Stranger Danger: A Parent’s Perspective

This week's blog entry is from Committee for Children staff member and parent Allison Schumacher.

Allison SchumacherLike most parents, my mind runs away like a frightened animal at the idea of my child being sexually abused. This fear is doubled by the thought of her abuser being someone she knows and perhaps even loves.

But thanks to my work here at Committee for Children, I've learned a lot more about sexual abuse prevention than I might have otherwise.  I know, for example, that personal safety skills can (and should) be taught just like academic skills, and that children are developmentally able to absorb these skills as early as preschool.

A recent story on Oprah included the statistic that a whopping 90 precent of sexual abuse victims know their abuser. That means that if my daughter were taught to be assertive and say “no” to inappropriate behavior from an uncle or favorite babysitter, she would have a much better chance of fending off a would-be molester than if she were on the lookout for shady strangers lurking in alleyways.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks—educators, even—who still subscribe to the “stranger danger” school of prevention education. For example, last week my husband and I went to look at a preschool we were hoping our daughter might attend. The very nice young teacher chatted amiably about their different learning stations and her philosophy on everything from literacy to nap times.

“How do you teach personal safety?” I asked. “Um, well, I tell them about bike helmets and seatbelts and stuff…and then I tell them a little about stranger danger,” she said. I pressed, “But what about saying no and reporting?” Her eyes shifted to the side. “Well…y’know, I’ve tried that once or twice, but it kind of flies over their heads, so I just skip over that stuff now.”

But “that stuff” is among the most important skills a child can use to protect him- or herself from sexual assault. As I gazed at my daughter, blithely flipping the pages of a book in the reading nook, I realized with disappointment that I cannot possibly allow her to attend a school that wouldn’t arm her with the very knowledge she needs to be safe—from a stranger or from someone she knows and trusts.

Keep an eye out for next week's blog entry, by Program Development and Research Director Sherry Burke.