What to do, if? – Red Cap Must Cry

What to do, if?

What are the forms of sexualized violence? By what signs can I recognize it?

The better we understand what sexualized violence is and what forms it can take, the more likely we will be able to recognize it and respond accordingly. It is important to understand that sexualized violence is not only about sexual intercourse without your consent, but also about coercion, manipulation, touching and sextortion. Conventionally, sexualized violence can be divided into two groups: – physical sexualized violence: includes forced sexual acts without your consent, sexual harassment, forced kissing, touching the private parts of the body – that is, any behavior that violates your body boundaries; – psychological sexualized violence: this is a form of violence that is based on humiliation, intimidation, threats and manipulation. For example, requests to show the intimate parts of the body, the imposition of conversations about sex, threats, coercion to participate in sexual acts against the will.

How can I protect myself from sexualized violence?

It is important to approach this issue comprehensively. Increasing knowledge about sexual education and safety, forms of sexualized violence, warning signs and consequences can be key goals here. The next step is to develop the ability to defend your boundaries and communicate feelings, the skill of refusing if you disagree with something, as well as finding a significant adult who can answer your questions and support. This may be a parent or other family member, a teacher or a psychologist. Know that you are not alone and you can always ask for help. The more confident and stable you are in the present, the more difficult it is to manipulate you.

How to learn to protect your boundaries?

We can suggest doing the following exercise: Take a piece of paper and a pen (or rather, start a diary) and try to write down what personal boundaries mean to you, how you set them, how you understand the boundaries of other people. Take time to introspect and define your physical, emotional, and psychological boundaries. Go back to your notes from time to time and add to them. You can discuss what is written with a person you trust, find out how it works for them. Learn self-confidence techniques, such as using “I-messages” to express your opinion in the first person. Start the practice with small situations where you are offered something that you do not want to do, or state your point of view if you do not agree with something. Build self-esteem and self-confidence and remember that you are valuable only because you are. You have the right to speak up and be heard.

How to support a friend who has become a victim of sexualized violence?

It may happen that your friend will share with you their story of sexualized violence. What to do and how to carefully support a close one? In this difficult situation, be prepared to patiently listen to your friend. Pay attention to their feelings, do not judge and refrain from giving advice unless they ask. The main thing is to let them know that they can rely on your support. Remember that each person processes traumatic events differently and at their own pace. Offer to seek professional help or tell an adult they trust about the incident. If there is no such person, you can call the helpline or contact law enforcement agencies – it is important not to isolate oneself, because this will further increase the tension. Think together whom you can trust and ask how you can help.

If I experienced an episode of sexualized violence from a family member? What to do?

Firstly, we would like to support you and say that what happened to you is not normal and it is not your fault. You do not deserve it and are not responsible for the actions of another person. When a close person violates your boundaries in this way, the whole world and trust in someone fall apart. You may feel scary and ashamed, you may think you will not be believed. Any emotions and experiences are appropriate here. What to do? First, keep yourself safe and think about which adult you could turn to? Who do you trust? Any of relatives or teachers? You can state what happened to you and not keep it a “secret”, even if the abuser asked you to, manipulating that it would only get worse. You can also call the helpline or contact social services. This step, although the most difficult, is worth it in order to stop the violence. If you have the opportunity, try to document what happened – write down the details and circumstances of the incident, take photos with visible injuries or make screenshots of correspondence. Any evidence may be useful in future proceedings. Seek help from a professional psychologist or ask an adult to find one for you. A specialist will be by your side in living through what happened and will help you overcome the consequences and recover. Remember that you are not alone and there are people who are ready to help you – give them the opportunity to do this.

I think that time will pass and I will forget about this unpleasant episode, I don’t want to tell anyone and spoil the mood ...

The desire to forget an unpleasant episode as soon as possible and not to talk about it is a normal defensive reaction of the psyche to a critical event. However, it is important to understand that after a traumatic episode, one need time and support to recover. Here are a few thoughts that might support you: – instead of trying to forget, give yourself permission and time to acknowledge your emotions and experiences, the very fact of violence. It is important to give yourself space to notice how this event affects you. – realize that your well-being and experiences are important, even if the offender tries to say otherwise – this is manipulation to use you. This is their purpose, and the most dangerous consequence is to convince you that your feelings and thoughts do not matter, as well as the value of your intimate boundaries. – don’t be afraid to ask for support. Talk to a trusted adult who can provide you with emotional support. It can be healing and help you deal with trauma. Remember that you are not alone in this process and there are people who are ready to support you. The recovery process can be long, but with support, step by step, you will be able to deal with this trauma and move forward.

What is psychological assistance in dealing with the consequences of sexualized violence?

