What Are ACEs All About?

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Nearly 350 people gathered at the Milliken Auditorium in Traverse City, MI, at the end of April to learn how Adverse Childhood Experiences—otherwise known as ACEs—can eat at the very core of health and well being of both children and adults. A groundbreaking documentary, RESILIENCE: THE BIOLOGY OF STRESS AND THE SCIENCE OF HOPE, reveals research validating that trauma experienced in childhood can have significant, long-term effects on people throughout their lives.

“What the mind may not remember, the body never forgets.”

People who endure Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can suffer a variety of detrimental life outcomes, including:

• Engaging in activity or behavior that can negatively impact health (e.g., smoking, addiction to alcohol or drugs, self-injurious behavior, etc.)

• Encountering physical health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more

• Experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even attempted suicide

• Enduring other negative life situations such as being at higher risk for domestic violence, poor performance at work or school, unintended pregnancies, financial stress and more

The ACE “Score” is a sum total of the different categories of ACE and is used to assess an individual’s level of childhood stress or trauma. Study findings repeatedly reveal that the higher a person’s ACE Score, the more likely that person is to experience one or more detrimental life outcomes (watch video below).

About the ACE Study

The ground-breaking ACE Study was initially conducted from 1995 to 1997 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente surveying and conducting physical exams of over 17,000 health maintenance organization members from Southern California. This study found that ACEs are incredibly common with nearly 2/3 of the study participants reporting they had experienced at least one ACE (and among those, 87% experienced more than one ACE) and more than 1 in 5 reported experiencing 3 or more ACEs.

Three Types of ACEs

The CDC shares an infographic that explains the three (3) different types of ACEs: 1) Abuse; 2) Household Challenges; and 3) Neglect.

Take the ACE quiz.

To understand your ACE score, answer the “yes”/”no” questions below then tally your score… the higher the ACE score, the greater the likelihood of encountering detrimental life outcomes.

So, before you turned 18 years old…

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you? Or, did that adult act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… push, grab, slap or throw something at you? Or, did that adult ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  3. Did an adult person at least 5 years older than you ever… touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or, did that person attempt or actually have oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with you?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  4. Did you often or very often feel that… no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or, did your family NOT look out for each other, feel close to each other or support each other?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  5. Did you often or very often feel that… you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes and had no one to protect you? Or, were your parents too drunk or too high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  7. Was your mother or stepmother: often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped or had something thrown at her? Or, was she sometimes, often or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or hit with something hard? Or, was she ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker, an alcoholic or who used street drugs?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill? Or, did a household member attempt suicide?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  10. Did a household member go to prison?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0

Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to find more extensive ACE questionnaires for men and women that specifically address family health history and a personal health appraisal (see “Study Questionnaires”). Also, visit the CDC’s ACE Infographic to learn more.

What’s Next?

Many of us in the Grand Traverse region are pulling our heads and hearts together to explore ways to address ACEs and help end the cyclical and often generational nature of ACEs…stay tuned for more! In the meantime, there are a host of regional services that can assist…

It’s never too late to seek help.

People come to terms with childhood trauma at different rates and at different times in their lives. Some survivors of childhood trauma are connected with counseling and support soon after trauma occurs… others aren’t able to begin their journeys of healing until much later in life. Regardless of when a trauma survivor begins this journey, it is important to connect with the proper professionals who can best help and counsel the survivor. There are several services here in the Grand Traverse region that can be of assistance—many thanks to the following organizations who participated in the RESILIENCE event in Traverse City on April 29, 2018… connect with them at the links below:

In addition to a host of local resources, here are a few other organizations that may be able to help:

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
1-800-438-6233

National Alliance on Mental Illness
1-800-950-6264

National Center on Elder Abuse
1-800-677-1116

National Child Abuse Hotline: ChildHelp
1-800-422-4453

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs,
National Advocacy for Local LGBT Communities

1-212-714-1141
[links to local programs]

