Original Post: About Islam
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
April is Sexual Abuse Awareness month. Sexual abuse of children remains an ongoing societal problem. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), “child protective services substantiates or finds evidence, for child sexual abuse” every nine minutes, with eighty-two percent of all victims being female children under the age of eighteen.
“I’m a Survivor of childhood sexual abuse,” said Shariea Shoatz. “A family member abused me and suffered in silence for many years.”
Shoatz is a child sexual abuse advocate and educator. She tours the country presenting workshops to educators, parents, and caregivers on understand the signs of abuse, talking to survivors after they disclose being violated and protecting children.
“I have spent the rest of my life educating, supporting, empowering parents, and survivors of sexual assault, especially in the Muslim and African American communities.”
Shoatz published the book My Voice Is My Super Power to teach children to appreciate their human agency regarding their bodies and the adults in their lives to encourage them to use their voices to express if there is a problem.
The book can also potentially raise awareness and assist adults to become more proactive.
Sexual Abuse Book
The book features Buddy, a young boy who tells readers about the “Body Safety Rules,” an approach that promotes increased body awareness in young children.
Buddy goes through the rules while he prepares to go to his cousins’ house for a sleepover. Once at the sleepover, Buddy encounters the issue of sexual abuse with them.
When asked about her motivations for writing a children’s book about child sexual assault, Shoatz pointed out the need for adults to learn the importance of safety to protect children.
“Children’s books about sexual abuse are especially important. They help parents, educators, community leaders, and caregivers introduce the concept of Body Safety, prevention, disclosure, and grooming.”
She shared some of her harrowing experiences of abuse.
“I disclosed my abuse to an adult family member (not my mother), but nothing happened. No one took my abuse seriously because I was a young child and he was an older teen. I shut down, blamed myself, prayed for him to stop touching me, and didn’t know what to do.
“Parents and caregivers have a responsibility to keep children safe from being sexually abused. Many want to but are uncertain how. Teaching body safety through a book is one tool used to help educate, empower, and reduce children’s vulnerability to sexual abuse predators.”
Shoatz explained how My Voice is My Super Power benefits children and adults.
“Sexual abuse prevention and awareness books serve as guides, and aides to help protect children in a simple, child-friendly way, with child-friendly language and illustrations.”
She believes adults can use the book in a range of personal and institutional settings, including by an Islam school with a sexual abuse prevention program, which she thinks is important for keeping students safe.
“Organizations can arrange for a trained professional to come and teach body safety education to students at all grade levels. We can integrate sexual abuse prevention into a school’s curriculum through workshops for students an established set of rules.”
Schools should have policies and procedures for faculty and staff. It is important to train faculty, staff, and volunteers. Everyone should recognize inappropriate behavior by employees, know the warning signs of sexual abuse, how to respond to disclosure and report the abuse.
A school with a climate that won’t tolerate sexual abuse and access to professionals who can support abused children. It is important to have faculty and staff fingerprinted for state and national child abuse clearance.”
Shoatz has trained Muslim school faculty and staff on sexual abuse. She told About Islam that her workshops included professional development on engaging with children impacted by trauma.
“I also book readings with students to teach them about body safety. I am hoping and praying that other Islamic schools will integrate critical education and training.”
Shoatz suggested that daycares include body awareness and safety. “Children should learn about body safety at three. We can convey to preschoolers that it is not okay for someone to touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“My goal is to train administrators, teachers, and staff. I will do this to help save children and support survivors.”