Psychological assistance in dealing with the consequences of sexualized violence is a process that helps a person to cope with traumatic experiences, express feelings and recover. One of the main goals is to return a sense of self-importance and the integrity of the picture of the world, the body and psychological image of oneself. During the course of therapy, the specialist will be a supportive and helpful figure. In a safe and nonjudgmental space, you will be able to express your emotions, including fear, guilt, and helplessness, and you will explore thoughts and beliefs about what happened. Therapeutic techniques will help process and integrate traumatic experiences, restore self-esteem, and develop self-protection strategies. Each case is unique, so the approach to psychological care will vary according to individual needs and resources. It is important to find a qualified professional who works with the aftermath of sexualized violence in order to receive the support and guidance needed to recover.

What are personal boundaries and what may they be?

Personal boundaries help us define what is important to us, tell us who we are, and also help us build comfortable relationships. Knowing your boundaries means being aware of your values, beliefs, physical and psychological limits. If our boundaries are violated, we may feel angry, fearful, and unsafe. It is important to learn to notice and respond to your experiences, to trust yourself and not ignore discomfort.  This will help you understand that something is wrong and act.

Physical boundaries include the need for personal space, the right to decide what kind of touching, what distance is comfortable for us. This also includes the need for rest and restoration of the body. Psychological boundaries are associated with attention to the feelings and needs, both of your own and of others. With an understanding of what is important to you in a relationship, what you are ready to accept and what not. A conversation about rules and the consequences of breaking them is a conversation about boundaries.

What can you do to better understand your boundaries? Try to answer your questions in writing: what makes me uncomfortable? What do I perceive as danger? What or who gives me energy and what takes it away? How do I let people know my boundaries? How do I feel about this? You can add your own self-exploration questions to this list. You can discuss the answers with a loved one, noticing similarities and differences.

What is self-harm and what is behind it?

Self-harm – causing harm to oneself, which helps to express emotions and cope with severe stress. Often this is aggression that does not find a way out and is directed towards oneself. The reasons for self-harm in people can be varied and often relate to psychological and emotional factors. For example:

– emotional pain and stress: self-harm as a way to cope with intense emotional pain or negative feelings such as sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness. The physical sensation of pain can help distract from psychological pain;

– desire for control: some people may resort to self-harm in order to regain a sense of control over their body and emotions, over the situation in life;

– self-harm as an attempt to free yourself from internal tension;

– desire to get attention: some people may resort to self-harm to get the attention of loved ones or to express their emotions when they find it difficult to do so with words.

What can help you get rid of self-harm?

It is important to understand what need and feeling is behind this way of regulating emotions. The next step is to think about how this need can be fulfilled differently. The sure way is to start looking for new ways to express your emotions. For example, write down your experiences in a diary, put together a collage that reflects your state, draw your emotional state, crumple it and throw it away. It is important to find what brings relief to your emotions.

If you have a strong desire to harm yourself, you can direct these forces to play sports, run or any other physical activity. You can redirect your attention to what helps you relax – listening to music you like, playing with animals, massaging your neck.

What else you can do: learn to redirect your attention, allow yourself to relax and take care of yourself (warm shower, tea, reading), yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, dancing. It is also important to learn to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself.  Talk to yourself as you would to your best friend. Write a letter to yourself. Describe pleasant moments in it as well as people who care about you. Read this letter when things get tough to remind yourself that things change.

It can also be supportive to build close relationships and connections, a sense of belonging to a group. You can sign up for classes based on interests, interesting extracurricular activities – it is important to have a company where you feel relaxed.

What is emotional regulation and why is it important?

Emotional regulation is the skill of managing your emotions, expressing them appropriately to the situation, and also using them effectively to build relationships (including with yourself). It is a process that involves recognizing your emotions, understanding why they occur, and finding ways to express and control them.

What can you do to develop this skill? Get into the habit of paying attention to the body, experiences, thoughts, and behavioural reactions that follow the emotion. After all, it often happens that we react to something not because there is a feeling, but because some of our beliefs have manifested themselves in response. You can start keeping a diary or a Telegram channel that will be dedicated to your inner world. This could be a stream of thoughts, it could be a table where you analyze what happened (a description of the pros and cons of the situation, what it gave and what it took away, the impact on you, etc.), it could also contain your illustrations and collages. 

We learn to regulate emotions and resilience not only during times of stress, but also in a calm state. For example, we can learn meditation and monitor breathing. You can make this a habit before bed. This is how we learn to resist stress. This does not mean that we do not react to stress – it is just natural. It’s about how effectively we can recover.

What is nonviolent communication?