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
1-800-622-2255

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)  [24/7 hotline] 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish)
1-800-799-4889 (TTY)

National Runaway Safeline
1-800-RUN-AWAY (786-2929)

National Sexual Assault Hotline: RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline] 1-877-995-5247
[hosts an online hotline]

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 (TTY)

Teen Line
1-310-855-4673 or text 839863

VictimConnect
National Hotline for Crime Victims
1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Spartan’s Global Day of Service

 

Please help us to make a difference for every child by joining Michigan State University’s alumni, friends, families and students for our Grand Traverse Area Spartans’ annual “Global Day of Service” on Saturday morning, April 21 … by discovering how you may become a Spartan “Team Zero” advocate.

 Register Today! >>

Team Zero is a public awareness and personal engagement campaign of the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, with an ever-growing “team membership” of individuals and organizations from throughout northwest Michigan committed to bringing the rate of child sexual abuse in our region to…zero!

During the morning on Saturday, April 21, Team Zero “Global Day of Service” you will learn about the work of the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, the reality of child sexual abuse in our community, take a “help, hope and healing” tour of the Center’s facilities, and get acquainted to what it means to “join the team” that makes a difference. Together we’ll be introduced to the knowledge and skills that will help keep children safe and secure at home, at school, and in the community.

Just one incident of child sexual abuse is too much. It’s up to us – each of us – to keep children safe. Team Zero is here to help every adult discover how to TALK about sexual health with our children and each other; how to PROTECT children from sexual abuse; and, how to REPORT abuse and suspicious behavior.

Please note:  Volunteer registration closes on 4/20/18 at 12:00am.


7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure

The 7-Steps & Commonly Asked Questions About Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Have you ever taken a moment to consider, “What would I do if a child told me he/she was being abused?” Well, there are helpful ways to respond if a child discloses abuse to you as well as things to avoid. Follow these 7-steps to help protect that child from further abuse and begin the healing process

1) If you are unsure, but suspect a child is being abused, talk with that child in a comfortable setting.  Do not directly ask the child if s/he is being abused, but rather inquire if s/he is worried, if something is bothering the child or if s/he feels unsafe in some way. Keep your questions open-ended… you can ask if something has happened but DO NOT ask the child directly if s/he is being abused. Allow the child to offer that information to you, but do not berate or lead the child to that conclusion. This becomes vitally important in the course of any subsequent investigations that may be conducted by law enforcement.

2) If a child confirms s/he is being abused, do 2 things:

  1. Take a deep breath and remain calm; and
  2. BELIEVE the child! The truth will come out in the end, but this is an IMPORTANT POINT. Tremendous damage can be done to children when they disclose abuse to a trusted party and that person reacts with doubt, suspicion or defiance. This often becomes difficult because most abusers are KNOWN to the child or to the child’s family… only about 10% of sexual predators are strangers.

3) Collect some details from the child, but avoid having him/her share too many specifics with you — that should be explored later, ideally with a trained child forensic interviewer. Do, though, ask the child to tell you:

  1. Who did it?
  2. What happened? (Again, gather general detail, but DO NOT have the child share with you too many specifics. The reason for this is in the event the case goes to trial, you may be called as a witness.)
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. When did it happen?
  5. NOTE: The younger the child, the more difficult it may be to pinpoint some of these details but do the best you can without further traumatizing the child.

4) Make sure the accused perpetrator has NO access to the child! If the accused perpetrator is in the same location as the child (e.g., at home, school, etc.), immediately remove the child from the premises.

5) Immediately contact your local Child Protective Services Department or law enforcement. Ideally, the child would be interviewed about the alleged abuse in a safe, neutral, child-friendly environment, such as the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. Here in Northern Michigan, you can make a report any time, day or night, by calling 1-855-444-3911. You will reach the Centralized Intake Line operated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). A staff member will assist you in making a report.

