids about body safety, boundaries, and consent, and so immediately it both engages them in the conversation and invites them to be part of your safety team.
And it’s also a red flag for potential predators to say “okay, not an easy target this child is being educated.” So it works – it has two purposes. It’s really to create consent culture in your child’s community, it is a defense mechanism to protect them by saying, “I’m putting the stake in the ground and saying we’re a proactive family.” So this is how we can really be those advocates, those allies, when we have these conversations with the adults, we’re doing it publicly in front of our child. So it also, again, models to them how they have these conversations, and that it’s okay to have these conversations, that it’s okay to speak up about this stuff. It’s not a taboo topic. And we open up, we dismantle the taboo and the shame around this topic, because then we normalize it, and it becomes the norm instead of the exception. So the more that we’re all willing to do this, the more we create consent culture in our communities, and make them safer for all the children in our community.
Absolutely. There’s so much good information in there. I really like how you brought up the example within the doctor’s office, because I do think that’s something that we as parents feel is a safe space, we trust the doctor and let them do what they need to do. But we do really need to be vigilant and both prepare our kids, letting them know the consent piece, that it’s okay for them to say “stop, I’m not comfortable.” And if it is a must-do thing, we can help them warm up and feel more comfortable with the situation. I think that was really important to touch on, so thank you for bringing that into it too. What are other pieces that we can be doing?
Yeah, so I think that from that point forward, other things that we can do is really communicate with the spaces that our children are going to be independent of us. So if that is a school setting, asking the school, “what are your prevention policies? What are your safety policies? How are you securing that the people that are working in this space are safe people?” Right? Asking “what are your screening processes? Are you doing this in a thorough way?” And that can apply both for schools as well as daycares, as well as youth serving organizations, camps, if your child’s going to a camp in the summer. Really asking them “What’s the accountability? What are you doing to make sure that this is a safe space?” Because we’ve seen time and time again, whether it is a religious organization or a secular organization, that this is a problem, because we know that offenders are going to look at working in spaces where they have access to children. So we need to make sure that these institutions, these organizations, are being responsible by vetting the people that are in those institutions, and that they are also keeping that up to date, you know, how are you talking about safety? How are you educating and keeping them up to date with recognizing abuse, or teaching the children in your care about body safety? Is this something that you’re implementing? Because, again, peer-to-peer abuse is still a risk. So it’s not just about adults, but it’s also about other children. So how are you making sure in a daycare space that the older children are being supervised, that there is more than one adult that’s making sure that these interactions are safe. So we need to talk to these organizations, these institutions, the people that are caring for our kids, about what it is that they’re doing to make sure that those spaces are safe, when we’re not there. So that’s another way that we can step forward and protect our kids.
So questions like, “how are you vetting the people? What kind of protocols do you have for recognizing things, whether it’s from the adults or peers? What their protocols are for consent?” Would there be anything else you would add?
Yeah, and I just want to also – we’ll just go back one second, because I know that you said, in terms of what you were just saying. Most youth serving educators, or let’s say early childhood educators, any kind of teacher, is considered a mandated reporter as soon as they take on that role and work within an organization. So they should automatically have that training in place. But it’s always good to just double check, because sometimes you’ll have volunteers. In many schools, volunteers are not screened, and only the staff is. So it’s important to ask, if you have volunteers coming in, how are they being screened? What is your screening process? Some schools, for example, will only check registries for third and fourth degree sex offenders, but it should really be the complete offenders registries from one to four.
Yeah, and at least checking because there are different things that could come up where it would make sense that it’s okay for them to work in that environment, even though whatever had happened, but they should definitely be aware of all of those different levels.
Absolutely. If they’re coming in from a different state, are you cross referencing with the registry database of that state? So you know, things like that. And I know that it seems like “how do I ask this to my school,” right?
Yeah. And I’m thinking of the low income families where they’re struggling to get into the licensed care centers, and they’re finding a mom who’s taking on a couple extra kids who doesn’t necessarily have these full procedures in place. But given the socio-economic standing of the family, that’s what they need to do to have the childcare. So how can we empower them to make sure that they are asking that person all those right questions when they don’t necessarily have the systems in place?
Yeah, so I actually did a workshop on this when COVID started, because there were things like learning pods that were being put together, or like you said, home childcare setups. And so I created a draft of, you know, here’s the questions that you can ask, and if it is, let’s say a learning pod, here are the questions that you can ask so that they can implement those safety pieces if they don’t have them in place. And so, there is a list of questions that you can ask, if you do it in an email format, or a printed format, it really formalizes it and presents it in a way that isn’t – again, it’s not about putting anyone on the defense, it’s really about saying, “these are just some questions that I think needs to be addressed. And if they are not in place, how can we move forward to put them in place?”
So if that isn’t something that they’re practicing, giving them some additional tools and resources so that they can put them into place. And that’s something that I think a lot of people aren’t sure about, because they’re like, “I don’t know what the resources are.” So doing some of that homework ahead of time, some of that legwork yourself ahead of time, and connecting with either the organizations that are in your local area, there’s lots of great resources available on websites like Darkness to Light, which is one of the organizations that I’m certified under. They have free resources online as well for parents to access these kinds of questions and filter them down for their own particular organization. Or you can also sign up for my workshop, which has all of these templates already set up. So there’s different ways to present these questions and help them to implement the necessary pieces to make sure that it is a safer place for your child.