Nonviolent communication (NVC) is an approach to communication that relies on mutual understanding and cooperation. In conflict situations, emotions often take over, criticism and hasty conclusions may appear, which only aggravates the situation. NVC’s goal is for people to hear and notice each other. What components does the practice of such communication consist of?

Observation. Describe a specific fact that makes you uncomfortable. What is important here is specificity, not assessment and interpretation. For example: “You are raising your voice at me.”

 

Feelings. This is our emotional reaction to an observation, to a fact. It is not a thought, an argument or a conclusion, but a description of what happens to us in response to a person’s action. “When you raise your voice at me, I feel afraid of you.”

 

Needs. These are the values, what is important to us and what we lack. Why is it important to talk about this? Because the other party may have absolutely no idea about it, and this in turn prevents the building of a reliable relationship. Needs can be varied (support, attention, safety, empathy, relaxation, etc.) and when you formulate it, answer yourself the question: “What exactly is important for me in this situation and what was affected?”  “When you raise your voice at me, I feel afraid of you. I need to feel safe around you in order to trust.”

 

Request. It must be described specifically and clearly. At this point, you indicate how the need above can be satisfied. It is important to clarify here, because often common phrases can be filled with very different meanings. The need for attention may be messages throughout the day for some, or gifts for others. “When you raise your voice at me, I feel afraid of you. I need to feel safe around you in order to trust. I would like to ask you not to yell at me, and I would like to be friends with you. Without this, it will be difficult for me to do this.”

Give your interlocutor the opportunity to express their opinion about the situation.  Sometimes our hasty conclusions are due to the fact that we do not know something about a person. NVC practice can be used as a tool for understanding yourself and loved ones.

I decided to talk about the violence that happened - how can I prepare myself?

This decision may not have been easy for you and may have caused you different feelings – from fear to relief. It is important to notice them and talk about them as well – this will help relieve tension. Reporting the violence that occurred is the first step in preventing its consequences. Below are several points that may be of support.

Decide how you want to share. To whom, in how much detail, where would you like to do this? You have the right to tell exactly as much as is comfortable for you. You can rehearse the story in advance.

 

Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. While telling another story, you can temporarily immerse yourself in the past and those emotions that can cause a response in the present. Remember breathing techniques, grounding, relaxation – those techniques that help you.

 

Be prepared that the reaction may vary. And this is natural. Everyone needs time to process any story or situation. It could be shock, regret, or a desire to help. Before or after the story, you can tell the person about your needs and expectations, make it clear how he/she can support you and what to do (be quiet with you, find a psychologist together, call the police).

Take care of yourself after the story.  Rest, breathe – do what self-care means to you. You have done a great job and a bold move.

Why do children keep silent about sexualiized violence that has happened to them?

They do this for several reasons, but in general it is important to understand that sexualized violence becomes a traumatic event for a child, which affects almost all areas of their life. Here are the key points why the child does not talk about what happened: – feelings associated with the event: children at this moment experience strong and sometimes conflicting emotions – there will also be fear of punishment or the fact that they will not be believed; and guilt for what happened; shame, loneliness, betrayal, confusion, tension; – manipulation by the aggressor: often the person who commits sexualized violence manipulates the child, taking advantage of their vulnerability and ignorance, using the phrases, “No one will believe you anyway!”, “We must keep this a secret, you love me and won’t tell anyone, right?”; – ignorance: children may not understand that something bad is happening to them if, on the one hand, they have never heard about various forms of sexualized violence and, on the other, they are convinced that “what is happening is normal”.

What could be the consequences of sexualized violence for a child?

The consequences of violence will depend on many factors, but primarily on whether the episodes were multiple or single, and whether it happened in the family or outside it. According to statistics, violence against a child is more often committed by a friend or relative of them, which can further aggravate the consequences and undermine trust. The following main areas of impact can be identified: – problems with the regulation of emotions and feelings, for example, uncontrollable outbursts of anger; – instability or unpredictability in building relationships with other people; – damage to the Self-image, the picture of the world and the system of values – the child questions everything that they believed in before, the accumulated supports are lost and the integrity of oneself is lost; – behavioral problems: in order to cope with stress and tension, the child may begin to use psychoactive substances, violate the boundaries of others, or vice versa go into isolation and self-aggression.

How else can I understand that the child has experienced sexualized violence?