6) Insist on a “wellness medical exam” for the child. Specially trained doctors and nurses conduct physical exams of children who are alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse in a non-threatening, child-friendly manner and environment. They are uniquely trained to conduct forensic examinations and determine the presence or absence of signs of abuse. These professionals should meet one of three standards:

a.  Child Abuse Pediatrics Sub-board eligibility or certification;

b.  Physicians without board certification or board eligibility in the field of Child Abuse Pediatrics, Advanced Practice Nurses, and Physician Assistants should have a minimum of 16 hours of formal didactic training in the medical evaluation of child sexual abuse; or

c.  SANEs (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) without advanced practitioner training should have a minimum of 40-hours of coursework specific to the CRITERIA – Essential Components National Children’s Alliance • Standards for Accredited Members • 2017 Edition | 315 medical evaluation of child sexual abuse followed by a competency based clinical preceptorship. This means a preceptorship with an experienced provider in a clinical setting where the SANE can demonstrate competency in performing exams.

Work through your local Child Advocacy Center or law enforcement to connect with a specially trained medical professional who meets these standards.

7) Ensure the child has the proper professional follow-up with a victim advocate or therapist. This is essential! Abuse can leave lifelong scars and impact the child’s emotional and psychological development. It’s imperative to ensure s/he has access to the professional support and counseling for as long as the child needs it. At TBCAC, we think this is so important that we offer on-site counseling and therapy services to child victims who visit the Center, as well as to their non-offending family members, at NO COST to them.

Commonly Asked Questions About Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

While it can rattle even the strongest person to the core, responding responsibly when a child discloses abuse is crucial. Common types of reports made to MDHHS include:

  • A caller reports that a child disclosed that they were sexually abused by a family member or acquaintance.
  • A caller reports that there is suspicious behavior on the part of a neighbor where children go to play or spend time.
  • A caller reports that they’ve discovered child pornography on a computer or smartphone. (THIS IS A CRIME and indicates that the person in possession of the images is a predator.)

People put in the position of making a report often have similar questions or reservations, which can include:

Q: “Do I need proof before I call?”

A: No. Most child sexual abuse is not witnessed, and no one expects you to be the investigator. Ask only open-ended questions if and when a child discloses to you such as, “What happened next?” and “Can you tell me more?” without getting into too much detail.

Q: “Can I report my suspicions about someone or about an organization where abuse may be occurring?”

A: Yes. Adults often experience a “gut feeling” that perhaps things are not safe or appropriate when abuse is occurring. It is important to trust that instinct and think about the behavior that caused those feelings in the first place when reporting.

Q: “What happens after I make a report?”

A: Every report is unique and when a report is made, the investigating party determines next steps. In the Grand Traverse Region, child protection and law enforcement have the option of using the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center to assist in the investigation and to provide follow-up services.

Q: “Can I make an anonymous report?”

A: Yes. You may give your name or you don’t have to… The identity of a reporting person is confidential under the law. The alleged perpetrator could possibly infer from the information in the report who made the complaint, however, MDHHS will NOT disclose the identity of a reporting person. The important thing is that when you make the report, whether you choose to remain anonymous or not, you are playing an important role in protecting a child.

The Michigan Child Protection Law mandates that persons who interact with children professionally in Michigan report suspected or possible child sexual abuse to MDHHS. So, if you work in schools, childcare settings, hospitals and healthcare, social work, counseling, law enforcement or with faith-based organizations and you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child or minor with which you have interacted, or have come to learn of an incident through your work, you are mandated to report.

While others who do not directly work with children are not mandated by law to report suspected abuse, both the child in question and possibly other children may need help. I hope that as caring, responsible citizens, each of us would be compelled by virtue of basic humanity to make a report.

You can do it! ♥

Be there for the child, regardless of who the alleged perpetrator is, and absolutely 100% of the time, report alleged or suspected abuse following the steps above. Your action (or inaction) will reinforce with that child whether or not s/he is worthy of protection.

