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Raising Voices that Carry: What to Tell Our Kids About Bill Cosby

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m mad. This Bill Cosby news is awful.

I remember car trips with my parents and brother. We listened to cassette tapes of Bill Cosby’s stand-up comedy. The humor made the car trips more fun. We all found something to relate to in his bits about going to the dentist or wanting to eat chocolate cake for breakfast. We were like a lot of people and a lot of families. We knew nothing about him — we saw and heard the image portrayed and projected. A carefully rehearsed and crafted persona.

Now there are 35 women — and counting — who courageously came forward to speak out about an awful, dark, and angering common experience in which Mr. Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted them. I use allegedly because journalistic standards dictate such, but so many voices are hard to reconcile. What they describe is rape. It matters to call it what it is. They have value as people — as women. They matter, and their voices carry.

Even if I hadn’t spent years of my professional life working in the field of prevention and services for those impacted by sexual assault and domestic violence, I would know that 35 women don’t come forward to speak of rape and assault if it’s not the truth. Nobody wants to talk about rape. But we need to. Nobody wants to talk about being violated or unsafe. But we have to. Nobody wants to risk being silenced or devalued or shamed. But it still happens when we raise our voices. It’s not a surprise that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported. Yet there is power in numbers and in feeling like you aren’t alone. These women are speaking their truth and raising their voices. We need to hear them, honor them, and raise more.

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m mad. I want to make a difference.

As parents and as caring adults impacting the lives of children, we can make a difference. I can start with my daughter — not because she’s a girl but because she’s my child. She’s 4, so she’s too young to know about the details of this. It isn’t the world I want her to see, yet.

But she is NOT too young to know about her body, about her worth as a person, about how to speak when something feels wrong. She is NOT too young to care about others, feel empathy, and recognize injustice. I’m determined to help her with all of this and, in so doing, help others and myself. I want to do so thoughtfully. And I want her to think for herself and learn life is complicated.

To start, we taught her the real words for the parts of her body so she knows what they are. We are teaching her that her body is hers. She can change her mind, say no even to people she cares about. That gets hard when well-intentioned family and friends always want a hug or a kiss and make it seem like it’s expected. I’m not going to tell her she must. I’m telling her she can choose, and I tell them that too. I know it can be complicated, and when she’s older we will cross those bridges.

We talk about feelings. We talk about relationships. We talk when she says her friend did something she didn’t like. We talk when she sees someone else is upset. And we’ll keep talking.

So what are the resources, the books, and the tools? How do you explain that someone can portray to the world a happy, honest, caring image all the while perpetrating a darker reality? How do you teach and encourage building trust and how to seek it and sometimes question it? How do you tell your child to speak up — to speak out if something doesn’t seem or feel right? How do you lend voice, strength, and courage for themselves and for others?

I will work to have the conversations. Raise my daughter and other children to learn and question and yet not try to solve it all for them. Here are a few resources I’ve found, and all have great leads to others. Take them for you, for your children, for us all. Let us raise children, all of our children, with voices — voices that carry.

Books for starting conversations with children:

My Body Belongs to Me: This book was written for children in preschool to grade 2, and it’s about a young child who experiences sexual assault. It encourages children to share with a trusting adult. The website has book info and other resources.

A Mighty Girl Book Lists: These lists of great books for all kids are sorted by age and by topic (physical development, relationships, emotions, other). They’re geared to empower and inspire talk.

General resources on sexual assault:

Jane Doe Inc.: The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence helps residents find local programs for support and provides research and resources.

RAINN: The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network is an advocacy organization with resources and information on a range of topics for adults and children.

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One Response to Raising Voices that Carry: What to Tell Our Kids About Bill Cosby

  1. The Children's Trust August 18, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Another resource for raising children with voices is the Child Protection Unit curriculum from the Committee for Children and a related “Keeping Kids Safe” parent training in Massachusetts: http://childrenstrustma.org/training-center/training-topics/child-sexual-abuse-prevention

    The Children’s Trust will be expanding “Keeping Kids Safe” into 5 languages and holding some “train-the-trainer” trainings this fall.

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