Most likely, the first reaction to what you hear will be shock, aggression and confusion, the desire to immediately punish the abuser, the desire to emotionally respond to the situation. Be careful – try to adjust the intensity of the expressed emotions (if you demonstrate deep horror, the child will go deeper into their fear and powerlessness). It is at this moment that the child needs support and confidence in you as an adult, reliable and stable, ready to take responsibility. Important: here we are talking about regulation, but not suppression of emotions – notice them, speak them out, find the space where you can express them safely. First and foremost, create a safe emotional and physical space for the child. Second, it is important to find out as much information about what has happened as possible, don’t push the child in order to retrieve the information, third talk about the next steps you are going to take – it will help to reduce anxiety and help to build resilience both in the child and you. to support the child, to be with them and not to extort, to wait as long as it takes. Tell about your next steps (informing law enforcement, public health) and the near future – this will reduce anxiety and give resilience to both the child and you.

What should I do if my child told me about an episode of sexualized violence?

Most likely, the first reaction to what you hear will be shock, aggression and confusion, the desire to immediately punish the abuser, the desire to emotionally respond to the situation. Be careful – try to adjust the intensity of the expressed emotions (if you demonstrate deep horror, the child will go deeper into their fear and powerlessness). It is at this moment that the child needs support and confidence in you as an adult, reliable and stable, ready to take responsibility. Important: here we are talking about regulation, but not suppression of emotions – notice them, speak them out, find the space where you can express them safely. First and foremost, create a safe emotional and physical space for the child. Second, it is important to find out as much information about what has happened as possible, don’t push the child in order to retrieve the information, third talk about the next steps you are going to take – it will help to reduce anxiety and help to build resilience both in the child and you. to support the child, to be with them and not to extort, to wait as long as it takes. Tell about your next steps (informing law enforcement, public health) and the near future – this

I noticed bruises on my child's thighs, closer to the genitals. What's the right way to ask what happened?

Even before the question, it is important to notice your emotions and thoughts, not to allow the imagination to spin anxiety and build scenarios that are not based on facts. Be honest and gentle with the child, use a calm and emotionally stable tone. Choose a familiar comfortable place, ask a direct but attentive question, “I would like to talk to you, do you have time? I noticed bruises on your body, can you tell me what happened? I’m here to help and support you.” Listen to the child carefully and without judgment, indicate that you believe them. Based on their response, if violent acts did occur, inform them of your next steps. The next step is contact with doctors and law enforcement agencies, psychologists. It is important to show your child that you are on their side, you will protect them.

Is it normal to discuss the topic of sex with a child and how?

Yes, it is necessary and important to talk about sexuality and safity. This should not be one conversation, but rather a series of conversations according to the age and maturity of the child. In conversation, try to be simple and understandable, call a spade a spade, notice your feelings. For example, if you talk about the genitals, but at the same time feel ashamed and embarrassed, the child will also perceive this as something shameful. It is important not to make this topic a taboo – primarily for the safety of the child. The main purpose of the conversations is sexual education, explaining the importance of respecting boundaries and the concept of full consent in sex, the right to say “no”; an important block will also be a discussion of topics related to sexualized violence and security: what it is and what its manifestations can be, how to respond and how to protect yourself.

How can I keep my child safe from sexualized harassment?

It is important to understand that even if you are a very good parent, you cannot control everything, in particular what will happen to the child in the future. The best thing that can be done now is to develop relationships and deepen trust between you, to minimize risks through informing about forms of sexualized violence, and responding to them. Tell your child about the body and boundaries, explain the “underwear” rule: explain that what underwear covers is their private parts that can only be seen or touched with their permission, say that behavior when someone tries to touch them, asks to show or take off their clothes – it is unacceptable and they should immediately signal this to the offender, as well as to a significant adult person. Tell your child about good and bad secrets, indicating that secrets related to their body, security breaches, manipulation are bad secrets and should be shared with close ones. Develop and talk to your child about a clear action plan for suspicious behavior.

What else is important for me as a parent to know?

Remember that for the child it is important not only what you say, but also how you say it, with what emotions. You cannot control the future, but you can act in the present. Develop your relationship with your child, be open and available to them, support them in difficult moments, create a safe space where they can talk about their concerns. Pay attention not only to parent-child relationships, but also to partnerships, because they also affect the child. The warm climate in the family helps to feel safe, accepted and important. Demonstrate (not just talk) what it means to set boundaries, talk about experiences, care and respect. Get the help of experts. If you have the reason to believe that the child may be a victim of sexualized violence, seek advice from the social services, share your feelings with someone you trust. It is important to remember that you also need support, it is important to ask for it.

What are the characteristics of adolescence?

The classic teenage age was considered from about 10 to 18 years old, but now there is more and more talk about its increase up to 26. Why? Recent evidence confirms that the human brain is fully formed around age 30. It is because of this that children may exhibit impulsive behaviour, not always resort to critical thinking or react violently – this happens precisely because the brain structures responsible for these functions are still being formed.