For more information about reporting suspected child abuse, visit our Team Zero website.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Doc Talk: 3 Reasons People Don’t Report Child Abuse

There are three (3) primary reasons people worry about or hesitate reporting suspected or known child abuse to authorities. Dr. Amelia tackles these reasons and worries, and explains why it’s so important to challenge these thoughts in the interest of protecting kids in this issue of “Doc Talk.”


About Dr. Amelia ♥

Amelia Siders, Ph.D., LP, serves as the Clinical Director for TBCAC and has been working in the mental health field since 1994. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Amelia specializes in assessment, treatment, and advocacy for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional, behavioral, trauma, and substance use disorders. She has been trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EDMR, as well as several other trauma-informed interventions including Trauma Incident Reduction. In addition to overseeing counseling and therapeutic services at TBCAC, Dr. Amelia serves as an expert in child abuse prevention and intervention and provides testimony in court cases related to areas such as child abuse disclosure rates, false allegations, statistics, trauma symptoms and even grooming and offender behaviors. Additionally, she offers consultation for prosecutorial teams on psychological assessments conducted on both clients and alleged offenders that may be used in court. She and her team of onsite therapists also help prepare both families and children for the trial process by offering support and education about ways to feel more confident and less anxious when providing testimony. Dr. Amelia became passionate about working with children and families who have been affected by abuse when completing her internship at the Center for Child Protection in San Diego, California. Dr. Amelia lives in Traverse City with her canine companion and beloved TBCAC volunteer, Jeeves.

About Jeeves ♥

Jeeves serves as a loyal volunteer sidekick to Dr. Amelia, providing sweet, loving wags to hundreds of child victims and their caregivers for the past several years. A Havanese, Jeeves has hair instead of fur which helps people visiting the Center who may have allergies. As the TBCAC mascot, Jeeves welcomes any and all opportunities to receive belly rubs and hugs!


Understanding The Three “A’s” of Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Before we can begin protecting our children from sexual predators, it’s important to educate ourselves and understand what factors enable predators to molest children. There are Three A’s that must exist in order for someone to perpetrate sexual abuse…

  1. Access
  2. Alone time
  3. Authority
#1. Access

Makes sense, huh? But what exactly is “access?” Many people think that most children are sexually abused by strangers lurking in dark corners or hiding in bushes. The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family. Given that most predators are people children already know, access can happen virtually anytime.. anywhere. At home. At school. On the playground. On the school bus. At after-school or club activities. At church. You name it.

The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family.

Think about the people in your life who have “access” to your children.

#2. Alone time

Now think about those people you either trust to be alone with your child or who are alone with your child and you don’t know it. As educated and caring parents or caregivers, our challenge is to limit the risk to our children by restricting time children spend alone with other people, both adults and other kids. You can guide how children are supervised in everyday situations at home, at childcare, swimming lessons, play dates, neighborhood play and sports. You have the power to assess risk, ask questions and shape the nature of time a child spends with others. Here are a few tips:

1. Set expectations with caregivers. This can actually be pretty easy! For example, post expectations in your home for babysitters, family members and friends who visit. Expectations can include things like:

  • All members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities.
  • If you do not want to hug or kiss someone hello or goodbye, then you can shake hands instead.
  • We don’t keep secrets.

Ask organizations (day-care, school, clubs, churches, etc.) about their policies and practices regarding one-on-one time with children. TBCAC offers guidance to organizations about how to create these types of policies to protect children through our Stewards of Children child abuse prevention program.

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways…

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways by simply saying things like:

  • “We want Sara to know that she has control over her body and boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent. That way, if someone does have bad intentions, she is able to stand up for herself and immediately tell someone she trusts.” 
  • “When Liam asks you not to hug him, please stop and be respectful. We should always ask before giving any touch. Let’s try it together…‘Liam, may I give you a high-five?’”

2. Teach children what’s “okay”, what’s “NOT okay” and what to do “IF”… having conversations with your child about body safety and body boundaries can and should start EARLY! For more tips about talking with your child about this, see “Four Easy Ways to Teach Body Safety to Kids.

