Protecting Your Child From Sexual Abuse
About the Guest
Justin HolcombJustin is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. Justin serves on the boards of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) and GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments). He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary...more
Pastor Justin Holcomb talks about some of the ways parents can protect their children from child abuse.
Protecting Your Child From Sexual Abuse
Bob: You believe that moms and dads need to start early with proper names for body parts.
Justin: That’s a big one. I grew up with my dad who was an artist. When I got the talk, he actually drew pictures. It was kind of just—he made it normal. He was an artist. So, my dad started drawing; and I thought, “That was kind of neat.” He explained it to me—the private parts and proper names.
An important reason for naming the private parts with the proper name is a perpetrator is not going to do that. A perpetrator is going to give it a nickname. Another reason is because the proper name actually reflects the dignity as being the creature of God, and that’s what our culture calls it / that’s what the normal language is. The third reason is because, if something does happen, you want the child to be able to tell you specifics of what happened.
There was a mother who told us how important this was for her—that she learned this. A few weeks later, after reading the book, her daughter said, “Hey, my stepfather”—she was four—so, “Dad—he touched me here.” She could actually say what it was. It actually helping her to report.
Justin: Now, the private parts thing—we’ve had a little bit of controversy on it because the private parts page, actually, names the private parts. We understand that parents want to be modest. We encourage modesty. So, we’re not trying to be immodest or edgy—I mean, it’s a kid’s book. But we sent the book to experts in the field—Christians/ non-Christians—but still experts in the field—and they all said: “That’s very important. Keep the private parts thing.”
Bob: Okay, I’ve got to tell you a story here; alright?—because I didn’t grow up with anatomically-correct names for private parts. When I was potty trained, somewhere, early on, I recognized that when I would go to the bathroom, I would make bubbles in the toilet.
So, that’s how we referred to going to the bathroom, “I need to make bubbles.” That was my expression, as a child. As a result, the private part was referred to as the bubbler.
Here’s where this can get problematic for you. I was over at the neighbor’s house, one day, playing with my friend.
Dennis: I know where this is going.
Bob: I said to the mom, “I need to make bubbles.” She said, “No, we’re not going to do that mess today.” She’s thinking we’re getting out the soap dish—[Laughter]
Justin: “What kind of torture is this?!”
Bob: —“and we’re not going to deal with that mess today.” And I go, “But I need to make bubbles.” So, it became a little bit of a problem because I didn’t have any other language to know what to say. I think I finally said, “…in the bathroom.” Still, she was thinking that we were going to get soap out in the bathroom. I did finally get it dealt with.
Dennis: Well, here’s why you need a book like what Justin and Lindsey have written—God Made All of Me. And before I read this, tell them what is the most frequently- mentioned page.
Justin: This is the page.
When we asked parents, “Please take a screenshot or snapshot of your child’s favorite page,” this is the page that came up—at least, 75 percent of the time, if not more—I don’t want to exaggerate. At least, 75 percent of children liked this page the most.
Dennis: And it’s a couple of kids in swimming suits here; but it says, “Mom said, ‘God made every part of your body, and every part of your body is good. Some parts of your body are not for sharing. These are called your private parts. Private parts are the parts covered by your underwear or bathing suit and should not be touched by other people.’”
Now, you go on—and it’s unpacked a little bit on the next page—but you’re just opening the door for a parent to say, “It’s very good the way God made you.”
Justin: And that page has caused some controversy. There are some Christian bookstores who won’t carry it because of that page. They would rather it not be discussed.
Dennis: One of my favorite quotes by Dr. Howard Hendricks, who was my professor and mentor for a number of years—
—he made the statement—he said, “We should not be ashamed to discuss that which God was not ashamed to create.”
Justin: Nicely said!
Dennis: Yes, he said a lot of things that were nicely said.
Justin: That’s good!
Dennis: But as parents, seriously, where do you want your child to hear about these matters, and what frame of reference? Shouldn’t it be within a family, within a relationship—father / child, mother / child—where you are talking in a wholesome manner around how God made us?
Justin: Just practically—yes, we encourage parents to teach their children the proper names of private parts—but not only. If I had a son and he talked about the bubbler, I wouldn’t stop him from saying bubbler. I’d just say, “Hey, just so you know—here is the proper name.”
Justin: So, people think we’re being really strict like: “Oh? Am I allowed to refer to it as the bubbler?” Well, sure!
Bob: You can have a nickname.
