My Body Belongs to Me

As a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for more than a decade, I have often encountered My Body Belongs to Me-small2children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write a children’s book called My Body Belongs to Me.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and is now serving a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to end her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.” I wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. Parents and educators can use it as a tool to facilitate an open dialogue with youngsters.

The story is a simple scenario involving a gender neutral child who is inappropriately touched by an uncle’s friend. The powerful message really comes through when the youngster tells on the offender and the parents praise the child’s bravery. The last page shows a proud, smiling child doing a “strong arm” pose. The text assures them that it wasn’t their fault and by speaking out the child will continue to grow big and strong. It is a compelling and uplifting message.

The “Suggestions for the Storyteller” section is an important, interactive feature that facilitates the discussion to follow. It will make any caregiver feel more comfortable talking about this important subject, thereby helping to PREVENT the unthinkable from happening to their child.  Research tells us that child sexual abuse does not discriminate. It is a problem that affects everyone.

  • In the United States, approx. 1 of 4 girls and 1 of 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 47% of child sexual abuse victims wait 5 years or more to speak up, if they ever do.
  • 93% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they already know.

It is my sincere hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • To keep your children safe:
    1. No secrets. Period. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem. The way I effectuate this rule is as follows: If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to my child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret”, I firmly, but politely say “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then I say to my child “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”
    2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts. This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable.
    3. Teach your child to tell a safe person if someone touches them in an inappropriate way. Discuss with children the importance of telling a parent, teacher or other trusted adult right away.
    4. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are your favorite aunt, uncle or cousin, your child should not be forced to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by doing this, you will empower your child to say no to inappropriate touching.
  • If you choose to use My Body Belongs to Me as a tool for teaching your family about body safety, here are some suggestions:
    1. Read the book at least once for enjoyment before using it to get into a serious discussion.
    2. After reading the book, help lead an open-ended discussion by asking questions such as the following: What are your parts that are private, Why did the child get scared, What did the uncle’s friend do, What did he tell the little child, If someone touches your private parts, should it be a secret, Why did the uncle’s friend put his finger up to his lips, What did the child do when he did that, Were the mom and dad happy when the child told them what had happened, What did they do, If the child did not tell the parents, who else could be told, How does the child feel in the picture at the end?
    3. Find teachable moments with your child to reinforce the lessons learned in the book.

Text4Baby…Texts for Moms

Over the past few years the rate of US infant mortality has been text for mom-to-berising. More than 500,000 babies are born premature and around 28,000 children die in the very first year of their birth – sobering statistics for a country with such advanced medical capabilities. Because of this, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) have partnered with several major cellular carriers to create Text4Baby, a new, free mobile information service designed to bring timely health information to expectant and new moms.

According to a recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Health Research, delivering health information via text messaging is an up-and-coming trend for healthcare providers, enabling them to easily reach patients who are most in need of monitoring. Since key predictors of a child’s’ chance for survival are birth weight and gestational age, moms-to-be are prime candidates for this kind of communication.

Text4baby promotes maternal and child health by offering health-related information through SMS text messages. Women can sign up for the service by texting “BABY” to 511411 (or “BEBE” in Spanish) and will receive three free SMS text messages each week timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth. The messages deal with diverse topics including: birth defects prevention, immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, mental health, oral health and safe sleep. The Text4baby service also connects women to prenatal and infant care services and other resources.

According to Chopra“text4baby is the first free mobile health service to be taken to scale in the United States. We know that mobile phones hold tremendous potential to inform and empower individuals…Text4baby represents an extraordinary opportunity to expand the way we use our phones, to demonstrate the potential of mobile health technology, and make a real difference for moms and babies across the country.”