Okay, great. We are coming close to time, I’d like to dig into the resources a little bit more. But first, I wanted to ask if you have any kind of overarching helpful tips. I know one thing I saw recently on your Instagram feed that I thought was an amazing tip that all families should know about, is after your child is with anyone in a one-on-one situation, to ask them if they played any games. I thought that was very helpful. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. And if you have any other tips like that, that we would find helpful.
Yeah, so I think if you are looking at grooming signs, and you kind of have a suspicion about someone, it’s a great way to ask the question to your child about you know what the interactions are, without making it seem sort of scary or leading, right? You don’t want to ever lead your child to answer something that’s really your suspicion, but it might not be anything right?
Yeah, that’s an important piece too, to not be leading.
Right. So the best way to do that is just to ask your child, “so what kind of things do you do? What kind of games are you playing?” You know, if you recognize that this person is spending a lot of one-on-one time with your child, or if they’re spending a lot of time with other children, right? If they have a particular best friend, like, “what kind of games do you play? And how do you play that game? What’s involved in playing that game? Can we play that game? Can you show me how to play that game?” So that you can get a better understanding of what kinds of activities that your child is doing with other people, whether that’s, again, a peer or an adult. And that will give you a lot of information.
And just to check in regularly. Again, if you have a sense like, “oh, that doesn’t seem like an appropriate game” or “there’s something that’s off about that,” then that’s another red flag that you’re adding to that list. That is a signal that this is a very potentially unsafe relationship, that you need to remove your child from having unsupervised access with anymore. And just in general, even going into when your child is older, and they’re going to school and they’re in the playground, “so what kind of games do you play in the playground?” Because again, peer-on-peer abuse is on the rise. We want to make sure that our kids are engaging in safe play with others.
Yeah. Thank you. I feel like we could talk on and on about this and every different area of it. I’m sure even grooming alone could be a full hour at least. So where can people find resources for all these things? I know you have a bunch of resources on your website, you mentioned other ones with Darkness to Light. Let’s go through a bit of those so people can have access to them. And we’ll make sure to link everything.
Sure. So my website is consentparenting.com. So I have lots of free PDFs as well.
One of the things that I also did want to point out is, sleepovers are another place of risk. And it’s not to say don’t do sleepovers, it’s just to do them properly and safely. So really, understanding how to identify if your child is ready for a sleepover is really important. So I also have a free resource for that on my website. And so yeah, it’s something that I think happens more frequently during the holidays, where families are sleeping over, and cousins can come over, or your kids going over to their house and sleeping over. So just making sure that those are safe experiences.
But you can also go to resources like Darkness to Light, so I think you can do d2l.org. Another really great resource that’s starting to share more and more is the Child Rescue Coalition. And so if you have older children, really good resources about online safety. Cyber Civics is another really great one if your kids, again, are a little bit older. But if you’re in Canada, which is where I live, I also recommend the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which also has lots of great free resources. And they have a whole program called Commit to Kids, which you can ask your school to bring in, and that’s another thing that I also wanted to say. If your school isn’t doing anything, in the United States, for example, in certain states, I think it’s 37 states at this point, there’s something called Erin’s law, which mandates the state to provide some kind of sexual abuse prevention education, for grades K through 12. And so that’s really important, and another thing that you can tap into, is looking at Erin’s law in the US, and they have a list of resources that you can also bring to your school and say, “here’s a list of resources that you can tap into to start bringing this kind of education into the school.” And so yeah, those are just some of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. If you are looking, depending on your child’s age, if you’re looking at something a little bit older, more for teenagers, I would recommend an organization called Safe Bae, and they are a youth led organization. So kids who are looking to learn more about prevention and consent can go to that site as well and start to dig in themselves.
Okay. Great. Thank you for all of those. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close things out?
Just a reminder for parents who are posting a lot online about their kids, just to look into the idea of “sharenting” and just being really much more conscious and considerate of their children’s information and safety, because unfortunately, that is another area of risk. More and more parents are just very freely sharing information, particularly about where their children go to school, or what grade they’re going into, or what vacation they just went on. And that’s a lot of information that can be used later to groom a child. So the more that someone knows about your child, the easier it is to ingratiate themselves with the child, because they have all this ammunition now of “oh, you like that? I love that too,” and they can just very easily learn a lot about your child through the parent. So just being more conscientious, maybe increasing your privacy settings and looking at who is on your list that can see these images, or looking at different ways of sharing. So just being a little more conscientious of that is important. I just saw an article today about the increase of child identity theft is on the rise. Yeah, so if you if anyone’s interested in learning more about that, there’s a really great book called Sharenthood: Why We Should Think before We Talk about Our Kids Online by Leah A. Plunkett. It’s really a great book. It’s also available on audio, I’m an audible listener, so…
Yes, me too!
It’s so much easier that way. So that’s another really great book, to just give you some more information about that, and how to navigate that more safely. Because that’s ultimately what you’re going to be modeling and teaching your child as they enter their own phase of the digital world, once they’re able to.
Absolutely I think that’s a topic for a whole other talk is really just the cyber safety and social media. And I know something from someone I’ve known that I’ve worked with, through Xbox gaming, and the lives and having conversations that way, and how things can come up. So yeah, that’s another really important topic. So thank you for those resources. And perhaps in the future, we can dig into that too.
Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share all that with us. There’s so much information there, and lots of great resources too, so I really appreciate it. And thank you to all of our UM Club members for tuning in. We’ll have everything linked for you within the blog post so you can easily check everything out. And you can bring your questions and comments into the group chat and Facebook group, and into our zoom hangouts. So I will chat with you guys later!
Thanks for having me. Bye.
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