For better child sexual exploitation prevention

By Anne Collier

Child sexual exploitation has long been part of the Internet safety discussion, so here’s a tip for good prevention online and offline: We need to talk with and listen to our children using correct language that’s free of cultural taboos – and keep the communication channels wide-open. “Child-sexual-abuse educators believe teaching and confidently using universally applicable anatomical terms is good prevention,” writes journalist Catherine Buni in the Motherlode column at the New York Times, “one very small piece of a complex puzzle we’re working hard to put together.” Taboos tend to break down the communication that’s vital to child protection, and discussion around human genitalia is buried in three categories of taboo, Buni reports: “fear; illness, death or criminality; and decency and propriety.” For adults, that is. She goes on to write that, “for a healthy young child, the penis or vagina is simply another part of the body, one that looks and feels just as it does, as does an ear, a nose or a kneecap. When adults freight genitalia with negative meaning and shut down communication as a result, the message to children is unhealthy: be quiet, we don’t want to hear it.” That puts kids at risk, Buni cites Seattle-based Committee for Children as finding, because stigmas and avoidance make it harder for them to ask for help. Committee for Children’s “Talking About Touching” curriculum is in 25,000 US elementary schools. Not that there has to be a taboo on euphemisms either. We just “might want to think about why we euphemize,” Buni writes, “and consider teaching both pet and dictionary terms.”

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