Parents Have To Know: We’re Against “No, Run, Tell!” And Here’s Why!

October 7, 2017
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When ‘stranger danger’ awareness became popular, the concept of teaching children to shout “no!” run away, and tell someone was the mantra for prevention advocates.

Parents Have To Know: We’re Against “No, Run, Tell!” And Here’s Why!

Naturally, many children, but not all, feel some hesitation with strangers and teaching them to not accept candy, toys, or to go anywhere with a stranger is certainly a good idea. So why doesn’t it necessarily work to help protect kids from sexual abuse?

1. Most sexual abuse is not perpetrated by strangers.
As much as 90-95% of abuse is perpetrated by a person known and trusted by the child and family – parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, family friends, childcare providers, coaches, teachers, etc.

Sexual abuse is not often committed in a shocking manner, it’s often done through a patient ‘grooming’ method – that seduces or blackmails the child into submission. Offenders use the naivete of children and their own power of authority, feigned friendship, and other tactics to make sure the child does not resist but feels powerless or that they enjoy the sexual contact.

Some people call these ‘bad touches’ but sexual stimulation does feel good to the body which confuses children and abusers use this to their advantage. (FYI, we call sexual touching ‘inappropriate’ and promote educating children that such touching can and does feel good to the body so they can better understand what is going on, but that it’s not right for others to touch or watch them touch themselves.)

2. It’s Not A Natural Response
With that knowledge on offenders, can we really expect a child to should no to their father, teacher, priest, etc? The child has likely spent months if not their whole life knowing this person as a someone they should respect, someone that is supposed to protect them.

It may have begun when they were very young and didn’t even know it was wrong. It’s not rational to expect a child to suddenly have the courage to start shouting no at someone they know, especially when they are made to feel the abuse is something they are choosing to do and are a ‘consenting’ party and therefore responsible and to blame.

There are way too many psychological factors at play to assume a child would be able to yell no, run away, and tell someone right away.

3. It Puts Undue Responsibility on The Child
Preventing sexual abuse is never a child’s responsibility. A child that is taught they must say no and get away but doesn’t, may feel they are to blame and ashamed for what happened. They may fear telling someone because they will have to face admitting their ‘fault’.

Especially if the abuse was continual, the child may prefer to endure it and never tell, than face the pain of talking about it and the fear of talking to the authorities, not being believed or being blamed, which sadly many are when they do disclose.

Preventing sexual abuse of children is our responsibility as adults, but to be clear, that doesn’t make it our fault. The blame has been and will always be on the offender. However, that being said, with as much as 40% of sexual abuse being perpetrated by juveniles – many as they just begin puberty, we also have a responsibility to promote proper sexual behaviors with our children as well. Preventing abuse doesn’t just mean protecting our children from being abused – it also means doing what we can to educate and guide them so they do not abuse others.

4. It Doesn’t Even Work With Adults
Survivors of sexual assault are working very hard to educate the public to understand that rape doesn’t need to involve a physical struggle or threats of violence. Since much adult sexual abuse is also often committed by someone the victim knows, there is a level of shock and confusion that often takes over.

As a protective instinct, the body’s reaction to a surge of “stress chemicals” is to freeze, allow the abuse to continue out of fear that something worse may happen. Police recommend that a person being robbed not fight and surrender their valuables, yet those who are threatened with rape are often labeled responsible for not resisting ‘enough’. Advocates in the world of adult sexual assault understand that expecting a victim to fight, scream, run etc. are not scientifically supported, so how could we expect this from children?

5. It Could Make Adults Feel Less Responsible
Any form of education to empower children against sexual abuse against children that doesn’t involve adults as well, is not comprehensive. While sexual abuse prevention education in schools is a necessary and welcomed component to fighting this silent epidemic, no adult should feel confident that their child alone is capable of protecting themselves because they’ve had a lesson in body safety.

There is so much that we adults need to know and do to identify warning signs, minimize opportunity, and build a network of adults that know and support body safety for children. We buckle our children in the car as a protective measure, but we are the ones behind the wheel, driving defensively, looking ahead and behind. Teaching a child tactics to get away from a dangerous situation should be considered a last resort – which we would be thrilled if it does work, but assume that it would not and prepare accordingly. Do we want our child’s body safety education put to the test, or would we rather do our best to avoid that from happening in the first place? There is a lot we can do to keep our children safe so they don’t have to try to do it on their own. Effective abuse prevention requires a change in our culture – from the way we parent to how policies are created and enforced in schools and youth serving organizations.

So what can we teach instead?

Well, first off we don’t have to take “no, run, yell” off the table. But instead, let’s make it an option, not a requirement. Yes, children can yell, kick, and run away – even from someone they’ve been taught to respect, like a grandparent or coach. But they can do other things, too. They can make up an excuse to get away, like they need to go the bathroom. And if they can’t get away, that is OK. It is OK to not get away because it’s not the child’s responsibility to get away.

It’s not their fault if they can’t get away. That must be taught, arguably, more than how to get away, because realistically they probably won’t be able to get away, not matter how much they’re taught to resist.

Do they have to tell someone right away? No. Do we want them to tell? Yes, absolutely. But even if they don’t tell right away it’s OK. We have to realize that sexual abuse is very confusing, there is a level of shock that the body experiences as the brain is trying to figure out what exactly happened and why.

There are many reasons why a person who has been sexually abused doesn’t tell right away. Even some that people don’t think of at first – a parent has threatened to harm anyone that touches their child, the child may fear that their parent will get into trouble. If the offender is in a position of financially supporting the family, the child may fear the consequences for the entire family if they tell.

There are a myriad of reasons, which is why we need to work to create an environment that supports disclosure by being educated and aware of the complexities involved with sexual abuse. Putting child safety first means accepting the responsibility to protect and empower children appropriately, and being prepared to be their first line of defense.

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