Commentary by Melissa Peregrin, Executive Director for Chaucie’s Place
When my children were little, I taught them lots of ways to keep themselves safe. Do not run with scissors, always wear a seatbelt, use a bicycle helmet, do not talk to strangers and look both ways before crossing the street … all important lessons to help keep them safe from harm. It is equally important to teach children how to keep their bodies safe from abuse. We need to talk to them about safe and unsafe touches, early and often. Like many other uncomfortable topics, parents are often reluctant to discuss body safety with their children. The younger we begin these conversations with children, the easier it is. In this country, one in ten children will be sexually abused prior to their 18th birthday and 90 percent of abusers are someone that the child knows, loves, and trusts. Child sexual abuse is an epidemic, but we have the power to create real change though prevention education. Recent media coverage shined a light on this topic, but that is only the beginning.
Chaucie’s Place is a non-profit youth advocacy organization located in Carmel. We work passionately to empower the community to end youth sexual abuse and suicide by offering evidence-based, high-quality prevention programs so that all children can live free from harm and to their highest potential. We do this by providing prevention programs to youth and adults in Central Indiana.
We are proud to provide body safety education in all Hamilton Southeastern Elementary Schools. Chaucie’s Place staff and volunteers provided Smart Steps: A Body Safety Program for Children™ to over 4,000 children in HSE schools alone this school year. After presentations in 4th grade and above, we offer children an opportunity (through Talk Time) to tell one of our staff and a school representative about any touches that made them feel uncomfortable. Our staff facilitated 312 Talk Time sessions to HSE students, resulting in eight reports of suspected abuse to the Department of Child Services. Our organization is thrilled that the State of Indiana has passed Senate Enrolled Act 355 mandating child abuse prevention and body safety education to all children in grades K-12 – every year, every grade. Definitely a step in the right direction.
As critical as it is to teach our children about body safety, ultimately protecting children is an ADULT responsibility. We believe every adult that works with children should be trained to prevent, recognize, and react appropriately to child sexual abuse. Our staff are authorized facilitators of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program. Stewards of Children teaches adults the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse and appropriate boundaries to keep children safe from harm. It also addresses reporting laws and procedures, so every participant knows how to respond. We train adults in schools, youth serving organizations, sports programs, and churches, empowering them to protect children from abuse. This powerful program meets the legislative mandate of Senate Enrolled Act 447, requiring all school personnel have child abuse prevention training every two years.
At Chaucie’s Place, we believe knowledge is power. We will never stop working to empower children and adults, so that children can grow up free from harm and to their highest potential. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of Hoosier children. For tips on talking to kids about body safety, visit our website at chauciesplace.org.