Please join us in this important segment as Jill shares through interview questions and video what to look out for and how to help victims who are way too young to understand what is happening to them. Jill will also be graciously giving away one copy of her book MY BODY BELONGS TO ME to one randomly chosen commenter. Please include your email address... and consider becoming a Follower to this blog.
Please tell us about your personal as well as professional self. Are you able to separate Jill the Mom from Jill the Assistant District Attorney and now Jill the author?
I have been a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for the past fifteen years. I discovered that children don’t disclose right away when they have been sexually abused. By the time I see the children they are already hurt. When I had children of my own and wanted to talk to them about a subject that I am painfully aware of, I realized there was nothing out there to guide parents in having this discussion. I prosecuted a case at trial where an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show prompted the child victim’s outcry after three years of silence. It occurred to me that after three years, all it took to end her nightmare was a television show that encouraged her to tell a teacher. I decided that I need to make that message more accessible to children and spread it as far as I could. My Body Belongs to Me is my effort to spread the message of prevention.
Whether I am able to separate Jill the Mom from Jill the ADA and Jill the author is a great question. Certainly when I am Jill the ADA, I have to put Jill the mother away somewhere. The cases I see are heartbreaking and if I think like a mother, I would not be able to get anything done. It is my sensitivity to this issue as a mother that drives me, but it is my passion to pursue justice for the victim that enables me to perform my responsibilities effectively. Being an author just means that there is more pressure on me to write really meaningful things inside anniversary cards.
I applaud you for your stand on fighting childhood abuse and sex crimes. Obviously this passion has ignited a proactive fire within you. From your myriad perspective, why do you believe others—specifically adults—who are aware of abuse happening (whether in their own homes or in someone’s they know) slip into a don’t see/don’t hear/don’t speak frame of mind?
I think it is often too painful to accept. In order to believe that a child was sexually abused, even if you observe it with your own eyes, one has to accept that true evil does exist. I cannot speak for the people who do nothing when they see it, other than to say that children have no voice. They need trusting adults around them to speak when they cannot be heard. We are each responsible for molestation occurring if we fail to get this topic out of the closet and into family rooms. Parents must stop believing "it will never happen to their children” so they don't need to discuss it.
Is it only fear that keeps the child victim from speaking out or is it often more complicated than suffering the backlash of more abuse?
There are innumerable reasons why children do not tell when they are being abused. I think parents have a hard time accepting that children often do not tell. Parents liken child sexual abuse to a child falling down and scraping his knee. When a young child scrapes his knee, the first thing they do is run over to Mommy or Daddy and tell them. Parents think a child would certainly do the same thing if someone sexually abused them. But when a child scrapes his knee, theoretically, no one is saying to that child, “Don’t tell anyone, no one will believe you.” “Don’t tell anyone, they are going to say it is your fault.” “Don’t tell anyone, it will make your Mommy really sad.” “Don’t tell anyone, Uncle Joe will go to jail.” “Don’t tell anyone, this is our special secret.” There is a lot of guilt and shame involved in being a child victim. Children often feel that somehow the behavior is their fault.
Can you share with us a “happily ever after” abuse story? Is there such a thing?
I am not sure if there is a happily ever after. There are people who go on to have happy, productive lives after suffering abuse, but a lot of that depends on the support they are given when they disclose. I can tell you a story about a little girl who was very sad all the time because her grandfather was sexually abusing her on a continuous basis and she hadn’t told anyone. One day, she was home with her little brother who was a little tired of seeing his big sister moping around the house all the time. The little brother said to his sister “Why are you so sad all the time? At least Grandpa is not ______ing you.” With that, the little girl realized for the first time that Grandpa was doing the same thing to her brother. The two children decided to tell their mother about what her father had been doing to the two of them. When they told her, the mother cried and said “I am so sorry. I thought he would stop.” It was then that the mother told her children for the first time what her father had done to her when she was a child. The mother decided that she cannot keep this secret any longer and called a family meeting to tell her brothers and sister what their father had done to her and to her children. Of course, the story ends with the two brothers and the sister disclosing that the father had done the same thing to each of them when they were younger. Each child thought that they were the only one being victimized and kept that secret into adulthood. After disclosing, the offender’s new wife became aware of the behavior and was able to keep her grandchildren safe. Ending the cycle of silence is the only happily ever after I can see at this point.
Comparing present day times, with all its luxuries, medical advances, and freedoms, the modern world is bathed in riches compared to societies hundreds and thousands of years ago, yet abuse still thrives. Do you believe this evil/sickness is the ugly side of culture that has been passed on for generations and sadly will continue to be passed on or is it more a situation that an abused child grows into an adult who abuses and perpetuates a vicious, ongoing cycle?
Yes, abuse has gone on for many years, but I would like to think with prevention education, we could eradicate child sexual abuse in the next few generations.
What warning signs of abuse can adults look out for in children?