What’s the main thing here? At this age, puberty occurs, the body changes, the picture of the world changes, the figures of parents fade into the background, and the peer group becomes the main authority. One of the main tasks here is the formation of identity. In dynamically occurring changes, the child tries to answer the question “Who am I?” Rebellion, charm and disappointment, trying different things come to the rescue.

What should I do as a parent? 

Accompany, accept and support the child along this path. Often behind his/her strong emotions there is a request for help. For example, behind the phrase: “I don’t love you anymore,” there may be “It’s very difficult for me now, stay with me.” Let him/her know that you remain a reliable adult despite any comments. Observe and respect his/her boundaries and desires – it is their right, including the right to make mistakes. Notice the adult in your child and support that.

Take a step forward, no matter how difficult it is. Yes, teenagers can be quite harsh with their words. But by doing so, firstly, you show your child that you accept and love him/her. Secondly, you show how conflict can be resolved constructively. If your child says mean things to you, don’t hesitate to express your feelings. For example: “You know, I was offended to hear that.” Allow him/her to come to a conclusion and understand the experience by mirroring what you notice. For example, instead of “why are you behaving this way?”, say: “I feel like you don’t like something, that you’re angry. Is that true?”

If you encounter a violation of pre-agreed rules, let your teenager feel the consequences. Explain the possible solutions clearly and precisely, then give him/her the opportunity to choose what will be more acceptable to him/her. In this way, he/she learns to take responsibility for their actions.

What to talk about with a teenager in the context of psycho-sexual education?

It is important that conversations about the body, maturation and intimacy are an ongoing practice rather than an exceptional event – this will take the pressure off these topics and let the child know that discussing intimate issues is not shameful. Gradually, as you grow older, reveal topics more and more, deepening and complementing what was previously said. Keeping the child informed and clear understanding what to do if he/she is threatened is one of the main keys to security.

It would be good if, before adolescence, a child already knew the names of various parts of the body, including genitals, understood gender differences, variations, and knew the answer to the question “where do children come from.”

By the age of 9-12, tell your child about puberty and upcoming changes, menstruation and sexuality, hygiene rules, falling in love and what to pay attention to in a relationship. Show your positive attitude towards your child’s body, change, self-exploration and self-expression.

As the child grows older, introduce conversations about the first sexual contact, active consent, gender identity and sexual orientation, contraception methods and sexually transmitted diseases. Teach your child respect and attention to himself/herself and others, tell him/her that sex is not only a physical act, but also a way of expressing feelings and intimacy.

Tell your child about what sexualized violence is, give examples of its various forms (unwanted touching, kissing, requests of a sexual nature, manipulation, etc.). Be clear about how to behave and who to contact if he/she feels uncomfortable.

Psycho-sexual education and joint discussion of intimate topics allow us to develop a healthy approach to sexuality and the body, help in overcoming stereotypes, as well as in understanding ourselves and our process of change. Through communication, you also develop your relationship, building trust and creating a safe space for growth.

Myths about sexualized violence

Most cases of sexualized violence are carried out by strangers

According to statistics, the vast majority of cases of sexual violence are committed by someone they know. This could be a parent, uncle, aunt, other family members, it could be teachers, friends – that is, people in whom you trust. Status is not important here, but rather the fact that for this person the safety and comfort of another is not important, the priority is their own needs. The author of violence approaches the child, involves him/her in games, communication, and then, using trust and vulnerability, gradually violates bodily and psychological boundaries.

A person who has experienced an episode of sexualized violence immediately reports it

Unfortunately, polls say otherwise. People often report experiencing sexualized violence only in adulthood. There are several reasons for this: the topic is taboo; fear, shame and guilt; the belief that publicity will not change anything; reluctance to cause yourself formal problems;  “caring” for the person who committed the violence, and so on. In the short term, people try to protect themselves here and now. In the long term, silence allows violence to exist and destroy. The world around is perceived as hostile and unsafe. All these consequences stop teenagers from reporting what happened.

Those who have experienced an episode of sexualized violence will no longer be able to build relationships

Although sexualized violence is a traumatic event, it is important to remember that first, the consequences will vary depending on the circumstances of the violence itself (whether it happened inside or outside the family; whether it was a one-time episode or repeated). Here we also include family (emotional climate, level of trust and acceptance) and social (standard of living, openness and availability of contacts) factors. Secondly, even the most complex cases can be worked with and have a positive prognosis for recovery. With timely psychotherapy and a person’s desire to work with what happened, we can say with great confidence that a person will learn to build happy relationships, regardless of what events took place in the past.

What happens to the parents and loved ones of a child who has experienced an episode of sexualized violence?

Child abuse can occur both within and outside the family. Each of these options will cause many different and strong reactions. Family members have mixed feelings about the person suspected of committing violence. There is tension and difficulty with trust within.

