From the schoolyard to the courtroom; sexual harassment and sexual violence are on the increase, as schools alone see a steady rise in yearly statistics of abuse – those that are being reported anyway.
While academics, professionals, and advocacy groups for the prevention of sexual violence and abuse all agree that sex education and tools for the prevention of gender violence need to start at an early age, very little is being done towards protecting vulnerable children from sexual bullying, gender violence, and sexual assault between fellow students when at school, on the sports field, or during after-school hours.
Academic researcher and world expert in sexual harassment among young children, Dr. Ayelet Giladi says, “We start our teaching programs for children from the age of 5 and up. It’s essential to empower young children with the values of dignity, respect, and equality in order to give them a voice about their bodies and their own safety protocols when away from the home. We also have developed age-appropriate programs for primary grades and high school grades especially focused on digital bullying, harassment, and abuse.
Giving Children a Voice against Sexual Abuse
“By empowering the child themselves, we are curtailing having to spend massive amounts of therapy and medical support following an occurrence of abuse. Prevention is always preferable to having to heal traumatized children.”
While Dr. Giladi says that educators themselves must be empowered with the tools for understating, coping, and preventing sexual harassment, abuse, and gender violence in the school system, it is essential that parents are included in programs as well.
“Just like it takes a community to raise a child, so too does it takes a community to prevent sexual violence from intensifying. Sexual harassment behaviours start on the playground during games children play together, at kindergarten, and at school.
Programs for educators, parents, and young children
“As teachers, parents, and adult facilitators, it is up to us to provide learning to the child as they experience these power issues,” says Dr. Giladi, who travels globally bringing her first-of-its-kind research in childhood sexual harassment to schools, teacher training colleges, and professors in early childhood development.
Working across foreign borders and all strata of socio-economic communities and public and private schools, Dr. Giladi, who collaborates with teachers, school principals, social workers, lawyers, parents, and psychologists, says it is surprising to hear that most participants in her global programs often do not know there are laws that protect students and staff from sexual harassment and confirms that sexual harassment is illegal in kindergarten, schools, communities, and the educational environment.
How parents can protect their child from sexual abuse:
1) Create a safe environment for your child within the home, at school, and in greater society by upholding tools for prevention. Raise the subject with your child’s teacher or the school principal, and ask what policies exist and how they are enacted should an incidence of sexual bullying, abuse, or harassment occur.
2) Start teaching students about consent early on. Empower them to find solutions through intervention and include parents in the conversation. Communicate clear, age-appropriate policies and procedures in the school and work environments and with other parents regarding what sexual harassment and abuse, bullying, and gender inequality look like. Include important information about digital sexual harassment and sexual bullying online.
3) Ensure the school includes a curriculum with experiential and engaging lessons for promoting the safety and well-being of children, teens, and the adults who care for them: including respectful boundaries for touch, play, health, and safety; self-advocacy and positive consent skills, help-seeking skills, online safety, and digital citizenship; so everyone is enabled to build healthy relationships, and to protect themselves from sexual predation. Engage your child in conversation. If they won’t speak to you, ask if there is a teacher, friend, or another family member who they may feel safer talking to.
4) Monitor and access the various locations and environments where risk may occur, such as social platforms, play dates with friends, and unsupervised time.
5) Know where to seek help and guidance as an adult – arm yourself with the country’s laws, those of school, and identify family rules within the home. Consider if your child was harmed by another child how you would react and would it be an appropriate response.
6) Empower yourself with the available community support and resources available to you – reach out to community groups, religious organizations, and other academic professional organizations for advice, support, and direction within the community.
7) As an adult, encourage conversations around sexual harassment and gender equality, and look to enacting training in the prevention of sexual harassment in children, for those around you, such as school principals, teachers, carers, and educational facilitators to recognize and respond to sexual abuse behaviours.
“I encourage every parent and educational facilitator to work together to ensure we see healthy inclusive relationships between the sexes in the school system. Children themselves do not understand sexual harassment behaviours and when innocent play may be crossing over into harassment, which results in another person feeling degraded or demoralized.
“Through awareness training and prevention tools we can and will break the silence of sexual harassment in children and bring about a brighter future as children develop into respectful and responsive adults in all areas of society.”
Contact Dr. Giladi for a consultation or to discuss hosting her as a speaker at your next seminar or school parent-teacher event at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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