News: ‘Safe touch vs. unsafe touch’
Story by Spc. Paul Holston
FORT BRAGG N.C.— Fort Bragg is working with Department of Defense Education Activity, a civilian agency of the United States Department of Defense that manages all schools for U.S. military children and teenagers worldwide, to ensure parents and children know what exactly are ‘safe touches’ versus ‘unsafe touches’.
The differences between safe and unsafe touch are important to parents when it comes to their children, especially the ages of young kids who are in elementary and middle schools.
“The ultimate goal of teaching children about ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch’ is to prevent abuse from happening in the first place,” said Lt. Col. Deborah R. Johnson, deputy chief, Department of Social Work for Womack Army Medical Center. “If we can teach children early on what is safe, which trusted adults are and to help them develop the confidence in themselves to come forward if they have concerns, we are on the right track.”
According to Johnson, ‘safe touch’ is defined as a touch family and close friends give to show friendship and affection. Some examples are: a handshake, a pat on the back, a hug when you feel close to someone and a good night kiss from a mom or dad.
Johnson explains that when it comes to ‘unsafe touch’ it is defined as a touch given that hurts or makes one feel uncomfortable, and is given in a private place. Some examples are: touches to private parts or areas close to private parts and touches that make you feel negative, afraid, or uncomfortable.
“It can not only happen in school,” said Scott Chase, child advocate for the Fort Bragg Family Advocacy Program. “It can happen in a church, summer camps, girl/boy scouts … unfortunately it happens at family gatherings, homes of very close family members that the child trusts.”
Chase said according to statistics in the United States, one in four girls and one in six boys are either molested or touched in some way between their births until the time they are 18 years old.
“It’s also important to teach adults that we have the primary responsibility for keeping children safe,” said Chase. “So whether it is schools, commands, first responders, sports teams, houses of worship or the like, it’s important for all of us to be aware and invested in keeping our children safe.”
Chase emphasizes the first step of importance to parents being open to this sensitive topic to their young children.
“The most important thing is for parents have that dialog with the child, the dialog that it’s okay in the context of having open and front discussions about our bodies,” said Chase.
Chase said the second step is to let the child know what’s appropriate and not appropriate.
“Some children don’t know the difference between good touch and bad touch based on how they were raised,” said Chase. “We’re trying to get away the terminologies from good and bad to safe and unsafe.”
Johnson says that while there can be numerous signs and symptoms, parents are encouraged to take note of changes in the behavior or demeanor of their children.
"If your child has been acting one way and all of a sudden you notice that they are acting different, it’s worth a conversation with your child about what is going on,” said Johnson. “You can also take them to see a professional counselor who can talk with your child.”
Chase uses his personal testament of communication about ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch’ with his own children, explaining that he also makes sure that his children know about the importance of these topics.
“I’m going around second time as a parent, as I have two adult sons, and have a four-year-old daughter,” said Chase. “It makes it very critical for me to help teach parents that its okay to have these conversations with kids, as I have these conversations with my own daughter. I foster that open communication with her and it helps me to tell parents of examples when speaking with kids.”
When it comes to safe and unsafe touch, there are various resources available both on and off post for children and Families.
“The Department of Social Work at Womack Army Medical Center is staffed with numerous social workers including positions for two child therapists, four marriage and family therapists as well as 24 Family Advocacy Program social workers,” said Johnson.
DEERS-eligible beneficiaries may also access off post behavioral health care by calling 1-800-TRICARE or by going to the website: http://www.tricare.mil/mybenefit/home/MentalHealthAndBehavior/GettingHelp/MakingAnAppointment
For any questions about safe and unsafe touch, contact the Family Advocacy Program at 910-396-5521 or the Department of Social Work at 910-907-7869. There is also a 24 hours, seven days a week Help Line at 910-907-6680 as well as available social workers 24 hours, seven days a week in the WAMC Emergency Department.