People can feel powerless in the fight against child sexual abuse, but a presenter coming to Winona this Saturday believes that can change.
Gabrielle Gipson, founder of the restorative justice organization You Have the Power, will present a training called Abuse Proof Your Kid. The training is hosted by the Winona County Primary Prevention Project, which works to spread community awareness to prevent sexual and domestic violence.
Gipson said Abuse Proof Your Kid is geared toward parents, teachers, childcare workers, and others, giving them the tools to prevent sexual abuse in the lives of kids in their care.
Gipson said the first step to preventing sexual abuse is learning to talk about sex, removing the stigma and shame. It sounds simple, she said, but some families may be hesitant to discuss sexual issues until a child is a teenager, which is too late.
Statistics show 90 percent of child sexual abuse is by someone the victim knows, and only about 25 percent of those offenses are reported to the police.
Gipson attributed those numbers to lack of communication — kids don’t know when or how to speak up, and adults don’t know what to do if a child talks about something that happened.
“The adults are ill-equipped or afraid,” she said. “We talk about those reactions. We as adults need to do our part on making sure that they’re safe.”
Gipson said another big piece of prevention is recognizing what abuse is and is not. Many families show affection to kids — hugging, kissing, wrestling, tickling — which are usually just expressions of care.
But that doesn’t mean parents or caregivers should turn a blind eye if there’s too much touching. The training covers how to tell if a potential offender is trying to move past physical boundaries.
Another important element is establishing body safety rules, and teaching a kid when and where it is okay to say no, even to adults.
“When I was little, my dad told me that boys don’t hit girls,” Gipson said. Because she knew the rule, she knew what was acceptable behavior, and felt comfortable speaking up when somebody crossed the line.
“We can do the same thing with sexual abuse,” she said. “If we equip (kids) early, they may have at least a little more confidence to say something.”
Lynn Theurer, secretary for the Winona County Primary Prevention Project, said the group chose to focus on kids because the project’s goal is to change social norms, and kids are a huge part of that picture.
Theurer said sexual violence is not just an individual issue, but one that affects the whole community. Instead of standing by, community members should be ready and willing to stand up for kids.
“We want to work as hard as we can,” she said.
Gipson also said it is imperative that whole communities work together, both inside and outside the home.
“A childcare center could have body safety rules posted and go over them with the kids,” she said. “These are really simple things, but put them together and it starts to put a protective wall around the kid.”