Physical sign of abuse are uncommon. If caught early, there sometimes may be redness to the genitals or a urinary tract infection. Neither of these signs are dispositive of abuse.
Emotional and behavioral signs are more common. A sudden change in a child’s behavior could be an indicator of abuse (but it can also be an indicator of some other problem).
Age inappropriate sexual behavior and knowledge are certainly red flags. Parents need to familiarize themselves with what is age appropriate in order to be able to recognize the warning signs. In some children, there are no signs whatsoever.
For ABC News Video:
Are abused children who speak up against abuse more at risk for more suffering? In speaking up against the abuser, do children also begin to wonder about their moms/dad’s girlfriends/other relatives or friends and why they’re silent enablers? Is counseling provided for these children? For the entire family?
It is important that children are able to confide in someone who will get them help. Sometimes, if a child tells a parent that the other parent is abusing them, there may be reluctance to contact the authorities. Children need to feel that they are supported and they need professional help. If the appropriate action is taken, the abuse will end. Counseling is essential in providing a child with support. Whether or not a child has the intellectual capacity to question why the people around him are silent enablers is uncertain, but as they grow into adults, it will likely be an issue they have to confront.
Tell us about your children’s book MY BODY BELONGS TO ME. Is it written only for the child or for the parent as well? What is your favorite line from the story?
My Body Belongs to Me is a story for the 3-8 year old child, but a tool for the parents. It is intended to be a conversation starter. There is a section in the back called “Suggestions for the Storyteller” that guides the reader through the discussion that should follow the book. There is also a section called “Where to Find Help” that has great resources to utilize if a child makes a disclosure. I have never been asked what my favorite line from the story is. I think it’s “I learned if I was too scared to tell my mom or dad, I could have told my teacher, what made me feel so sad.” Children need to be told that they can come to their parents with anything that upsets them or makes them feel angry or uncomfortable. They should also learn to identify who is their “safe zone” person. A safe zone person is someone your child can talk to if they do not feel comfortable coming to mom and dad. Identifying a safe zone person is vital not only for child sexual abuse prevention, but for bullying, peer pressure, drug abuse prevention and countless other issue. My Body Belongs to Me received a glowing review from School Library Journal.....In only 19 sentences, this simple book will empower children while promoting open communication.
Please share with us about your poetry website and the how’s your nanny site.
The Poem Lady is my alter ego. The work I do as a prosecutor is so heavy and sad that I found I needed some sort of release. Ever since I was little, I had a talent for writing poems that rhyme. People would often ask me to write a poem for someone's birthday or going away party and I would do so happily. A few years ago, I created a website called http://www.ThePoemLady.com where I write customized poems for bar/bat mitzvah candle lighting ceremonies and baby/bridal showers. People send their information to me and I turn it into a cute rhyme. Being able to share in the joyous events of total strangers somehow balances out some of the sadness I deal with in my regular job. The best part is that people love the poems. I enjoy being able to help people express themselves when they are unable to find the right words. I recently started a blog where I provide poem writing advice so I can reach even more people. http://askjillthepoemlady.wordpress.com/
HowsMyNanny.com is an innovative service through which parents can purchase a license plate for their stroller that enables the public to report good or bad nanny observations. Registered parents instantaneously receive an email alerting them to the confidential report. One day while I was eating lunch on a park bench, I noticed two young girls playing on the jungle gym. The girls ran over to a woman who was engrossed in a book. It occurred to me that this woman was their nanny and the toddlers were essentially unsupervised. After observing the girls play for nearly an hour as the nanny continued to read, I realized these girls could have easily run off into the busy Manhattan streets or wandered off at the hand of a stranger. I wanted to communicate to the girls’ parents about the substandard care their daughters were receiving. But how? Who were these girls? As a working mother, I knew I would want to be notified if my nanny was being negligent so I created a way to do so. Featured on Good Morning America, Fox News National and endorsed in New York's Daily News, HowsMyNanny.com has been hailed "an honest solution to a tough problem."
And for fun: in your next life, any plans on kicking back in an “easy” occupation?
Funny you should say in your next life. By no means is it an easy occupation, but I always tell people in my next life I want to be a second grade teacher. I have always been told I have a gift with children and I think being a teacher is a true gift. I figure in this life, I have seen more than anyone’s fair share of horror and tragedy involving children. In my next life, I want to watch them soar.
Jill Starishevsky is a mother of three and an Assistant District Attorney in New York City where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Outside the courtroom, Jill's fondness for writing led her to create thepoemlady.com, where she pens personalized pieces for all occasions. In October 2006, Jill launched HowsMyNanny.com, the first online nanny reporting service that works to keep children safe by enabling parents to receive positive and negative feedback on their child’s caregiver. Jill is also the author of “My Body Belongs to Me”, a children’s book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching 3-8 year olds their bodies are private.
Facebook Fanpage http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/My-Body-Belongs-to-Me/121318191793