Texting for healthy babies – sometimes a little innovation can be a powerful combination

How to Protect Your Child from Choking Hazards

In a policy statement published in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls upon food manufacturers to reduce choking risks for children. Pediatricians want manufacturers to make foods that are known choking hazards safer by changing the size, shape, and/or texture of high risk foods. They also request labeling of such foods with a warning about the potential for choking. Foods such as hot dogs, carrot sticks, grapes, peanut butter, and many others fall into the high risk category because of the frequency of choking incidents among young children involving them.

Universal Choking SignHot dogs can be especially dangerous for young children under the age of 3. The size and shape, along with the ability to compress easily can cause the complete blockage of a child’s airway and can be lodged in too tightly to remove, even with proper medical equipment. According to the AAP policy statement Choking on food causes the death of approximately 1 child every 5 days in the United States. Hot dogs accounted for 17% of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age in a 41-state study.

Whether food manufacturers heed the call to re-design high risk foods or not, parents and child care providers must take responsibility for protecting children against choking on any food. Here are some recommended tips for helping your child eat safely:

  • Cut up food into small pieces, no more than 1/2 inch in diameter.
  • Do not feed children under the age of 4 any hard, smooth, round or firm foods that have to be chewed with a grinding motion without cutting them up into small pieces. Peanuts, grapes, hot dogs, and carrot sticks must be cut up first.
  • Do not let children eat while playing, laughing, walking, or running around.
  • Teach your child to chew food thoroughly and to swallow before talking.
  • Do not feed popcorn, nuts, or hard candy to children under the age of 4.
  • Learn CPR and how to appropriately and safely assist someone who is choking.

Distracted Driving – Don’t Risk It

distractionNo doubt. We live in a busy, hectic and connected world. I can stay in touch with anyone from virtually anywhere. Unfortunately this also includes while driving and this practice is commonly referred to as distracted driving. Distracted driving places us all at risk. Distracted driving has become so common place and had resulted in so many traffic mishaps- collisions and fatalities that the federal government has launched a new website to help educate us all with the hope of curtailing the practice. This new site states that:

There are three main types of distraction:

  1. Visual — taking your eyes off the road
  2. Manual — taking your hands of the wheel
  3. Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing

It further states that texting while driving involves all three. Many states have outlawed talking on a cell phone while driving without the use of a hands free device. States are also quickly moving to outlaw texting while driving. Look at your text messages are they really that important? Are they worth risking your life or the life of another. Will you risk your life, the life of your child or whether your child grows up with a parent because you are talking about weekend plans.

Don’t wait for laws to chance or be enforced. Do what’s right- right now.

For more information, check out http://www.distraction.gov

In Memory of Noah…please watch your children around cars

Travis is in the Air Force and we were stationed at Scott AFB in Noah sitting on the wing of a air plane2Illinois for quite some time. Illinois was the only place Noah had ever lived…but he was used to moving. We had to move several times from one house to another. This time it was from one house on base (that was scheduled to be renovated) to a brand new house that had just been built down the road. We were all excited, we had never lived in a brand new house before nor one so big. Noah was worried about how we were going to get all of our stuff to the “Empty House”.

Looking back in my memory files, I realize that I don’t have a lot of memory of the day of the accident. Not of the little stuff. I don’t even remember what day of the week it was.

Thursday I think.   July 26, 2007.

There was a buzz in the air that morning. Everyone was excited. Noah just celebrated his 5th birthday the day before, and he was anxious to play with his new scooter.  I had a lot of things to do. Noah had some birthday cake for breakfast. Sure! Why not. I didn’t want to fuss and argue that day. Happy as a lark he was.

I filled up the back of the van with boxes of kitchen stuff to bring to the new house. Noah added a couple of things to put in his new room. The girls helped. I brought several loads of small things down to the new house that morning…setting everything up just right. The bigger stuff would come later when Travis could get off work and we could rent a truck.

