How to get started as a body safety educator
A young woman contacted me recently saying, “I’m really interested in body safety practices for children so they can feel empowered in their bodies. Do you have any tips for getting started in this field?”
As a professional who writes and speaks to children and adults on this topic, I definitely have some ideas. First,
Find out if Erin’s Law has been passed in your state.
Erin’s Law—which mandates all K-12 students see at least one body safety assembly per school year—has been passed in thirty-eight states. A quick visit to the website will tell you if your state is one of them. If your state passed Erin’s Law,
Contact the schools in your area to ask what organization they use to provide body safety assemblies.
Your state may have a number of organizations providing body safety education. By calling schools and asking who they work with, you’ll get names of organizations—maybe even individuals—to contact.
Once you get onboarded into a body safety organization, what does the training process look like?
The first step will probably be a background check. After that, you may be asked to observe one or more body safety assemblies. This allows you to watch an experienced presenter work through that particular organization’s program in front of dozens, maybe hundreds, of kids.
If possible, take notes. Lots of notes. Afterward, ask any questions you have about what you just saw.
Once you are green-lighted to present a body safety program, here are some best practices.
Read your script over and over.
Maybe record yourself reading your lines, so you can listen to it again and again in an effort to commit it to memory.
Do not rely heavily on your script. Instead, know your content by heart. You’ll be way more engaging if you’re not reading from notes. I take my cues from the slide presentation. The images and text on the screen tell me what to say when.
This is not mandatory, but in my experience, dressing casually definitely works to your advantage. Kids always appreciate my fun graphic t-shirts and matching Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers.
I have heard of certain body safety presentations—or perhaps it was the presenter—putting kids to sleep. Don’t be that presenter. Do whatever you can to engage your audience. Need some hints? Here you go:
- Be aware of current slang. And if you can use it without seeming silly, do.
- Refer to pop culture and current events (ie. music, movies, or TikTok).
- Move around. A lot. Kids are used to watching TV and playing video games. Those images change frequently! Which is why you should do the same.
- Ask the kids questions. Then for the answers, call on individuals. Kids—everyone really—love to be seen and heard.
- Include an activity that uses volunteers from the audience. I’ll have kids stop, drop, and roll to reinforce the idea of “personal safety plans.” Or sometimes we do a consent activity that illustrates how different people have different sizes of personal space “bubbles.”
Be clear about what behaviors constitute child sexual abuse.
Providing this information is important because a student may never have heard these facts before. Some parents don’t want to scare their child. Or, “give them ideas.” And if a family member is the abuser, they may have told the child, “This is what all families do.” Or, “I’m teaching this so you’ll know how to do it when you’re married.”
The Bathing Suit Rule is always a part of my body safety presentations. I tell the kids no one should touch, look at, or take pictures of the body parts their bathing suit or underwear cover. If someone does, they should tell a “safe adult.”
I also make sure the students know that child sexual abuse is a crime. It’s a big deal. It should not be happening to them. And for sure, it is never their fault.
Be real and honest about your own experience.
Volunteers often tell me kids really respond when I give glimpses into my own story. In every body safety assembly where I speak, I always share that:
- I’m a survivor of CSA.
- My abuse was familial.
- My abuser was an older child.
Often, I’ll tell how I had to tell my parents about my abuse three times before they took me seriously. I talk about how angry I was. For decades. Until I disclosed to my doctor and got help.
Give students strategies they can use.
For instance, the program I present recommends every kid make a list of at least five safe adults. If their primary caregiver—parent, grandparent, foster parent, etc.—is not available and their home catches on fire, who would they call? That person’s name should be on their Safe Adult List. In addition, the phone numbers of a child’s safe adults should be added to their phone’s contact list. If a child doesn’t have a phone yet, an adult can tape a card with the child’s safe adults’ contact information into their backpacks.
PRO TIP: I encourage kids who feel they’re being groomed or abused to disclose to one of their safe adults. For three reasons.
- Disclosing is the first step to preventing or ending abuse.
- Once they disclose, they’ll be able to get the help they possibly will need. Ie. Counseling.
- If they disclose, it’ll protect other kids. How? Because a sexual predator rarely has only one victim.
If possible, be available before and after your presentation.
Before the program, I love to “work the room.” Chat with the kids. Ask what grade they’re in, and what they want to be when they grow up. Do they have pets? Tell the girl sitting by herself that you love her purple hair.
After the program, if a school will allow it, stay on the property for an extra hour or two. Camp out in the cafeteria or in the library. Then at the end of the assembly, tell the kids where you’ll be if they have a question or want to chat.
PRO TIP: At every assembly where I’ve presented, we’ve set up a table with stickers and resources near the exit. As the students leave the gym or lunchroom, each kid selects a sticker or two, then a volunteer makes sure they have a resource card that includes information such as the Crisis Text Line (741741) and the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988).
What to do when a student discloses abuse.
As a body safety educator, you will be a mandated reporter. Anyone who works with children is a mandated reporter. As such, if a child discloses to you that they have been, or are being, abused in any way (or neglected), you need to tell the school staff and also make a report to the Child Protective Services organization in your area. Preferably within 24 hours.
Often though, kids will disclose after the body safety educators leave. Because they don’t want to ask for help in front of their peers. We frequently get notified two weeks after we present that kids have disclosed. Sometimes they need to process the information we presented and work up the courage to tell a safe adult. How ever disclosure happens, regardless of whether it’s sooner or later, it’s a good thing.
If you are a body safety educator, or you want to get started doing this work, thank you!
Of course adults should keep kids safe, but because we can’t be everywhere all the time, we also need to equip and empower kids to recognize and hopefully disclose child sexual abuse. That’s where body safety educators come in. It’s some of the most important and rewarding work there is.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me here.