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Talk about best kept secrets

Why it’s important to speak to your children about sexual abuse

Talking about sexual abuse with children isn’t easy. Just try interviewing someone at a local school, a law enforcement agency or maybe even a church for an article like this. “Hum-uh-nah-hum-uh-nah,” can I get right back to you?” stammered one high school principle who unwittingly answered the phone without screening his calls.


On one hand, it’s understandable. One wrong word about sexual abuse and children, especially to the media, could flame the fears that surround this incendiary issue and set off a witch hunt. On the other hand, professionals like those quoted in this article maintain that one of the best defenses against sexual abuse can be a child’s ability to speak openly about it.


Information Empowers Children


“Children don’t live in bubbles”, says Robie Harris, author of numerous internationally acclaimed books about bodies and sex and sexual health. Harris thinks children are endlessly curious. They have access to information via radio, television, and increasingly, the Internet. “If they’re going to get information elsewhere, why not provide information that’s accurate, straightforward and not frightening?” she asks.


Previously an educator with New York’s esteemed Bank Street School, Harris spent years researching her books and speaking to experts in many fields about their content. Along with illustrator Michale Emberley, Harris presents information about the body and sexuality clearly and, thanks to two characters–a bird and bee—sometimes even humorously.


There are volumes for children of various ages. It’s not the Stork for kids 4 and up, It’s so Amazing for 7 and up, and It’s Perfectly Normal for children over 10. A brief Google search reveals that Harris’s books are usually applauded for their accuracy and clarity, but not always. Some reviewers maintain she leaves far too little to the imagination.

Your Kids Body Guide from Hudson Valley Parent


Harris’s decision to talk about everything that is age appropriate, including “Okay Touches, Not okay Touches” for younger children and topics like homosexuality, abortion and masturbation for older children, has kept her books out of some schools and tucked out of the reach of curious children, at some of the nation’s libraries as well.


Why didn’t Harris leave out hot-button topics that might make some parents, religious leaders and educators uncomfortable? “Because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing I avoided giving children information they need,” says Harris in the same straight forward manner that characterizes her books.


For example? Harris relates the story of a nine-year-old girl from Delaware who went to the local library with her mother a few years ago. The child found one of Harris’s books displayed down on shelves where children could freely look at them. She asked her mom if she could take one of the books home with her. That night, she brought the book, opened to the “Okay Touches. Not Okay Touches” chapter, to her mother. “This is me,” she said.


Her mother believed her. So did the judge who convicted the child’s father on 62 counts of sexual abuse. The judge said there were two heroes to the story—the book and the child. Harris says there were two more—the librarian who believed in making information accessible and the mother who listened and trusted her child and then took action.


Gloria is a local writer who frequently focuses on health issues. She is the author of The Undercover Kids ( Even though her children are now adults, she never stops being their mom.