Teach children that if anyone asks to see or touch their private parts, or asks them to see or touch someone else’s private parts, the answer should always be “no” and to immediately find and tell the nearest adult. Create a safety circle that helps children identify at least two trusted adults in each of their networks; this helps them feel safe enough to say “no” and to report.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”. Surprises are supposed to be ‘fun’ things like getting a sibling a birthday gift or surprising someone during the holidays with a visit. Secrets on the other hand should NEVER involve touches to or seeing private body parts – talk with your kids about being sure they tell you if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”.

3. Model the behavior you want your children to see. I can’t emphasize this enough — children truly learn what they live and will act as they are taught to act. Show respect for other people’s body boundaries by doing simple things like asking for permission before giving someone a hug or kiss. Model protective behaviors when your children’s friends come to visit by letting their parents know who is at home and that no one will be spending any alone time with their child at your house. Seemingly simple statements such as this reaffirm with your children that no one should be alone with them either, when they visit other friends’ homes.

#3. Authority

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does. Parents. Step-parents. Boyfriends or girlfriends of parents. Family members including older or physically stronger siblings. Class mates. Friends. Coaches. Teachers. Instructors. Clergy.

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does.

Authority is projected to child victims through threats, promises or requests to keep secrets. When talking with children about staying safe, it’s important for you to be sure they understand that NO ONE, regardless of who that person is, how important that person’s relationship may be to the child, what kind of job that person may have or how big and strong that person is, that it is NOT OKAY for anyone to touch or ask to see a private body part of your child’s. Help your child understand that s/he should come to you if that ever happens… and have your child identify another adult or two s/he would be comfortable telling, as well.

Know that threats are often made to child victims — threats against them, you, their siblings or even their pets. Sadly, threats are often effective ways to keep children silent, as kids want to be brave and protect themselves and people they love. Have open conversations with your child that if anyone makes a threat against them or someone they love, they need to tell you (or one of the safe adults they have identified) right away! The same goes with keeping secrets or receiving excessive gifts or favors (other common tactics of sexual predators).

Educating yourself about The Three A’s of Sexual Abuse is the first step. Carry it forward and teach your children practical ways they can help stay safe, too. And always remember to trust your gut… if something doesn’t feel right, it often isn’t.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Four Easy Ways to Teach Body Safety to Kids

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

A preschool teacher was helping one of her students button her winter coat. As the teacher threaded the buttons through small button holes, the little girl looked up at the teacher and whispered, “My daddy touches my buttons.”

“Oh, that’s nice of him,” the teacher replied as she secured the last button. “I’m glad that he helps you.”

A few months later, it was discovered that the little girl was being sexually abused by her father.  As it turns out, the girl was actually attempting to disclose the abuse to her teacher as she was buttoning her coat. Instead of knowing the proper names of her body parts, the little girl was taught to call her breasts “buttons”. So, when she shared with her teacher that “daddy touches my buttons,” the teacher had no idea the little girl was talking about being molested by her father.

Is this an isolated case? Sadly, no. Far too often parents, in an honest desire to protect their children, are hesitant to teach kids the proper names of their body parts and instead use euphemisms like “naughty”, “no-no”, “Popsicle”, “bumps” or “buttons”… and the list goes on. In fact, there was one case where a little boy was taught to call his penis an “esophagus”.

So, when children use words like these, it’s easy to see how attempted disclosures can be misunderstood. To help protect children from sexual predators, “Body Safety 101” is to teach kids the proper names of their body parts. Doing so actually empowers children to understand and appreciate their bodies… after all, each of us has these body parts and every body part has an important purpose. Teaching kids proper body part names also helps remove the shame or stigma sometimes attached to them.

There are four (4) very easy ways to begin body safety conversations with children that are simple, child-friendly and not scary at all… for you or your child.

1) Get comfortable using proper body part names yourself.