I remember backing into the double garage with a little bit of difficulty because the driveway was curved. I didn’t think much about it. I couldn’t bring much in the van because everything had to be weighed so we could get paid from the Air Force for this move. So I headed back home where all the kids in the Cul-de-sac were playing. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

All the kids got out of the road. I had my windows rolled down and I could hear the older kids shout, “Car”. Everyone would dart into the yards and wait for the car to go by and park. They had a good system going.

I backed the van up to the house and parked it. Noah was playing on his new bright colored scooter. I walked Noah outsidedown the driveway to check the mail and saw Noah at the top of the driveway, beside the van getting ready to take off like a rocket down my way towards the road. I ran up beside him and gave him a “Smoochie” and told him “I love you.” “Thanks Mom” he said, and away he went. I will be forever glad I said that to him.

The girls were fussing in the house. That was nothing unusual. We were watching a friend’s dog. I had forgotten about that until just now. Lucky was the dogs name, and he happened to be hanging out at our place so I didn’t have to go back and forth to let him out. This is where I draw a blank some.

I just remember after coming home, that I went upstairs in my room and lay down in bed. I was tired already, and the thought of all the work ahead of me for that day made me even more tired. My ear bothered me. It was plugged and in a little pain. I thought I was getting an ear infection.

Travis came home. Noah was excited and followed him up the stairs to where I was. He wanted to talk about the money he got for his birthday. $30.00 is a lot of money to a 5 year old. I heard Noah tell his dad…” You know dad I’m richer than YOU! I have a Million Dollars!” Travis asked him what he was going to do with that Million Dollars. Noah said he was going to buy Orange Tic-Tacs – his favorite treat to get when he went to the Shoppette with his Dad. We all got a great laugh out of that. Noah climbed on the bed with me, and Travis started changing his cloths. Sooner or later Noah was told to go play outside.

Travis and I made plans to go get the truck. Travis knew of a place to rent trucks in the town, not too far away. I kind of dreaded getting up off the bed, because I really didn’t feel well. But I did. I was excited to move into the new house, and there was a lot to be done. I told the girls that we were going to go get the truck, and that I would have to drive the Van so their dad could drive the truck back. I was outside by the van when I asked Beth if she would watch Noah. She didn’t want to and Noah wanted to go with us. I was perfectly fine with him going with us. I didn’t mind at all. It shouldn’t take long after all.

Noah was excited. He was dressed in new cloths that he got from Gramma, and told me after he got buckled into his seat that he “Looked Hot”. Something he undoubtedly picked up from his sisters.

When we pulled into the truck rental place I wondered if the place even rented trucks, because it looked more like a place that just had storage units to rent. I didn’t see any trucks. The parking lot was covered with white rocks. They crunched when I drove over them and parked. Travis got out and went in to do business.

Noah in churchNoah hummed and chattered away behind me in his car seat. It was taking longer than he thought it should so he unbuckled his seat-belt and walked up to stand next to me while I was sitting in the driver’s seat. Noah asked where we were, and I told him this is the place where we are going to borrow a truck so we can take all our stuff to the new empty house. Satisfied with that he wanted to go in and be with his Dad. I told him that was fine, and I would watch him walk to the door. He went in and I called my mother on the phone to tell her that we were moving that day, and we talked a little bit. I saw Travis come out of the building. There was a vehicle on both sides of the van so I couldn’t see Travis after a couple of seconds. I figured Noah was with Travis, happily trotting behind him.

Some time went by and I saw Travis driving the moving truck in my rear-view mirror. I thought they were ready to go because it looked like Travis was setting up the truck to pull out into traffic. I assumed that Noah was in the truck with Travis. But Travis had told him to go wait by the doors to the building. I told my mother that I had to go, because Travis was getting ready to leave. I snapped my cell-phone shut and threw it in the empty seat next to me. I put the van in reverse, threw my arm over the passenger side seat and backed out of the parking spot by looking out the back window.

