Child #1: Well, they taught us that no one has to touch you if you don't want them to, and that you don't have to... like, if your grandparents come, you don't have to kiss them or give them a hug unless you want to.
Child #2: That if someone tries to touch you and you don't want them to, and you say no, and they are doing it, you know who... who can help you. Your mom, dad, teacher and doctor.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: It's important for your children to know what to say, and where to go for help if they don't like how their bodies are being treated.
Welcome to Focus on the Family as today we recognize that this month, April, is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. And we're gonna tackle a tough topic about protecting your kids. Uh... as I said, this is going to be a little difficult. Obviously, not appropriate for children, but you're gonna find a lot of help in this broadcast conversation.
Your host is Focus president, and author, Jim Daly. And I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, the statistics on sexual abuse are heartbreaking with 1 in 4 girls - and I know this varies by different studies, but generally, this holds - 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are abused. And we don't want your children to become one of those statistics.
Uh, today, we're going to empower you, as a parent, or maybe a grandparent, to know how to talk to your young children about the wonders of the human body, the good things that God has created. Uh, but we want to do that in the context of safe and healthy relationships - and how you can teach your children about sexual abuse in an age-appropriate way.
Obviously, in the culture today, this is a very important topic. And I think children need to have a biblical understanding of what God has done, which is a good thing, and then how to, uh, you know, control those appetites and really be in control of your own body. And that's what we're going to speak to today. And we're going to speak specifically to how to do that in the lives of little children.
John: Yeah, you're going to be empowered to help your kid feel equipped to deal with, uh, any potential issues. Uh, we've invited, as I said, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Uh, Justin has a doctorate. He's a minister and a professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, And, uh, Lindsey's busy. She's a first-grade teacher and counsels victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. And, uh, together they started REST, which is Real Escape from the Sex Trade, an organization devoted to that great endeavor. And the Holcomb’s have also written a book called God Made All of Me. And my understanding is, uh, you wrote it for your two daughters.
Justin Holcomb: That's true. We have daughters, and when they were a little bit younger - they're 7 and 9 - when they were a little bit younger, we were looking for a book that would be both Christian content and really good illustrations that would get to the practical issues on that. And so, we decided that we couldn't find the book, so we decided to make it.
Jim: Justin and Lindsey, um, we hear about this topic quite often now, uh, because - I think because of the prolific nature of it. Um, if you're in a family that's safe, you probably don't come across this. But many families encounter this. I was stunned to read that about 90 percent of abuse of this nature comes from someone in the family or close to the family. It's not stranger danger. I know I taught my boys that - and Jean and I - stranger danger. But when you look at the statistics, it's only about 10 percent that are stranger-related. Most of it is people the kids will know. Is that right?
Justin: That is very important for everyone to understand. Because if you think it's only strangers, you'll give yourself a false sense of security. And the stats that we have are about 34 percent are family members. The other 58 percent are acquaintances. So, it's more likely that a child will be sexually abused by a grown-up, an adult that's trusted and known by the child. That leaves about 7 to 10 percent that are...
Justin: ...Strangers. So, knowing that the - knowing who you're defending against is really important.
Jim: Well, and if you think about it, we do, as parents, a lot of the stranger danger talk because I think we don't want to believe that someone in our family or someone near us, as a friend, would harm our child.
Jim: It's almost unthinkable. And we don't spend a lot of time, if any, trying to equip a child to understand how to be more assertive in that kind of environment. And so, often, you hear those horrible stories where the child just didn't know what to do when uncle, or cousin, or somebody did something to them. And, uh, we'll talk more about that specifically. This is a great book. I wish it was around when my boys were younger - God Made All of Me.
Let's go there. Um, I mentioned a moment ago, uh, the alarming stat about the number of boys and girls who are impacted by sexual abuse. Uh, but give us more of that overview of the problem. Parents often, um, aren't equipped to talk to their kids. Why?