The first reaction to what you hear is most often shock and horror. The parent may say to the child, “I don’t believe this happened.” This does not mean that he/she really does not believe; often this is a psychological defense, a way to cope with what he/she heard. When the initial shock passes, the parent thinks about the past, remembers details, and makes assumptions. Disgust, fear, sadness, anger and other reactions may appear here. This can cause exhaustion and deep feelings of guilt for not protecting their children.

The feelings of parents of abused children may be more intense if they themselves have been victims of violence in the past. As a result of not being protected as children, they will either be overly anxious, which can lead to exaggeration of facts, or, conversely, they will not notice signs of abuse and will not react at all because they do not know what to do.

It is important that during the process of experiencing the parent does not choose isolation and does not remain with it himself/herself. This leads to a build-up of tension in both the child and the parent, reinforcing feelings of loneliness, guilt and stigma. This ultimately hinders recovery.

What does family therapy look like in the context of psychological assistance to a child?

The main focus of a psychologist’s work is working with parents and families. This is due to the fact that the family, in most cases, is crucial for the future well-being of the child. The psychologist’s work strategy will depend on many factors (where the violence occurred, what happened after, personality traits, social factors, etc.), but in any case, joint sessions between the child and parents (or one of them) have a positive effect on the recovery process. Thanks to this, the parent better understands the child and his/her experiences, strengthens trust, and learns to cope with his/her own experiences.

What options might there be? The parent can participate in parent-child sessions from time to time, where they will learn together emotional regulation and coping techniques, while having conversations about violence and its consequences. During the session, the child may share their experiences and progress with the parent (for example, if he/she wrote a story about what happened, they may decide to read it out). In parallel, the parent can participate in individual therapy to respond to and understand their experiences, learn to interact with them and express them safely. What other work could there be in this context? Developing house rules, minimizing blame, teaching parenting skills. In a safe therapeutic environment, you not only acknowledge and express feelings and learn new things, but also put them into practice, gaining experience in coping and integrating.

A selection of books for parents on the topic of psycho-sexual education:

Mamen Jimenez.  How to talk to children about uncomfortable topics 

Sex education – why is it needed? At what age should you start talking? And what exactly should you tell your child? You will learn about this and much more from this book, written by an experienced family psychologist.

 

Robie H. Harris. Let’s Talk about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends

A note from the publisher: an international bestseller on the topic of intimate education, which has won the trust of thousands of parents and child specialists. According to psychologists, you need to talk to your child about sensitive topics related to changes in the body, differences between boys and girls, their relationships, mother’s pregnancy, birth and adoption. The book will be an excellent guide to this.

Yulia Yarmolenko, Maryana Gilevich. Intimate educational programme with and without parents

A note from the publisher: this book will tell you about something very important – the organs that we cover with underwear. Not because they are ugly or shameful, but because we treat them very carefully and delicately. They are called reproductive organs or genitals. They need special care, and that’s what we’ll talk about.

Anna Levinskaya. No secrets. How to talk to children about bodies, relationships, and safety in a caring and confident way

A note from the publisher:  the author, teacher and mother of many children, collected many family stories, answered questions that may arise during and before a child’s puberty, and also described all possible mistakes that should not be made. All information is divided into 4 large blocks: from 0 to 18 years.

How teenagers, parents and professionals can use the game

“Red Cap Must Cry” is an anti-violence mobile game based on the novel by a German author Beate Teresa Hanika.

The game tells the story of a 13-year-old Malvina who was not believed by adults. She shows the inner experiences of a girl and her journey to talking about her feelings and what is happening out loud. Moving from one chapter to the next, the player meets the girl’s family, Lizzie’s friend, her dreams and plans for the summer, and learns to be brave in speaking up about the concerns. The demo version of the game consists of two parts and also includes a library with psychological recommendations for teenagers and parents. 

 

How can the game be used? Here are some ideas.

What if I’m a teenager? The game tells the story of a girl of the same age and raises current topics – family relationships, falling in love, friendship. Looking at Malvina’s story, you can think about the characters in this story, their experiences, discuss their behaviour and what confused you about it. What advice would you give Malvina? How could she protect herself? What would you tell her parents? Try answering these questions on your own, with friends or parents. 

What if I’m a parent? The game can become an occasion to discuss the topic of safety in the context of psycho-sexual education. Go through it together and share your experiences and thoughts that arose during it. Next, discuss what is and is not acceptable regarding psychological and physical boundaries, how the child can protect himself or herself, and what to do if he/she notices frightening behaviour. Allow your child to ask questions and clarify something – all this will strengthen trust between you and give confidence that intimate topics can be discussed with you.

