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It’s Time

By Laurie Tasharski | Published: July 11, 2018

An alarm clock

I have been woke. In the terminology of our time, to be woke is to become aware of injustice you were unaware of previously. We all know when the alarm goes off that being woke is not an altogether pleasant experience.

Being woke means you accept knowledge that haunts. You accept responsibility that it takes courage to shoulder. You acknowledge the call to do hard things. It takes courage to teach, so as teachers we are prepared to rise to this demand.

In 2016 I agreed to learn everything I could about child protection. I thought I knew a lot already. Like many teachers, I relished my pastoral role. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse the topic was familiar, and over time I heard enough stories from friends and colleagues around the world to see patterns and similarities.

Still, my learning journey was not easy. A few payments needed to be made. The first cost is innocence, but most adults understand that to sacrifice our own innocence is to protect the innocence of a child. This was a bargain I happily made. The burden of awareness is nothing compared to the cost of victimization.

The second cost is our peace of mind. When I finally knew what I hadn’t known, I realized I had made mistakes. More than once. I had taken advice I should not have. I had acted to protect children, but I had not done enough.

When I present on the topic of child abuse prevention, we take a moment to acknowledge the need for self care—both for the survivors present and for those of us who come to feel guilty about our failings. Even as we learn how to do better, we understand that a hindsight bias throws suspicious behavior into relief and minimizes all the factors that made us question our suspicion in the first place. We need to allow ourselves to be human and fallible. The good news is that educating ourselves makes us less fallible.

For anyone who works in a child serving profession, child protection training is not a box to tick. If as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, then you have a colleague who suffered. You are teaching a child who is suffering. If at least a third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by a child or youth, then you have taught a child who offended. They all need you to know more. They need you to be woke. To know what you don’t know.

What do you need to know? You need training. Clicking through a list of signs and symptoms is not enough. Your students and their parents need education. Abuse prevention education helps children and youth to trust their instinctive avoidance of danger. It empowers them with the vocabulary of refusal and reporting. It identifies safety rules that uncover grooming before abuse starts and gives them the facts about healthy relationships and online exploitation. Mostly, all adults need to accept their responsibility to keep children safe. We all have a role to play.

You can find many helpful tools to serve your current role in child protection at EdPortal.ICMEC.org. If you’re considering a summer enrichment program for your child, review Choosing Safe Programs for Kids which provides tips for evaluating the climate of a child-serving organization. If you’re a teacher, start with the Role of Mandatory Reporters or Quick Start guides for training plans, or responding to a concern, suspicion or allegation of abuse.

Like moving a sore muscle to see if it hurts, I still look back and try to reassess. Additional knowledge and experience amplify those whispers from the past. I hear more clearly what I missed or didn’t want to see. Yet there is no perfect knowledge, and handling suspicion of abuse will never be clear or easy. But whatever barriers you encounter in your duty to protect the children or youth in your care, there are ways to overcome them. Prevention is possible. And it starts with being woke.

About the Author

Laurie Tasharski, M.Ed. has lived, learned and taught internationally most of her life. She is the Education Liaison for the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC). ICMEC has 20 years’ experience training, collaborating and advocating for children and youth. In a partnership with the International Task Force for Child Protection (ITFCP) ICMEC started the Education Portal (EdPortal.ICMEC.org) to disseminate information, provide good practice models and further abuse prevention in international schools and communities. 

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