Lindsey Holcomb: Well, that was one of the motivations when we wrote the book. We found a lot of our friends were not having the conversation with their children because they felt awkward, um, they didn't want to cause fear in their children, and they just didn't quite have the tools of how do I even launch this topic? And a lot of our friends, their children were 10, 13, and they're thinking, oh, goodness, so much time has passed by. How do I start now? And so, of course, this book is written primarily for the 2 to 8-year-old age range. But we told them, you know, if you have a child that is older, start with the book, and then it could be a good launching pad for more conversations. Um, but primarily, the thing we want parents to know is you're not going to mess up the conversation but don't try and sit down and have, like, an hour-long talk. You know, build a foundation.
Jim: But convince me of that because I'm nervous. I'm...
Jim: ...Going back...
John: I want to talk about this...
John: ...And get it done with.
Jim: So, I'm - I'm in that spot where I'm kind of nervous. I don't believe what you just said, if I could be...
Jim: ...That bold. So tell me how I can not mess it up. Seriously, I could mess this up. You don't know me. I might say something stupid, and my kids might think I'm saying something stupid.
Lindsey: I think we have done that. That's where grace abounds. But...
Lindsey: ...With, um - with building a foundation with our girls, we've talked to them about their bodies since they were wee little ones even...
Jim: Which is important.
Lindsey: Infants. You know, when I was changing their diaper, I would say, you know, now I'm - you know, I would name their body parts, which is really important. Um, of course, you know, this isn't something we do all day long.
Lindsey: We don't, you know...
Jim: The appropriate time, those types of things.
Lindsey: Yeah, and in building that foundation briefly and so naming their body parts or getting in the tub, and this is something that mommy and daddy help you with of cleaning in the tub. Or who sees your private parts? The doctor when mom and dad are present. Um, or if I'm helping you on the toilet or in the bathtub. Other than that, this is your body. And so, it's all about giving control back to the child, which is what sexual abuse does is it takes away the control. But for a parent, it's building a slow foundation. And no child wants an hour-long conversation, or even 20 minutes. They zone out on anything.
Jim: Seems like the older they get, the less discussion they want.
Lindsey: They want less and less, so that's why it's important, when they're little, you're slowly building that foundation. And one, it builds a trust so that if something does happen, or if they're exposed to something, or they have a question, they're going to know Mom and Dad - they're safe.
Justin: And if I can go back real quick to something that Lindsey taught me on how to talk about this with our children was you give them a little chunk, and let them ask questions. Follow their lead. Follow...
Justin: ...Their questions. So that helps demystify it for parents is you don't have to have everything lined up perfectly and know exactly your five points you're going to say. Just give the big picture. God made your body, and all of it, and these body parts, and then let them ask questions and answer to their level of query and then see what happens there.
Jim: Yeah, and that's great advice. And it is a nervous area of parenting. It's probably the most complicated, or at least we make it that way. Justin, um, specifically for you, this isn't coming out of a vacuum. You experienced this. Uh...
Jim: ...That, I know, has to be hard to talk about, but I'm glad and grateful for your boldness because that also has to be said. And so, you've had the experience. Describe briefly what took place just to give us a perspective. And I love that attitude that, you know, our pain often drives our passion. So, I'm sure that's part of your story. But what happened?
Justin: I was about 10. I'm not exactly sure how old I was, so around 10. And it was an extended family member, a male, who participated in inappropriate touching and requested the same type of touching done to him. So that - that was taking place only during some visits. So, it was - they were isolated in maybe three or four times. But I had really good parents, so they had the lines of communication...
Jim: Christian parents.
Justin: Christian parents. They were converted during the '70s Jesus movement.
Justin: So, I could...
Jim: I love them already.
Justin: So my parents are Christians. We're involved in church. And - and because of their past - and they had a really strong sense of the grace of God and that the grace of God is for everything all the way down from, you know, head to toe, top to bottom. That's all creation. Everything needs to be influenced by the grace of God - every experience. So, they didn't do shame.
Justin: Like, when we talked about, you know, how babies are made, it wasn't awkward. It wasn't weird. My dad's an artist. He was drawing body parts pictures of, like - whole bodies, not just body parts. But...
Justin: ...So the lines of communication were open. Thankfully, because of God's grace, it didn't affect me as much as it could have.
Justin: And - and I can't explain why it didn't as much.
