Organization focused on educating caregivers about child sexual abuse
Chances are that every Canadian child, by the time they’re in kindergarten, knows not to take candy from a stranger or get into a car with someone they don’t know.
According to a cross-country study commissioned by the Canadian government in 1984 known as the Badgley Report, however, 95 per cent of children who are sexually abused know their abuser. The report also suggests that one in three girls and one in six boys will experience an unwanted sexual act.
Little Warriors is a non-profit charitable organization that recognizes the need for more than just those old adages about strangers.
The organization is committed to educating adults on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the sexual abuse of children by holding learning sessions with parents and anyone else who is around children regularly.
Sarah Green, mother of a 12-week-old son, attended a Little Warriors session in Calgary on Oct. 13 and said she was impressed with the educational presentation.
“I thought it was absolutely amazing,” Green said. “I believe every parent, caregiver, or person who is with or around children should attend this. It’s priceless information.”
She said she decided to attend the session because she suffered from sexual abuse in the past, and knows others who have as well.
“I want to help protect my son, my friends’ kids, my family members’ kids. I just want to educate and advocate and be there for them,” Green said.
Photo courtesy of Little WarriorsLittle Warriors was founded in 2005, and although their main office is in Edmonton, they provide services across Canada. The organization is funded privately through corporate donations and grants from community foundations.
There are educational programs in school aimed at helping kids to avoid being sexually abused, but Little Warriors focuses on educating adults.
Laurie Szymanski, executive director of Little Warriors, said that because children are almost always abused by someone known to them, it is easier for the abuser to manipulate their victim and prevent them from telling.
“We believe that it’s an adult’s responsibility to protect children,” Szymanski said. “Children can’t protect themselves.”
Little Warriors is also the Canadian partner of an American-based organization called Darkness to Light, which provides the same services in the United States, and both use a program known as Stewards of Children.
The program provides seven steps that parents and caregivers can use to protect children from being abused. It also guides participants in developing four “tools” that they describe as “a crash course in being human:” consciousness, choice, personal power and relentless compassion.
“Relentless compassion” may seem like an odd turn of phrase, but the program material explains it this way: “Said very simply, the insistence on accountability is the relentless part; the undeniable human connection is the compassion part.”
One of the things Little Warriors stresses is the “one-on-one” rule. They say a good way to keep children safe is to ensure that they aren’t put into situations where there is only one adult and one child behind closed doors.
“If you’re putting your child into music lessons, where are those lessons going to take place?” Szymanski said. “Is it in a closed room with no windows in the door? Can somebody view what’s going on in that room at all times?”
Green said that though she already knew quite a bit about the issue, she learned things in the session she had never thought of before, such as the one-on-one rule. “It’s something so simple, but it can protect kids,” she said.
Little Warriors is willing and able to conduct their training sessions with any group of adults involved with caring for children, including parents, teachers, counselors, daycares, youth workers and clergy.
Szymanski said they are also working on a capital campaign for Be Brave Ranch, a retreat that would work with children and adults who were abused as children to help them go through the healing process.
There is typically a fee for a learning session, ranging from $15 to $40 depending on the number of participants, though if you are unable to pay, some facilitators are willing to put on the presentation for free to a group of eight or more.
Update: The original version of this article stated the main office of Little Warriors is located in Calgary, when the organization is actually based in Edmonton. We have corrected the article and apologize for the error.