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The Time for a Safer World is NOW

I get this question a lot:

“What is the number one thing mothers can do to protect their children from sexual violence?”

People are waking up to how common violence is, particularly towards children, and it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s no wonder this is such a hot topic conversation among mothers.

There’s no simple answer, of course. But here’s what I do know.

When we do the “stranger danger thing” and tell our children not to talk to strangers, we are not giving our kids the tools they need to prevent sexual assault, including the necessary tools for dealing with somebody known to them and who you as a parent may actually really like; somebody you have decided is a good friend, a good neighbor, a good person to have in your life. Because that person isn’t going to behave inappropriately with you.

That somebody can only get to be alone with your child through trust, so they have to build trust with everybody around them. We hear these stories over and over again:

“Everybody liked him.”

“He was going to help me with my career.”

“He seemed so nice.”

Manipulative behavior is all around.

Here’s another problem with stranger danger. If you set a rule for your child and the first thing you do is break it, it’s not going to be an effective rule.

Don’t talk to strangers.

What’s the first thing you do when you walk into a supermarket? You talk to strangers.

You kids see you talking to strangers all the time. So violence prevention education can’t be focused on the stranger. It’s got to be about strange behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable, and about how to respond when somebody doesn’t respect your “I don’t want a hug,” or “I want to be alone.”

Children move through the stages of development so quickly, and every two years, they’re in a completely different place. Think of the difference between a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old. You blink, and suddenly your nine-year-old is ready to cross the street without help. And they deserve the tools to do so safely.

Most nine-year-olds would be insulted if you walked them to the corner store. They want to be able to do it on their own, and rightfully so.

As parents, we teach kids about safety all the time.

I have four girls. I can promise you that none of them have ever tried to blow dry their hair while they’re still in the shower. They’ve learned about electricity - the benefits and the dangers - because I’ve made sure of it.

We teach our children to use knives properly, and they learn that using a knife on a cucumber and using a knife on a pomegranate are two totally different things.

When we teach them to swim, we teach them to be careful without making them afraid to go into the water.

Sadly, for some reason, when it comes to being safe around human beings, we get so hung up on not wanting to make our kids paranoid. But have you listened to the news lately? Do you think our kids aren't hearing that same news?

Once, during a lecture, the first question I got from an audience member was, “Aren’t you just going to make girls afraid of everything?” This question, of course, was from a guy.

My response was, “Wow. I’ve never been asked that question by a woman. We know our lives are scary. We know that from the minute we understand we’re girls, and we grow up knowing we have to be careful. We don’t know where it’s going to come from, this dark scary surprise, but we know it’s going to come. And yet, we don’t want to learn what to do about it.”

So that’s the tough spot.

Life is scary right now. Kids hear all the noise and all the talk.

When #MeToo broke, everybody in my circle went “duh.” We’ve been sharing these stories and “talking the talk” for decades, which very few people listened. I’m glad that they’re listening now, but the message that too many are hearing is that things will never be better.

There’s been so much space for “it happened to me and it was horrific,” which is so important, but there isn't much space for “yeah, it happened to me and I did what I had to do to be safe.”

Those stories don’t get publicized. Which is a pity. Because there are a lot of them. And we would have so many more of them if we changed the way we educated our children.

And that’s been my life long goal.

The honest truth is, I don’t want to wait until my grandsons grow up for there to be a better world.

I want it NOW. I want it for the girls born today, I want it for the girls born five years ago and ten years ago, and twenty years ago.

I want it now. I want it for the girls born today, I want it for the girls born five years ago and ten years ago, and twenty years ago.

I want them to have what they need now to be as safe as they can. And I want the same for the boys.

Because while violence against boys is different, we know the majority of violence is committed by men. That doesn’t mean the majority of men are horrible people (that shouldn’t even have to be said).

The more we rely on media to fill our heads with what we should be afraid of, we’re not getting the whole picture. And as long as we allow the media to fill our heads with what works and what doesn’t, we’re not getting the whole picture.

But we do know that Empowerment Self Defense is the most researched, effective, evidence-based violence prevention protocol that exists.

I promise to work as tirelessly as I can until Empowerment Self Defense training is available to all humans, of all ages, who want and need it.

We all deserve to be safe.

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