Hey, we come by it honestly… many of us were not taught proper body part names when we were young and were instead told NOT to use those words because they were “dirty” or “wrong”. Let’s dispel that myth right here and now. Practice saying these terms until you are comfortable and can share them with your child — if you treat these words as something silly or embarrassing, so will your child. So get used to saying:

  • Penis
  • Anus
  • Breasts
  • Vagina
  • Vulva

These are all proper terms and body parts each of us has… nothing to be ashamed of or embarassed about.

2) Start early!

Begin using proper body part names with your child from the time they are born! You can start as you change their diapers. There has been plenty of research demonstrating that talking to babies boosts their brain power. Babies as young as six-months begin to understand the words that are being spoken to them. So, start talking right away.

As children grow, other opportunities to use proper body part names happen on a daily basis! Take advantage of bath time or getting dressed to use proper body part names and talk about parts of their bodies that are “private” and “just for them”.

Toddlers are naturally curious and will want to know things like, “Do you have a penis, mom?” or “Does our cat have breasts?” Embrace these questions as opportunities to talk about body parts and their proper names (and functions). These don’t have to be long conversations, but rather address your child’s questions directly in short sound bites.

3) Take advantage of every-day opportunities.

Believe it or not, this is SO easy to do! You can reinforce basic body safety principles in ways that your child won’t even suspect you are teaching them protective behaviors. Here are some simple, every-day things you can do with your child:

Use a washcloth or bath mitt when bathing. Sexual predators will look for opportunities to be alone with children and seek skin-on-skin contact. By teaching kids to use a washcloth or bath mitt when bathing reinforces that these tools are used to help get clean. So, someone using their hands to help a child bathe isn’t the way to do it. If someone else helps your child bathe, you can simply ask your child afterwards, “Hey, what color was the washcloth grandpa used to help you with your bath? If your child shares that no washcloth was used, that’s a sign that you need to follow-up with grandpa to find out why.

Use toilet paper or wipes after going to the bathroom. For the same reasons as above, be sure your kids know it’s important to use something to clean themselves after going potty. It’s also a good time to reinforce that going to the bathroom is a private activity and they should respect other’s privacy when they are doing so. AND, your child should let you know if they see or are asked to watch someone else going to the bathroom. Case in point… one grooming technique used by sexual predators is to walk in on a child using the bathroom or leave a bathroom door open so a child can see the perpetrator as s/he is urinating, defecating or even masterbating. This is done in an effort to desensitize children and groom them for future sexual contact.

Keep lines of communication open. Children who have been sexually abused will often ‘test the waters’ before they disclose abuse. Many are afraid of not being believed or have been made to feel the abuse is all their fault. It is estimated that 70% of sexually abused children DO NOT disclose their abuse for at least one (1) year; another 45% won’t tell anyone about their abuse for five (5) years; and still others never tell. By encouraging and maintaining open communication with kids, you establish an environment in which disclosure would be easier should it ever be necessary. Talk with your kids. Time spent driving kids to and from school, sports or clubs provides an awesome opportunity to find out about their day (…the added bonus is that neither of you have to establish eye contact, which sometimes makes it easier for kids to share). At dinner, go around the table and have everyone share the best and worst things about their day. Bottom line: find opportunities to chat.

4) Model your own behavior.

Children really do live what they learn and will follow your lead. It’s important for you to model healthy behavior in touch, attitude and treatment of your spouse, partner or friend. Ask for permission before giving a touch so that toddlers can learn that permission must be received before touching someone or being touched by someone. And never force a child to hug or kiss someone… instead, offer options such as high-fives or hand shakes and support your child’s decision not to give kisses or hugs.

For additional tips on talking with kids about body safety and sexual abuse prevention, visit our Team Zero website.

Experiences cited in this and other articles on this website have been modified to protect the child victims.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


3rd Annual Zero Tolerance Event

Check out the amazing pictures from our third annual Zero Tolerance event! (Thanks Pete Walters Photography)