Jim: But let me ask you this - to the benefit of the parents - it's not to indulge the details of this at all - but as that little boy, what were some of those thoughts that you can remember about why? Is this right? What were some of those things that ran through your head that instinctively, even as a 10-year-old boy, you kind of had questions about?
Justin: I was really curious, so that was the first thing and one of the things that - I knew my curiosity wasn't a bad thing. I knew wonder and being curious was OK. But I was curious, so that was going through my head. I thought maybe I wanted it or asked for it in some way. I thought I did something, so I thought I was the reason that it happened.
Jim: And that's almost universal, isn't it?
Justin: Oh, yeah.
Jim: That's very typical...
Jim: ...In this, isn't it, Lindsey?
Lindsey: Oh, yes.
Justin: Almost all children think that they were to blame for it...
Justin: ...Either because of just - their curiosity muddies the water for them...
Justin: ...And they think, OK, I was curious. I guess I wanted that. But also, because, frequently, perpetrators will tell them, I did this because you did this, or you said this. Or the worst we've heard is, uh, dirty things happen to dirty kids. And to have a - imagine a little kid, who already feels isolated, and, being told by someone dirty things happen to dirty kids. That's bestowing an identity...
Justin: ...To that kid that the Gospel has to undo.
Justin: Um, and that's where the real power and sting of this sin and crime is - the long-term effects that it does to children.
Jim: So, it's magnified for the victim. I mean, that's what's sad.
Justin: Unbelievable. And it gets in between how they view themselves, how they view other people and how they view God. So, they feel isolated and shamed. And that was the one thing that I did feel was kind of dirty and shamed.
Jim: Do you feel - I mean, I see the emotion. I'm hearing the emotion in your voice. Do you feel like over all these years now you've got a healthier grip on this? You seem to. But obviously, the pain is still there.
Justin: Yeah. Well, the - uh, thankfully, being married to a good wife...
Jim: (Laughter) That always helps.
Justin: ...Who's an expert on this, who knows how to - you know, I remember when we were dating, I told her just various stories. And I remember her kindness then and just saying, hey, that's - you know, and just her response. So that - that's really (unintelligible)...
Jim: Again, was it shaming?
Justin: Not even close to it.
Justin: Yeah, it was the opposite. And, you know, we've done this stuff because of, you know, personal - uh, and we said personal, professional and pastoral. Everyone thought when we said personal it was Lindsey because we didn't - we weren't clear in some of our previous things that we've written about my personal story. But then when you have, you know, being a pastor, this is just par for the course of just regular conversations with people where people are coming to me saying, hey, I think I've heard you mention this in the sermon. I think I can tell you about this. So just the stories that you hear - I mean, we hear horror stories. And then professionally, Lindsey was a case manager at a, you know, abuse crisis center. So, when we were dating, this - I mean, all came together - all three of those - professionally, personally and pastorally.
John: Uh, today, we're tackling a tough subject on "Focus on the Family." Our guests, uh, have written a great resource for you, as a parent, to use with your children. It's called God Made All of Me. And we're grateful that Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are here.
Uh, when you're on our website, look for the book. And also, we're posting an excerpt from it called “9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse.” And, uh, we'll have those resources and more at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Uh, if you'd prefer to call us, we do have counselors here. Uh, we have other helps as well. Our number is 800, the letter "A" and the word FAMILY
Jim: So, let's go through some of the practical applications of that, out of your book God Made All of Me. Start with that younger child. Let's just - the two of you can just talk about it with me, as if I were a young dad - oh, I wish. What would you say to counsel me? You know, I come to you. My wife's here. Hey, Jean. Here we are. You're the pastor. And, you know, we've got kind of an issue. We've got a 3-year-old. We're not sure what we need to say. There might be some behavior that's concerning us. What do you say to me as mom and dad?
Lindsey: Well, one thing, um, that I would start with - I'd say, I'm really glad you're asking this question. And just to convince you that this is important, um, Justin and I realized early on - we're like, gosh, as parents, we teach our kids water safety. We teach them safety around the stove. We teach them safety - don't touch the outlets. You know, and what to do in the event of X, Y and Z, if there's a fire. And so - but this is a topic that we don't necessarily, or, you know, automatically teach children.
