Today I received the news that there is a Level 3 Sex Offender that lives in our community. I was comforted to learn that a protocol is in place to alert the community and provide concerned citizens with an informational meeting about the offender, but it did send quite the wildfire of emails through our tightly-knit area.
The good news is that we know about him. He has a court order to return to his home if children pass his way and he is to report to his corrections officer if he is ever within 10 feet of a child (he is ordered to never be closer than 10 feet to a child).
The other bit of good news is that his presence in our town brings a heightened awareness to the serious and secretive nature of sex crimes. At the community meeting the Sheriff's Office representatives shared that 75% of child sexual abuse is from people the kids already know and trust -neighbors, family friends, etc (this particular offender's victims WERE people that knew and trusted him).
I was already planning to share the book My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevsky, an Assistant District Attorney in NYC, with you. But the timing of our local news made it seem even more urgent that I post about Jill's book immediately.
While it may not be comfortable to sit down with young children to discuss sexual abuse, it is far better to discuss things BEFORE anything can happen. One ounce of prevention goes a LONG, LONG way.
My Body Belongs to Me is a priceless tool that supports parents and caregivers in the challenging task of addressing this sensitive and private safety issue. With a simple, rhyming text and calming colored pencil illustrations, the book walks children through identifying that their bodies have boundaries and that some parts of their bodies are for "no one else to see". A simplified, age-appropriate scenario demonstrates for children what to do if someone touches them inappropriately - TELL. Starishevsky's powerful message really comes through when the nameless character tells on an offender and her parents reassure her that she is BRAVE and that they are PROUD of her for telling them what happened. They also identify the child's teacher as a go-to person if she ever feels too scared to tell her parents about something.
The last page of the children's portion of the book shows the child smiling as she does a "strong arm" pose. The text asserts that the abuse wasn't the child's fault and that she is a caretaker of her body and will grow big and strong. It is a powerful and uplifting way to end such a serious book, one of the things I appreciate about the text.
The most helpful part of My Body Belongs to Me is the information for adults shared after the story. Starishevsky includes a letter to the reader about the book and how it was designed to help children, a full page of discussion starters and tips for making the subject of sexual abuse approachable for children (these are EXCELLENT and made ME feel more comfortable about talking about it with my own children), and a thorough list of reputable resources for finding help. These three elements alone make the book a worthwhile purchase.
Don't be fooled by the size of this book (just 6" x 6", I believe) - it packs an incredibly strong punch that we can all use to help keep our children safe. I have already shared this book with my close community of moms and will be recommending it to our local school district for inclusion in their resource rooms.
Please take a few moments to visit the My Body Belongs to Me website to see sample pages from the book and to order a copy for your family (it is not currently available through Amazon.com). This really is a book that can save lives.