Justin: Yes! Just not nicknames only.
Justin: It’s educating—it’s getting the conversation going.
And that page right there—that will give a lot of information to your child. Then, you have a foundation from which to start talking about more things. And that opens up the lines of communication which is another one of the nine—opening up the lines of communication.
Because when you do that page and other stuff that’s in the book, you are actually inviting—and you can ask: “Do you have other questions? If you ever have a question, you can ask Mom and Dad”—or whomever. And then, you have that venue / that avenue, going back and forth; and you’re ready to have more conversations with your child.
Bob: And you know—the parents who are concerned about proper names are thinking: “This is going to do something to the innocence of a child—the introduction of these names, somehow, destroys that innocence.” And every parent—we want our kids to be innocent in these issues for as long as they possibly can. We don’t want to arouse or awaken love before it’s time / we don’t want to stir any sexual thoughts in a child inappropriately.
Justin: I totally get that.
As a father of two little girls, who just learned about how babies are made. It was a fun time with my wife telling them. They laughed and giggled; but there is a sense of that is a milestone of them growing up.
Bob: They don’t go back from that place.
Justin: Yes; you don’t un-hear that from your parents, but I get that. There is a sense of innocence loss or the age—and they are now growing up. I didn’t enjoy all of it—not because it was awkward—but because of that very point right there—we’re in a new realm.
Bob: But the reality is—they are going to need to know this stuff. It’s just a question of who tells them / when it gets told. In this day and age, for protective purposes, having these proper names is a part of how you protect them; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is. And I think people need to revisit the word, innocence—because I don’t think calling something what it is—is necessarily destroying a child’s innocence. Paul wrote in Romans, Chapter 16, verse 19—
—he was saying, “Your obedience is known to all so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” I think innocence and evil belong with one another. Actually, what a parent is doing here—as he or she protects his or her son’s or daughter’s body—is they are helping protect that innocence.
Justin: I love that passage because that actually is the wrap-around verse for this whole conversation of parents, and parenting, and teaching. I mean, the language of wisdom and protecting against evil with their innocence—that’s a wonderful verse for this whole conversation.
Dennis: I think it’s a verse for every parent as they raise their child in this world today. You want them to be wise in what is good. Where does that press you? Back to the Bible—
Dennis: —to find out what is good. And innocent in what is evil—where does that press you?
Back to the Book because it points out what is evil as well.
Justin: What we’ve been talking about is this idea of—if you don’t have this conversation, in general, about body and babies—but particular about protection—this information is going to get to them because of proliferation of access. There are stories of little children—jumping out from the computer / things popping up—I mean, they are being innocent and searching for things.
Our children, five and seven—we have next door neighbors, who are between four and eleven, who they play with in our front yard. They [Justin’s children] are going to school—so, they have friends at school / friends at church. We were realizing: “Wait a second. They are coming back and going, ‘Hey, Mommy and Daddy, what’s kidnapping?’ ‘Well, why are you asking?’ ‘Well, some kid mentioned kidnapping.’ ‘Hey, Mommy/Daddy, what’s this?’” We were realizing, “We have got to be the ones who frame and give this information first.” We want to frame it for them and do exactly what that verse said.
Dennis: We’ve talked about private parts. You also talk in your book, as you equip parents to protect their children’s bodies, you have a conversation around touch:
“What’s appropriate? What’s inappropriate?” Explain what you’re trying to do there.
Justin: We want to give an understanding that private parts are private. They shouldn’t be touched by anyone else except a doctor when Mom and Dad are there, or a parent who is helping clean, or things like that.
We wanted them to know that there is a category called inappropriate touch so they would actually be able to think about that—appropriate and inappropriate / not good and bad because that’s actually confusing. Some bad touch / inappropriate touch feels good—so physiologically. Many children can’t separate the fact that, if bad touch has happened, that they are not dirty and bad. It’s very important for parents, practically, just to shepherd your children—inappropriate and appropriate touch—and give them the category that there is a thing called inappropriate touch—what it is and who does it. That’s the whole idea of just putting it on the table for a discussion and category.
Dennis: And then, the parent coaches the child in what to do if that is initiated.
Justin: Well, my wife—and this isn’t in the book anywhere—but she plays a “What if…” game—you know: “What if So-and-so did this?”—a hypothetical—help apply the principles. We actually go through on inappropriate touch. One of the “What ifs…” she’s done is: “What if one of your friends at school came into the bathroom with you and touched you inappropriately? What do you do?” You help them apply what this—and going back to previous conversations about tickling.