Jim: Speak to the parent right there.
Jim: Convince me. Tell me why you need to consider this just like a flame on the stove, or something else. It's that practical.
Lindsey: Sure. I think the main thing is anything you can do to help your child have tools about body safety, body protection, tools for you to talk with them, one, makes it not awkward, two, is preventative. And I know that you would want that for your child. You want to set them up with the most success that they can live their life with control over their body, good and safe boundaries and just to feel empowered in that sense. That's your job as a parent.
Jim: And then with the child, give me two or three practical quick, you know, examples of things I can continue to say to them. I like the swimsuit diagram or discussion, you know, that anything under the swimsuit is for you and private.
Lindsey: Well, the swimsuit analogy is really a good starting point, but don't stop there because a perpetrator can touch other parts of their body that might make the child feel uncomfortable.
Jim: That's good.
Lindsey: And you don't want them to think, well, they're touching my thigh or my back.
Jim: So that's OK.
Lindsey: Or I worked with a 3-year-old who was kissed by their uncle. But yet, that didn't fall in the bathing suit category. And so, you want to take it that your whole body is yours. But you can start with the swimsuit analogy. That's really good, but take it further. Um...
Justin: Well, that - and this is the private parts conversation. So, I mean, this is what we always tell - and people come over to our house for dinner, so we actually have these conversations (unintelligible)...
Jim: These are your dinner conversations.
Justin: Dinner party.
Jim: That's amazing.
Justin: So, people say hey, I got a quick question Can I ask it real quick?
Jim: Well, that's good though.
Jim: Bless them for doing it.
Lindsey: Oh, it's great. We're thrilled.
Justin: So, you said - if you're the young parent, we would say, well, uh, you have to have a conversation with your children about private parts, about, you know, God made all of you, but especially private parts and...
Lindsey: You need to name the private parts.
Justin: Naming the proper names for private parts.
Justin: And there's a whole reason...
John: Medical names.
Justin: ...For that - yeah, the proper name, yeah.
Jim: Now, some can disagree with that, but why is that so critical?
Justin: Well, what you don't want to do is turn their private parts into - giving them just nicknames. And we - we're not saying only use private part - or proper names for private parts all the time like your doctor. But if you only use nicknames, it can turn private parts into playthings.
Justin: And that's what a perpetrator - the purpose is to prevent against a perpetrator...
Justin: ...Because a perpetrator will say, oh, what about this? - and use a playful nickname thing. It also doesn't bestow dignity to everything that God created. I mean, this is my elbow. And, I mean, this is my nose. This is what it is. It's just being matter of fact.
Justin: So it's just not trying to...
Jim: Demystify it.
Justin: Yeah, it demystifies it. And also, because if a child is touched inappropriately, they're going to need to be able to report or say what happened and where just matter of factly. So, it's just for the sake of reporting, police officers and those who are doing an investigation would love it if children knew the proper names. And there are children who have never heard the proper names...
Justin: ...Until they're, like, teenagers, and they got the awkward talk at 15 about, you know, stuff they already knew from, you know, 10 years ago.
Jim: Let me ask you about the, um, suspicion - you know, the parents that think maybe something's different now. Our daughter or our son is more in tune with those private areas than they should be right now. How do you begin to discuss that with your child in such a way that it's productive and that you begin to uncover some impropriety?
Lindsey: Well, I would tell - I mean, I have had some parents that ask me - they say, you know, when they're child's around 5 or 6, you know, they're really curious. And I say, well, on one level, that's healthy sexual development. Like, they are curious about their bodies. Um, they do want to know a lot - they have a lot of baby questions around that age. So, parents can go online and look up what's healthy sexual development. Like, what are certain things that kids at age 5 versus 8 or 10, that they're going to be noticing or aware of? Um, but if a parent starts to notice changes in their child apart from their normal behavior, that might be something where they want to either start asking them, you know, why are you doing these things? Or what's causing this? But hopefully they have a foundation built where they're able to have those conversations. Um...
Jim: But if not, I mean, you don't want to hold back...
Jim: ...As a parent. Even if you haven't done that job, don't...
