'I Said No' Author Shares Tips on Sexual Abuse Prevention Based on Her Son's Story

The very thought of someone molesting a child is terrifying to contemplate. The trauma they could potentially experience at such a young age is something no one wants to address… but if you could trade a lifetime of emotional scars for a few minutes of awkwardness, you would, wouldn’t you?

While we all hope that such a thing couldn’t happen to our kid, TIME magazine recently reporting some chilling statistics: your daughter has a 1 in 4 chance and your son has a 1 in 6 chance of being molested before the age of 18. Gender non-conforming children assigned male at birth are “nearly three times as likely to suffer sexual abuse in childhood in comparison to gender-typical boys” while gender non-conforming children assigned female at birth are “sixty-percent more likely to be abused sexually than conforming girls.” Children with disabilities are three times more likely than children without disabilities to be sexually assaulted.

Books have always been a great way to bridge the gap between parents and children when it comes to educating them on iffy subjects. Where Did I Come From? is an oldie but goodie, and so is Everyone Poops. But those books came out in the 1970s, and kids have become a lot more sophisticated since then.

Kimberly King is an author and child-development professional who tackles tough topics. When Your Parents Divorce is a kid-to-kid guide to dealing with divorce. Her book I Said No! is a best-selling children’s book dealing with sexual-abuse prevention. Kimberly is a mother of three, the youngest being 14 years old. We sat down with the author to ask her about what inspired her to write I Said No! and how we, as parents, can teach our own kids about sexual abuse prevention.

What inspired you to write a book on the subject of sexual abuse for kids?

I wrote the book following a difficult night at a sleepover. I was a military wife with a deployed husband and a three-day old baby who developed a case of jaundice that required we return to the hospital. I left my two older children with our neighbors (who were our best friends) for the night. My children were 5 and 7. This was before cell phones. I was depending on my friends in a pinch.

My son’s friend, who was a year older, started to ask him to do inappropriate things. My son told his mom and asked for help. She ignored him. I guess because he wasn’t specific enough. Eventually my son ended up going to the bathroom because his “friend” wouldn’t leave him alone. He told everyone he had a stomachache and slept in the bathroom.

I came home from the hospital to pick up the kids and my son basically collapsed in my arms. He was trapped, upset, and got no help from his friend’s mom. He told me the whole story and was very confused about the things his friend said. There were threats like “if you don’t do this… I won’t be your friend.” And “all the cool kids do this”.

Once I heard about his night, I was so upset. I blamed myself. We had read all the books touching on sexual abuse that were available at the time. I realized there was a huge piece missing: the real-life kid to kid scenarios that happen. During the days following this event, we talked about other scenarios: What would you do if…What would you say?...What would you do to get away?

Did your own parents talk to you about the issues you’re tackling in your book?

My parents didn't talk to me about it at all when I was little. My mom did the sex talk with me when I was 13, explaining the basics. But, I was also in an inappropriate situation when I was 7 years old. A babysitter tried to trick my sister and me into playing show-and-tell games with private parts. She was an older girl and a friend of the family. My sister and I were really uncomfortable with the game and told her we didn’t want to play anymore. We told my mom, and that babysitter was gone for good.

How do books help broach subjects like these?

It’s difficult to just jump into the topic of sexual abuse for most parents. Books help open up the conversation, explain a very tough subject, and let kids know they’re not alone. Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Books help!

This book was born when my son and I decided to journal about his feelings after the sleepover incident. He was upset for a few weeks following the event. I tried to stress that none of it was his fault and that his friend shouldn’t have done what he did. We started writing. He made journal entries and drew pictures to help him come to terms with what happened.

As a mom of three young children and as a kindergarten teacher, and huge Oprah fan, I had an a-ha moment. I realized these scenarios, his safety plan, what he would say… This could really help other people. I asked him if he wanted to turn it into a book. We did just that. I also asked my son to help me find an illustrator. We browsed illustrator art samples and his favorite was Sue Rama.

Why did you choose to write the book from a child’s point of view?

The child’s perspective just brings the whole topic down to the peer level. It’s coming from a kid who actually lived it. The language is kid-friendly. The tone is gentle and light. We avoided using the words vagina and penis because my son was concerned that those words would just make kids laugh and miss the more important message. So, we decided to use “doctor words” and added talking points to get kids and parents engaged in a conversation. It’s one thing to read a book and leave it. But, we designed our book to be highly interactive for parents and kids. We also added a page at the end of the book for the child to be the author and illustrator and help us finish the book.

What are some signs that parents should look out for if they suspect that there may have been an incident?

Often, there are no warning signs for this type of thing. However, depending on the severity of the event, there can be physical signs. Redness, irritation, bruising, bumps, scabs around the private parts or mouth are cause for concern. Urinary tract infections, discharge, bleeding, pain during urination, abdominal pain, headaches… These can all be signs.

