Back to School: Students need an all-encompassing learning environment

Parents are gearing up to send their children back into the classrooms, but will they learn the skills to help them speak up about a silent epidemic affecting children across our country?  Thousands of children in Middle Tennessee are affected by childhood sexual abuse and, as adults, we must be willing to give our children the skills, tools, and knowledge to have a voice to speak up about this issue.  There seems to be a new sexual assault headline each day when we open the paper or turn on the news.  We no longer have to sit on the sidelines and hope this never happens to our children, and if it does, hope they know what to do.

This conversation must begin at home by teaching our children the anatomically correct names of their body parts.  We must also teach them that areas covered by a swimsuit are special and no one should ever touch those areas unless they are trying to keep you clean and healthy.  We need to make sure our children understand this difference between safe and unsafe touches, secrets versus surprises, and assertiveness skills.  Our children also need to know who to turn to if the unthinkable happens to them.  Children need to know at least 3 trusted adults they feel comfortable talking with whether they are at home, school, or any other place your child frequents.  Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they turn 18. So, more than likely,  your child, a friend of your child, or a student in your child’s class has been sexually assaulted at some point and that is why it is important to have these conversations at school as well.  Tennessee passed Erin’s Law in 2014 recommending that all schools teach a primary prevention curriculum to students in grades K-12.

The Sexual Assault Center not only provides counseling to those affected by sexual assault, we also provide education opportunities to those in our community.  We have the Safe@Last curriculum that schools can use to teach students about safe and unsafe touches, assertiveness skills, disclosure skills, qualities of safe people and much more.  We have the Be Empowered! curriculum that can be used with our older students as well.  We can help them gain an understanding of healthy relationships, bystander intervention, sexual assault information, and technology safety skills.  We also provide training opportunities for school professionals and parents to learn more about childhood sexual abuse and how to respond appropriately.  We want to be able to arm our students with as much knowledge as possible as they head back into the classroom this fall.  We want to them to achieve academic success, but in order to do that, they must feel they are in a safe environment at school and at home.

Parents can engage with clarity and persistence to find out what their child’s school is doing to fulfill the Erin’s Law legislation.  Parents can develop a “why” message communicating your position and the value of teaching sexual abuse/assault prevention education to all children, teens, and adults in your school community.  Parents can be engaged in PTA meetings and school board meetings to request updates regarding implementation towards Erin’s Law.

As we begin to talk more about sexual abuse, we will begin to see a decrease in the numbers of children affected.  We will begin to see people who are more vigilant about who has access to children.  We will stop making excuses about this silent epidemic. Call the Education Department at the Sexual Assault Center for more information. We can be reached at http://www.sacenter.org or by calling 615.259.9055.  Let’s work together to end sexual violence in our community.

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