Lindsey: Of course.
Jim: If something in your gut is telling you there's something off, pursue it. Wouldn't you agree?
Lindsey: I always say follow your gut, for sure.
Lindsey: Never deny that one.
Justin: ...And we're pretty - I mean, when you get the questions, that's a great entryway point to the conversation, in general, of just body parts, God - what God made. So, it's - so their curiosity, you know, puts the question on the table to talk about this. But the other thing that we've done regularly is if the girls have a question, Lindsey will pursue it and say, OK - you know, she'll answer the question. But also, we'll just ask straight up, you know, do you feel comfortable with that person? Do you like it when that babysitter is with you? Do they ever talk to you about stuff that's inappropriate? Have they ever touched you? So, we just ask...
Justin: ...Point blank. That's normal.
Jim: That's what we did, as well.
Justin: That's normal for our kids. And we don't do it every single time. We don't want to instill fear in them to think...
Justin: ...That everyone is a sneaky person, but we want them to be aware that everyone's potentially one.
Jim: It's such a balance. Give us also some tools - and, again, the book is great in this area. You can just read it. If you're uncomfortable, this resource is terrific because it will allow you to simply read it with your child.
Justin: Well, that's actually the purpose. What we did on the book - and we've got - we had - the minor criticism we get is that it's actually a story about a family having the conversation.
Justin: And it's not - it's not...
Jim: Which is brilliant.
Justin: It's not dazzlingly with, like, really neat animals and...
Justin: ...You know, things that would be really - just capture kids' imagination. It's a story about a family doing the conversation. So, you're actually kind of - you're having the conversation with your children...
Jim: But it's an...
Justin: ...While having...
Jim: ...Indirect way to do it which is much more comfortable. That's what I love about it - God Made All of Me. But I want to also encourage, uh, the parents to be on alert and have that vigilance. So, what are some of those things external to the child's behavior? So, we dealt with that. But when you're looking at environment, and you're looking at babysitters, and you're looking at extended family members and all those kinds of things, it sounds horrible that you, as a parent, would even have to have that in the back of your mind. But what are some of those queuing things, again, not related to your child's behavior but just knowing the family or the neighbors well enough? What are some things you can be alert to, that if you're not, could pose danger?
Justin: One for me is if someone cannot pay attention to and respect boundaries that are given. That's a huge red flag for me. So, if you say to the family members hey, like, you know, there's no reason to close the doors. And our girls know when kids come over they don't close the doors. So, if a family member had to - uh, felt that need to violate that basic boundary of shutting the doors, or if the neighbor did that, uh, that would be significant to me of why - we don't need to have the doors shut and we don't need to have secrets. Uh, those are important ones for me.
Lindsey: Well, one scenario I heard from a good friend was, um, her stepfather was trying to isolate the child. Like, will you come down in the basement and play with me? And so, getting the child away from all other family members. And that... where I said that's a huge red flag, um, because there's no reason why they need to be down in the basement playing. Of course, you know, we don't need to walk around with fear for every person, but why can't they play upstairs with everybody? Or you march right on down there, Mom, and you join the group. So anytime they're wanting to isolate a child or, uh, really single out a child with gifts and with toys and treasures to try and win their trust in a different way, I think is a big, big red flag...
Lindsey: ...For sure.
Jim: Lindsey and Justin, let's, uh, end here because, uh, one, we're out of time, unfortunately. But this resource is going to be available. So if you're living this, it's time to pick this up and make sure it's in your toolbox. But as Christian parents particularly, how do we not live in fear, and be able to communicate to our children that we want you to have a full, wonderful life and not be that mom that's so panicked, Lindsey, if I could be that bold?
Jim: You know, Honey, don't go over there. Don't - don't get an ice cream there. Don't do this. Don't talk to that person. I mean, you can over, uh, kind of react to some of this too, right?