Emotional and behavioral signs or changes are more common and can include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares or night terrors
  • Change in eating habits
  • Unusual fear of certain people or places; reluctance to be alone with a certain person
  • Changes in mood that could including anger, aggressiveness towards parents, siblings, friends, pets
  • Rebellion or withdrawal; runaway behavior
  • Change in attitude towards school or academic performance; lack of interest in friends, sports, or other activities
  • Unexplained or frequent health problems like headaches or stomach aches
  • Poor self-esteem; avoidance of relationships
  • Self-mutilation or a change in body perception, like thinking of self or body as dirty or bad; suicidal thoughts
  • Regression to previously outgrown behaviors, for example bedwetting or thumb sucking
  • Abnormal sexual behaviors or advanced knowledge of sexual language and behaviors
  • Too “perfect” behavior or overly compliant behavior

How can parents best prevent incidents of sexual abuse?

Parents need to prepare themselves and their kids for these types of incidents as you would with any danger: focus on the facts, not the fear. Tips for going about that include:

Minimize the risk. More than 80% of sexual abuse happens in isolation in one-on-one situations. Make sure multiple adults supervise youth at all gatherings. Monitor kids’ usage of internet constantly. Realize that most abusers become friends with the family first before the abuse occurs.

Talk about it. Start an open conversation about normal human development, body parts, and body boundaries. Implement a no secret policy for all things regarding private parts. Teach them how to say ‘no’ and role-play various scenarios. Discuss tactics abusers use. Read books! Take the Darkness to Light training.

Know how to recognize the signs of grooming. Learn them and be on the lookout to keep your kids and other kids safe.

React responsibly. If a child makes a report to you, remember to breathe and take the information in calmly. Offer support. Be an active listener. Tell the child they are brave for telling. If you do ask questions keep them open ended like, “What happened next?” Make sure to report and take action immediately to help the child. Try to be steady and calm.

How do you feel about the term ‘stranger danger’? Is it too broad?

Most sexual abuse of children happens at the hands of somebody the kids actually know. Stranger danger is a bit of a myth. However, with access to the online world, Snapchat, Instagram… strangers become “friends” with a quick click. And then, when children have location settings turned on… that’s a HUGE risk.

Darkness to Light does a good job of laying out the facts:

  • Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
  • 30% of children are abused by family members.
  • As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
  • About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
  • Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.

Stranger-danger is a MYTH. Research shows that the greatest risk to children doesn’t come from strangers, but from friends and family. People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy, seeking out settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools.

We still need to educate kids about overall safety. Always important to stress only talking to strangers when a trusted adult is present.

What’s the best age to start talking to kids about sexual abuse prevention and reading books like “I Said No!”?

The best time to start talking about sexual abuse prevention is early! With that said, it’s never too late to start educating yourself and your kids on this topic.

I would say that potty training generally lends itself well to talking about body parts and start introducing body boundaries and safety. As soon as a child starts to develop language, you can start to teach them the parts of their body. The I Said No! book is perfect for any child over the age of 4. Often with younger children I recommend breaking up the book into smaller segments. There is a note in the preface about how to do that. I am currently working on younger version of I Said No! for the 2-4 age group.

In addition to the book, are there any apps you recommend for older kids who may have phones?

I really don’t recommend children to have cell phones. They’re a common cause of obsession, anxiety and depression. They’re distracting. They interfere with sleep, normal family time, and real life peer interaction at the same time they provide easy access to porn and dangerous people. If I could go back, I would never give my child a cell phone. Unless it was a pure “dumb phone” with the ability to make phone calls and text. But nothing else.

Kids are so tech-savvy. They can hide apps within apps. They can send and receive nude photos of each other, pornography…. on mom’s cell phone plan. (So that you’re technically in possession of child pornography!)

I would recommend all parents check phones randomly and have all passwords. Helpful apps for parents include: Mama Bear, TeenSafe, and Find My Friends. I highly suggest that you keep your kids off the following: Tinder, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Look, Whisper, Ask.fm, Vine, YouTube, VSCO, Voxe, Kik messenger, and Houseparty.

Norton Family Premier has received the best reviews for monitoring and safety in 2018.

The Darkness to Light Stewards of Children Prevention Toolkit is a must have for all parents, teachers, and really anybody who cares for children. It is the most powerful app I have seen! It’s free and it is full of everything you need to know to prevent sexual abuse and react skillfully if it occurs.

Have you discussed sexual abuse with your kids? How did it go? Tell us in the comments below.

Recommended Reading

I Said No! by Zack and Kimberly King

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept

My Body's Mine: A Book on Body Boundaries

If you have a personal story you would like to share, contact us at [email protected]

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