Justin: You tickle them and say, “What do you do next?” “Cry for Mom!” So, help them apply that.
Bob: You know, I’m imagining some parents getting a copy of your book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies, and reading it to a child. And by the way, I’ll just say, “We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can go to our website if they’d like to order a copy—FamilyLifeToday.com—or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we can get a copy sent to you.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
I’m imagining a parent reading this book to a child and learning, in the process of the first read, that this has already happened to a child. The child gets quiet; or the child volunteering that “Uncle So-and-so did that to me already.” What do you do when that happens, Justin?
Justin: Report any suspected abuse immediately.
Bob: Call the police?
Justin: You can call a Sexual Assault Crisis Center locally, and they can help walk through what that looks like. My wife worked at one. Her best friend, who actually was one of the readers of this before we sent it out—she was the child victim’s advocate, and this happened all the time—every day, she would get calls: “I think something happened. I’m not sure. What do I do next?” And she would walk through that.
The big idea is—report / don’t investigate. Now, by investigate—yes; you ask questions: “Well, what do you mean?”
Ask questions that aren’t probing, or leading, or really confusing; but get as much information as possible. But you realize: “You’re the parent. You’re not the investigator. Someone else can do the investigation better than you.” If you start doing—and by investigating, it doesn’t mean talking to your child.
It also means don’t go talk to the person who is suspected. Remember, perpetrators, on average, have 120 victims. They are masterful at deceiving. So, when the parent comes in and says, “Hey, my child said this happened.” “Oh! It was a complete misunderstanding. I would never do that! I work for the Children’s Ministry—come on! Background check—doesn’t happen.” You’re setting them up to start defending.
It’s better for you to focus on your child—get any information you can. Call Sexual Assault Crisis Center / call the police—they will take it from there. You get to be in charge. You’re not handing over parenting—you’re actually doing a great job, parenting, by responding to the authorities / reporting to the authorities.
Bob: But here is where you are counting the cost—
—they will be in charge / may mean that Uncle Fred is picked up by the police.
Justin: That might happen.
Bob: Then, the whole family is going to turn on you and, “Why didn’t you go to Uncle Fred in the first place?”
Dennis: This is part of the power the perpetrator holds, over a family and over a child, to continue this kind of behavior.
Bob: Well, exactly. This is where parents have to have the courage to do what’s right for their children and not to be swayed by pressure from other family members.
Dennis: You know, Justin, I just want to thank you for your work on this book and for this broadcast. The coaching you are giving parents right now—this is not the kind of coaching you get anywhere else. I mean, this is the kind parents desperately need today, and I want to thank you for doing that.
I, also, want to thank a group of people who make this broadcast possible—our Legacy Partners. As you’ve listened to today’s broadcast, you’ve got to believe: “You know what? That is really valuable information. That’s going to protect a lot of children.” I just want to thank people for giving.
Thank you for making this ministry possible in the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of parents, impacting millions of children for generations to come. Thank you for making this broadcast possible and for protecting children. I love it when we protect children because they need this as never before in this culture.
Bob: And let me just say, “If you’ve been a long-time listener to FamilyLife Today, would you consider becoming a Legacy Partner and joining with the team that helps cover the cost of producing and syndicating this program?” You can do it by going online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we’ll walk you through the process. We do appreciate those of you who support this ministry and make all that we do possible.
Let me also encourage parents to get a copy of the book we’ve talked about today by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. It’s called God Made All of Me, and it’s a book to help children protect their bodies. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get your copy of the book.
You can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-358-6329. It’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, as we wrap up the week, we want to say, “Congratulations!” to Franklin and Alexine Cooper, who live in Laurel, Maryland. They are celebrating 11 years today as husband and wife. “Congratulations on your anniversary!” to the Coopers.
And I know there may be more listeners celebrating anniversaries today as well. We just don’t have your information here in front of us. In fact, we have been gathering information this year because we’ve got a lot of listeners who are getting text messages or emails from us right in advance of their anniversary with some ideas on how you can have a special anniversary celebration this year. If you’d like to sign up for those text messages or emails, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information is available right there.
And we hope you have a great anniversary celebration in 2016.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday when
Dr. Bill Bennett is going to be here. We’re going to talk about manhood and about the kinds of things that go into making a man a man. Hope you can tune in for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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