What if I’m a specialist? The game can be perceived as one of the tools for teaching emotional regulation and self-protection skills. In addition to the fact that you can analyze each character separately, their behaviour and what feelings they caused, we can talk about what to do next with these feelings and together rehearse responses to the behaviour of a grandfather or a mother.

For everyone, the game can become a reason to think and answer the questions: how can I deal with this topic? How does this make me feel? What is my first reaction to the characters and does it have anything to do with my personal history? Am I comfortable talking about this topic? How can I learn and teach emotional regulation skills and attention to psychological and bodily boundaries? For environmental friendliness and safety, when playing the demo, remind yourself that this is just a game. Draw this line between you and Malvina – this is her story, not yours.

How to educate about the topic of sexualized violence and why is it important?

Education plays a critical role in raising people’s awareness of the issue of sexualized violence. The more people know about it, the better they can understand potential dangers, recognize unsafe behaviour and learn to respond clearly to it. Here are a few more pros for introducing a sex education series into your institution:

– it removes taboos and normalizes topics related to sexuality and physicality, which in turn reduces shame, tension and fear. If a child understands that it is okay to talk about his/her physical discomfort – adults told him/her about it, then he/she is more likely to talk about it if something happens;

– educational programmes help improve psychological literacy through training in the practices of non-violent communication, stress tolerance and emotional regulation. This in turn creates a safer environment for children to express themselves and develop;

– this can reduce the stigmatization of people who have experienced an episode of violence and create a more objective perception of the situation.

It is important to convey these thoughts and goals at your events, developing programmes comprehensively. If you are developing a plan for the year, schedule at least one event per month dedicated to the topic of psycho-sexual education and safety. Based on the age group you work with and the skills you want to teach.  Invite lawyers, doctors, psychotherapists, and specialists working in child welfare to your events. Ask what would be interesting for the children themselves to know. Working with parents and teachers is also important – tell them about the consequences of sexualized violence, identifying possible external signs. Explain a clear plan of action if they notice something suspicious.

Goals and objectives of therapy for children who have experienced sexualized violence

Experiencing any form of violence is a psychological trauma for a child, which can affect the development of their personality and lead to consequences at various levels. Working with a child who has experienced an episode of sexualized violence can be a serious professional challenge that requires knowledge, personal maturity and responsibility. It is impossible to tell all the nuances of the work in one text, since each case should be approached individually, taking into account all the features and resources. Nevertheless, here we would like to show the main goals and objectives of therapy.

The first strategy is crisis intervention. Designed to work with children (and their families) if there has been a one-time episode of violence, most likely outside the family. The main tasks here are emotional support and normalization of the psychological state of the child and parents, and the search for strategies to resolve a specific request. It is important that here we do not work with personal characteristics – we concentrate on the consequences here and now. What is important? Responding to experiences, restoring the skill of self-care, planning for the near future and a clear understanding of what will happen together with the formation of coping behaviour.

The second strategy is long-term rehabilitation. It is selected in case of chronic violence, most often occurring in the family. Next, we assess how safe the child is now. Based on taking into account all resources – personal, family, social – we build a strategy for work and interaction. It’s good if loved ones join in therapy from time to time – this will strengthen trust between them and the child, and there will also be spaces where they learn coping skills and behaviour management together. This may also include parenting skills training (attentive interaction with the child, emotional regulation, communication, discipline, development of social and cognitive skills, etc.).

Of course, this is far from exhaustive material, but rather the first guidelines on what you should pay attention to when building goals and a therapy strategy. It is impossible to give an exact recipe, but it is possible to imagine some of the ingredients. In our work, we recommend using various techniques based on the characteristics of the child himself/herself and the situation.

How to build therapeutic work with a child?

Children who have experienced sexualized violence may show resistance and mistrust when working with a psychologist. Often this is because they don’t understand what it’s for – this causes anxiety. One of the first tasks of the psychologist is to explain why, for how long and what will happen at their meetings, to explain the child’s rights, to answer all his/her concerns and make sure that the fear regarding future meetings has decreased, and the child has a clear understanding of what will happen.

The therapist must be tactful and sensitive to the child’s problems, allowing him/her to participate in psychotherapy at a comfortable pace. At the same time, it is important to maintain the goals of your work and explain them to the child – when building interaction, it is important to find this balance.

What else needs to be remembered when working with children who have experienced sexualized violence: when adopting a work strategy, take into account the child’s age, his/her personal resources, personality characteristics, and social situation; do not show shock, fear or horror – this may frighten the child even more;  do not touch the child, as this may be perceived as a threat; be predictable and reliable – follow timing, pre-agreed rules – this will allow the child to feel confident and respectful of boundaries.

