Focus on Family: Educating your kids on the dangers of summer camp

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Erin Walton, executive director


Metro Chicago’s largest rape crisis center, dedicates itself to the healing and

empowerment of sexual violence survivors and education to prevent sexual violence.

Today, Resilience trains and provides more than 230 volunteers who immediately go to one of 17

hospital ERs to help rape victims. Resilience also provides crisis intervention, medical and legal advocacy, and trauma therapy services.

Satellite offices:

 Austin (1909 W. Division) and  Northside (1945 W. Wilson) neighborhoods

Stroger Hospital (1901 W. Harrison, Rm 1699)

Chicago Police Department Area North Detective Division (2452 W. Belmont)

YWCA RISE Children’s Center (820 W. Jackson, Suite 550).

Our main office is at 180 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 660


How can I start a conversation about sexual abuse?

Create an environment where your child can talk to you about sex and sexual violence. If your children perceive these topics are considered shameful, they will hide information. Don’t hush or ignore their questions. Talking about boundaries, consent and appropriate touches is a good place for all parents to start.

What should my child know about sexual violence?

In 90 percent of sexual assaults, children know their perpetrator.  Shift your focus from “stranger danger” to talking about appropriate and inappropriate adult behavior.

Encourage your children to realize they are in charge of their own body…One early message it to let the child decide if they want to give someone a hug.

You should also teach your children the proper, scientific names for their genitals by the time they are in kindergarten. This demystifies the private parts and gives kids the vocabulary they need to report abuse if they experience it.

Do I really need to have these conversations?  It is so hard!

YES!  One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. It is important that young children understand boundaries. The goal is to inform them, not to scare them.

You can also talk with middle and high school kids about consent, healthy boundaries and safe dating. Open lines of communication between parents and kids help them see you as a source of information.

 How can I define inappropriate behavior for my child?

Essentially, if an adult’s behavior makes your child uncomfortable, they should always let you know.  You can help by defining where an adult may and may not touch your child.  Other warning signs may include inappropriate jokes or stories, an adult who tries to separate them from other people and spend time with your child alone, or behaviors like excessive tickling that your child does not like.

What should parents ask the camp administration about policies to prevent sexual assault or abuse?

Even if your kids already are at camp or heading there this week, you still can call camp directors to ask about how the camp screens their employees. All employees, not just counselors, should be have national background checks on file.

Ask about the camp’s policies in place that require counselors and others to work in teams. There is no circumstance when a staff member should be left alone with a child. Camps also need policies in place so that campers know what to do if they feel unsafe.

Additionally, employees must be trained how to follow an established procedure to report problems immediately.

On a broader note, what can I do as a parent to change the culture that allows sexual violence to thrive?

Encourage your children to honor their own sense of self regardless of society’s gender expectations. To show respect that everyone has the right to express their gender and sexual preference in any way that they choose.

Model kindness, empathy and acceptance. Never use derogatory language or tell sexist jokes.

 What does Resilience do to educate children about sexual assault prevention?

Resilience annually conducts training programs for close to 18,000 CPS kindergarten through high school students. Its future-focused effort aims to protect children and teens by changing the culture that surrounds sexual violence. These experts also provide practical advice for students, their teachers and parents that can apply to any situation.

Does this mean that I shouldn’t send my child to camp?

Absolutely not. Millions of kids enjoy wonderful camp experiences!  Resilience is about empowering children and adults to live without fear.

Our programs seek to change the culture that allows sexual violence.  Part of that includes open and honest conversations. Sexual violence thrives with shame and secrecy, the more that you break down those barriers, the more your child can enjoy their own adventures.

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