There is nothing like kids teaching kids – it is engaging, powerful, and another kid’s words can often be more meaningful than an adult’s. It’s great to have role models visit a classroom to talk about how they learned to solve conflicts or stop bullying, but this kind of presentation is not possible when it comes to abuse prevention. Here, though, is a way to provide meaningful kid-to-kid teaching about this important topic. The video, Break the Silence: Kids Against Child Abuse is an amazing, must-have resource. In it, four real kids tell their stories and share the importance of telling an adult about physical and sexual abuse, and how doing so ends the abuse and brings them to safety. See below for suggestions about how you can get a copy.
The Kids and Their Stories
Curt and his sister were physically abused by their father, whose drinking contributed to the abuse. The abuse stopped when Curt’s sister told a friend, who told her school counselor. They were removed from their home and went into foster care for a while while their parents did the work they needed to do to ensure their children’s safety. In the video the family has been reunited and are shown in a home visit family meeting with a social worker. The parents speak about how they needed to learn how to parent in a way that is safe and loving. As the segment concludes, they are shown bowling together as a family, celebrating and encouraging each other.
Xochitl was sexually abused by her stepfather. When she finally told her mother, her mother did not believe her. She told her father, and then went to live with him and her stepmother and little sister. Xochitl’s story provides a clear example of grooming and the confusion that it causes, because even though she didn’t like what her stepfather was doing, he gave her many presents and treats that she did like. It is also a great illustration about how kids need to keep telling if they are not believed or listened to. Xochitl is shown working with her therapist in a play therapy setting and with her very loving family in the restaurant that they own. We watch this video after the lesson described in Teaching Kids to Recognize Grooming, and I have the kids watch for signs of grooming in Xochitl and Anthony’s stories.
Anthony was also sexually abused, by the son of his mom’s friend/client. His mother happened upon the scene right after an instance of abuse, but Anthony was not able to tell her what had been happening. He was, however, able to tell his stepfather, who called the police. Anthony is shown as a “counselor-in-training,” assisting his therapist at a therapeutic self-defense class from which he previously graduated. At the end of the segment, he and his mom and stepdad are playing pool together.
Anthony tells about how he testified in court, which resulted in the perpetrator being put in prison. I talk to my students about this before we watch the segment, and tell them that in our state it is very unusual for kids to have to go to court, since judges and people who work to keep kids safe know that that would be intimidating to a lot of kids. Afterwards we talk about how empowered and strong the smiling Anthony is when he talks about how his testimony contributed to the perpetrator being sent to jail.
Rachel was neglected for several years, starting when she was very young. Her mother left her home alone without enough food and eventually abandoned her. She was taken in by her grandmother, who drank a lot, and Rachel had to do the shopping, cooking, and other adult tasks even though she was little. When her grandmother died she was passed from relative to relative, then was homeless for a time until she told her school counselor what was happening. Rachel initially lived in a group home, but now lives in a family setting with a foster mother. Rachel is shown working with her therapist and social worker, and having fun on the beach with her foster mom, social worker, and therapist, who she describes as her three moms.
I explain to my students that in our state we do not have group homes, and that if kids can’t stay at home with their family, the people who keep kids safe try to arrange for them to live with another relative, but if that doesn’t work, then they live in a foster home like Rachel. We talk about how nice Rachel’s foster mom is and I tell the kids that I’ve known lots of foster parents and they have all been nice and caring to the kids who have lived with them. Often a student will volunteer that they know someone who is a foster parent, so we have more opportunity to talk about how foster homes are safe and loving places for kids to be when it’s not safe for them to be with their parents.
Break the Silence is beautifully and masterfully done. The animations by John Canemaker are evocative but gentle – I wish I had been able to find more of them to share with you! The featured kids are well spoken, relateable, and resilient; you cannot help but like and feel proud of them. The stories make the importance of telling about abuse – and the how-to-do-it – so clear. This alone makes the video outstanding, but there are some additional aspects that turn it into a real gem:
The kids, parents, and service providers are racially and ethnically diverse. Based on their accents and environments, they hail from different regions of the country – Anthony lives in the city, Curt is from a more rural environment, and Xochitl and Rachel are from somewhere in between.
To counterbalance the uncomfortable truth that these kids were hurt by people who should have protected them – in three cases a family member and in the fourth a trusted family friend, viewers are ultimately reassured that these kids do have safe, loving, and protective parents. Although Xochitl’s stepfather was a perpetrator, Anthony’s stepfather was a protector. Rachel’s mother abandoned her and Xochitl’s mother didn’t believe her, but Anthony’s mom was a strong support to him throughout, Xochitl’s stepmom and Rachel’s foster mom are loving mothers to their girls, and although she initially failed to protect him, Curt’s mom has done the work she needed to do to become a better parent and reunite her family.
Curt and Rachel’s stories offer stark examples of how dangerous and harmful substance abuse can be, not only to users, but also to their family members, especially children. Our students are always eager to make connections between these stories and what they have learned in our substance abuse lessons.
Breaking the Silence is a must-have for everyone who works to help children learn about sexual abuse prevention! It is not cheap – $99.95 here – but perhaps you can share a copy between schools within your district or encourage a local child advocacy or parent-child center to purchase a copy that they could lend. You might also want to check to see if your state has a Health Education Resource Center (HERC) that loans materials to schools – maybe they have a copy or have funds to purchase it. Want to find it in a library so you can request an interlibrary loan? Check here. You want this video!!!
When I was looking for the purchasing information, I came across a Teacher’s Guide for Breaking the Silence. Who knew?!!! It looks pretty good, and could help you gather more information that you can use to talk someone into getting a copy for your program. Have I mentioned that you want this video?
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