Lindsey: Absolutely. I don't want anybody to walk around paranoid, but I feel pretty confident, as we've been building the foundation with our girls, even though they're only 7 and almost 9, that they are going to tell us things. And that we have that level of trust of back and forth conversation that if something, God forbid, happens, we'll address it. And I'll tell them I believe you, and we're going to look at all the options of ways that we can get help. But I feel like we've built a foundation that they feel very empowered about their body. And I feel empowered as the parent, that if I were going to take them to a playdate, or wherever, that I'm going to feel confident to ask who's here? What grown-ups are here? Even going to church, I think there's a lot of ways we assume, as Christians, that things have been taken care of with background checks and who's in charge of our children. But as a parent, I have that right to ask, who's taking my child to the bathroom? And so, on one level, my child is empowered, but I also feel the confidence to speak up and ask, you know, who are they around?
Jim: I appreciate that. Don't be intimidated by protecting your child.
Jim: I mean, that - that sounds simple. But for many parents, that's hard.
Justin: And going back to the, uh, why not to be fearful and paralyzed in fear, uh, one, is that God's plan for how he made bodies was to multiply and have dominion, going back to Genesis. And what was required for that was, uh, marital intimacy, for - to - the very call that God gave Adam and Eve - multiply and have dominion. And the only way you can do that, until evangelism in Matthew 28, is procreation. And so, God makes this, and then it gets distorted by Satan in the fall. And then - but he's about redeeming what's been distorted. And God is and will redeem. It's his creation. He cares more than we do. He cares about our children more than we do. And, uh, the other thing that's just encouraging practically is that, um, the children who are the most protected are the ones that have caregivers who actually empower them. If you do three or four of the basic things that we've talked about, it sets up a guard against it. So, it's not a full proof - it's not a silver bullet that's going to take care of the problem. But one of the best thing you can do is actually have basic lines of communication open...
Justin: ...And the confidence you can have of what that type of protecting your child and equipping them is actually very, very effective. It's one of the most effective things you can actually do.
Jim: Well, I so appreciate this. And, uh, Justin and Lindsey, a great discussion, really. And I'm glad we've kind of, uh, pulled the veil back a bit to talk and equip parents to be able to be comfortable - hopefully more comfortable - in having this discussion. And, again, uh, your book is a great resource for all parents - God Made All of Me. And this is something you need to implement.
And, uh, we have counselors here, too. I'm mindful of the folks, maybe, Justin, like you. And they haven't been able to find the courage yet to say, that was me. And it may be driving some of that fear, and you may be parenting in such a way that isn't as helpful as you think it might be. We're here for you. Uh, there's no embarrassing question. Ask us. We might have some embarrassing answers for you, but we want to be, uh, walking this journey with you no matter where you're at. Um, in fact, what I'd like to do - I've got more questions about older kids. Let's take the conversation online.
And, again, thank you so much for being with us.
Justin: Thank you for the opportunity to be here and talk about such an important, dark subject and shining a light on it.
John: Well, do make sure you listen to that online extra. And meanwhile, get in touch with us and talk to a counselor, get resources, including this terrific children's book God Made All of Me when you call 800-232-6459. 800, the letter "A" and the word FAMILY. Or online, we're at focusonfamily.com/radio. And don't forget, we've got that summary of "9 Ways to Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse" and that discussion about teens at the website, as well.
When you get it touch, please consider making a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family, as your contributions allow us to produce broadcasts, like this, and uh... to bring you the type of meaningful parenting advice that you've asked for. If you've benefitted from our broadcast, please make a donation today.
Jim: And, John, let's do this - uh, as we often do, for a gift of any amount to "Focus on the Family" - or if you can't afford it, that's fine - we'll get a book into your hands. Others, I am confident, will be able to cover the cost of that. So, get in touch with us. We believe in this resource. We think it'll make a difference in your parenting. And, uh, when you make that gift, we'll say thank you by sending a copy to you.
John: And we hope you'll make that contribution today. Well, coming up next time on this broadcast, a woman shares her "aha" moment about marriage and changed her thinking from "me" to "we."
Mrs. Lucille Williams: And I remember looking at these vomited clothes.
Lucille: Clothes with - I'm looking at...
Jim: Yeah. You got it (laughter).
Lucille: ...Clothes with vomit all over them. And they're sitting in the sink, and I'm trying to wash it out. And I stopped. And at 19, I looked down and I thought to myself, "This is marriage."
End of Teaser