Breaking Cultural Norms to Prevent Sexual Abuse | By: Andrea Lovanhill Our world is opening back up. Children are going back to in-person learning, workers are returning to their office buildings, and thankfully, celebrations are no longer just over Zoom. While we continue to live with and navigate the pandemic, there’s a feeling of entering a new chapter. For parents, caregivers, educators, and children alike, this moment serves as an important checkpoint for resetting expectations and reaffirming safety rules as kids enter a less socially distant world. Key among these safety conversations are discussions about body safety and the prevention of sexual abuse. It’s a hard reality to face: child sexual abuse happens. But simple, age-appropriate body safety conversations—with children as young as two years old—can help children recognize and refuse sexual abuse. In addition, experts believe that children who feel comfortable talking with a trusted adult are more likely to disclose abuse if it occurs. The Hot Chocolate Talk® Campaign In recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month this April, and especially in the context of this new phase of the pandemic, Committee for Children is launching our fifth-annual Hot Chocolate Talk campaign. We know parents and caregivers can feel awkward or unsupported in approaching body safety talks with their children. We aim to make these important safety conversations feel as comfortable and easy as a family chat over a mug of hot chocolate. And we hope to spread awareness of the power of informing the next generation about how they can keep themselves safe. The Hot Chocolate Talk campaign provides adults with research-based tools to start age-appropriate conversations about sexual abuse prevention. To equip parents, teachers, and caregivers with the resources they need to have these conversations, we drew on more than four decades of work in the field of child protection to develop our free How-to Guides, which employ research-based strategies to help families build trust and connect with children in everyday moments, and teach simple, age-appropriate body safety rules. As a leader in the early childhood education field, and as a mom myself, I understand that some conversations with kids can feel intimidating. The Hot Chocolate Talk How-to Guides can take the stress out of knowing what to say because they provide you with tips and conversations starters. I remember starting to use the guides with my own children and how I felt nervous, even with my professional expertise in this field. Now, after several years of using the Hot Chocolate Talk resources to guide our conversations about personal safety, my kids and I are very comfortable talking about the topic along with our other family safety rules. I have confidence that my children understand the rules and are more likely to recognize unsafe behavior and talk to me about any interactions that may be worrisome. I’ve been thankful for this playbook, and the Hot Chocolate How-to Guides are right here for you, too. Now More Than Ever The pandemic has led to a harsh reality for some children. With millions engaged in remote learning, and more adults spending time online than ever before, there has been a surge in reports of children experiencing abuse online. In 2020, resources like the National Sexual Assault Hotline experienced record demand, especially from children. Even before the pandemic, children experienced abuse at distressing rates: in the United States, one in four girls and one in 20 boys report experiencing sexual abuse before the age of 18. According to Child USA, silence and stigma continue to be the largest barriers preventing child survivors of abuse from coming forward with their experiences—with most not disclosing their experience until they have grown into adults themselves. As a nonprofit with roots in child protection and with an unwavering dedication to fostering the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development, we find these statistics unacceptable. We encourage educators, families, and all adults with children in their lives to share the Hot Chocolate Talk campaign, so its materials and their personal safety strategies reach as many children as possible. As we emerge from the last two years of social-distancing, it’s especially important to empower children and adults to create comfortable environments that encourage proactive discussions of body safety and reporting of unsafe encounters should they occur. Whether your child is a toddler or a middle schooler, it’s never too late—or too early—to have a Hot Chocolate Talk moment.