The main goals when working with children who have experienced sexualized violence are the following: promoting involvement in the child’s current tasks and future goals; developing a realistic hazard assessment and building a safety plan; training in emotional and cognitive regulation skills; normalization of post-traumatic state and other symptoms of emotional distress; integration of traumatic experience in the context of life and normalization of the perception of the Self.

What approaches and techniques can be used when working with children?

To effectively work with children and adolescents who have experienced violence, a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and expressive forms of therapy (play therapy, art therapy, sand therapy, fairy tale therapy, etc.) is recommended. This approach makes it possible to work comprehensively and holistically, taking into account consequences at different levels.

CBT is a method based on the idea that there is a relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. In the process of work, the child and the psychologist analyze these relationships, how feelings and thoughts influence behaviour, and check whether they correspond to reality. They are looking for ways to change them, thereby changing the quality of life, restoring a holistic perception of themselves and the world around them. Trauma-oriented cognitive behavioural therapy techniques are used to work with children and adolescents who have experienced violence, which includes several steps: informing, stress management, expressing emotions and managing affect, cognitive coping, creating a story about a traumatic event, cognitive processing, behaviour management training and joint parent-child sessions.

Expressive therapy is a type of psychological therapy and intervention based on the idea of free expression of feelings and experiences through the means of play, sand and art therapy, as well as other methods that aim to externally express internal experiences. These methods can be used separately or together. When performing techniques, you must be very attentive to the child and his/her condition, as this is a very intensive process. You shouldn’t go into interpretation – it’s better to concentrate precisely on the meanings and sensations that the child puts into the images, allowing him/her to freely express himself/herself in a safe space. At the same time, you ask the child, paraphrase his/her answers, clarify whether you understood correctly, etc. Such practices will allow the child to release his/her experiences, understand them and look at the situation more broadly.

The use of CBT methods is the optimal choice for working with school-age children. For younger children, using expressive methods may be helpful.

How to build therapeutic work with parents?

Working with parents and families can be considered one of the main areas of a psychologist’s work. How a child will cope with the experience together with his/her psychological comfort and safety largely depend on the family. Often, on the contrary, a specialist strives to work only with the child, since this is to some extent easier in the short term. But it is much more effective for a long-term effect to include work with the family in the assistance strategy.

When working with a child, it is important to assess the family situation, their perception of what happened and the child, and their psychological resources. Again, an important point is whether the violence occurred outside or within the family. It is important to involve at least one family member in the work and keep informed of progress. You can arrange joint sessions. A parent is a long-term resource for help because psychological help may end sooner or later. Together you learn emotional and cognitive coping strategies, understand how the family functions in general, and learn effective communication. When the skills become more stable and the family knows how to apply them in practice, therapy can be completed. It is important that the family learns to effectively cope and communicate without you, on their own.

Another point throughout the entire process of working with parents is the ethics of the specialist. It is important that the psychologist does not show intolerance or act on the basis of his/her own beliefs and fantasies when faced with the conflicting feelings of a parent who has not committed violence. The communication does not need to persecute and punish the parents, but also does not ignore the obvious abuse of the child, emphasizing that this is not normal. The success of a child’s recovery also largely depends on the support and acceptance of parents.

Books for specialists working with the topic of sexualized violence

Eliana Gil.  Helping Abused and Traumatized Children: Integrating Directive and Nondirective Approaches

A note from the publisher: in her book, Eliana Gil examines strategies for psychological assistance to children affected by violence and shows how to form your own, unique strategy, taking into account the characteristics of a particular child and a specific social and family context. She writes about what methods, in what combination and when it is best to use, how to form a reliable therapeutic contact, how to work with non-verbal children, how to “pull out” traumatic memories and what to do with them later. It also describes how a psychologist should behave during the investigation of a case of violence, how to conduct diagnostic work and take its results into account in subsequent sessions.

Alexander Kopytin. Art therapy for victims of violence

A note from the publisher: the textbook is devoted to the method of art therapy, which is used in relation to complex cases of psychotherapeutic practice, in particular when working with people who have suffered from all kinds of violence: from physical trauma in childhood to sexual violence. Specific examples show the use of various art therapy techniques: finger painting, drawing on a mirror, on a doll, creating collages, photographs, etc.

O. Zinovieva, N. F. Mikhailova.  Psychology and psychotherapy of violence.  Child in crisis

A note from the publisher: the book reveals the features of post-traumatic stress disorders and psychological trauma in children, describes the phenomenology of violence (emotional, psychological, physical, sexual; violence at school), as well as forms and methods of working with children who have survived violence (diagnosis, prevention, individual, group and family psychotherapy, training programmes).

Remember, as hard as it is, help is there

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