I heard a bump. I thought it sounded like I ran over a box, but I thought to myself I hadn’t gotten out of the van to put a box behind the van. Suddenly I realized what might have happened, quickly, faster than I could ever explain, I threw the van in drive and parked it again in the spot it was in. Terrified, I jumped out of the van and ran to the back of it. I could hear Travis screaming “NO” as he got out of the truck.

Noah was laying on his belly with his head turned to the left side on the hot rocks that made the parking lot. I tried to pick Noah up, but Travis screamed for me not to. Noah was then on his back, unconscious. I ran into the building where I screamed for someone to call 911! I couldn’t speak anything but that. “My son has been hurt, call 911”

I know someone called, I remember seeing them calmly talking on the phone, but I couldn’t calm down. Travis stayed with Noah, shading his head from the sun. I could not compose myself and ended up crumpled on the floor in the building screaming.

It seemed like it took a very long time for the ambulance to come. I couldn’t watch when they did get there. I was far too out of it. I know they took Noah into the ambulance and they were breathing for him and doing what they could until the helicopter got there. Again it seemed to take a long time. I didn’t feel like we had this kind of time to waste waiting…Something had to be done. I tried to go in the ambulance to keep an eye on my boy, but the police officer wouldn’t let me. He told me it would be better for Noah if I was not in there while I was so upset. I went back into the building. I think I passed out. Blood was on the walls. My glasses were gone. A police officer came in and talked to me. I remember telling him that I didn’t see Noah. I didn’t know he was there! He tried to comfort me, but I think I was beyond needing a pat on the back. I heard the helicopter coming. Before it landed in the road, I tried to see Noah again. The officer standing by the ambulance still would not let me get in.

Quickly they moved Noah from the ambulance to the helicopter and away he went to Childrens hospital in St. Louis. I was left feeling panicked with a strong need to GO! I needed to GO to the hospital. But we could not drive because Both Travis and I were too upset. Someone from Travis’s office came to drive us to the hospital. By this time, almost everyone who needed to know what happened knew. The drive to the hospital was painfully long. I just cried.

When we got to the hospital I plowed through the front doors, Travis was behind me with my purse. I didn’t even realize I had gone through a security check point until Travis told me to wait up. I just needed to get to The last family picture ever taken with Noah2.my son! I asked someone where Noah Allen was. They knew who he was and were expecting us. I remember being led to a small waiting room. No one else was in there. It was quiet…just Travis and myself. I sunk to the floor. Travis stood crying. I didn’t want to be in that room. I couldn’t believe what just happened. I don’t know how much time had passed when someone came in and gave us an update, and told us that Noah was in a coma. I was somehow relieved that at least he was sleeping and not feeling any pain. She took us to the trauma room where they were working on Noah. They were getting him ready to have a CT scan done, and bring him into surgery.

My poor boy lay there on that bed, a nurse breathing for him, and other nurses and doctors rushing around fussing over things I couldn’t even begin to understand. I felt better that I was with Noah. I had decided that he was going to be OK. And we are just going to have a long road of recovery. He might never be the same, but at least I would still have my son.

I don’t remember if they took him away, or if we were taken out of the room. A nurse approached me and asked if I was Dawn Allen. Just like in the movies, I started crying. I thought she was going to tell me that Noah had passed away. I didn’t recognize her as one of my friends until she told me who she was. She just happened to be working in the ER that day. It was time to go to another waiting room on another floor because Noah was going into surgery. The next thing I remember is being wheeled out of a different ER room where I was admitted as a patient. Evidently in the elevator on our way up to the next floor I passed out.

When Travis wheeled me out of the room there were a lot of people from the base there to support us. I remember seeing them and feeling comforted by the fact that they were all there. Everyone introduced themselves. I remember that most everyone were Pastors, Fathers, and the such. We were waiting to talk to the doctor. We didn’t wait very long. The doctors came in the room still in their surgical garb.

The only thing I remember is one doctor telling Travis and I was that Noah was a very sick little boy. Everything after that is a blur. Noah was in Children’s ICU, being kept alive with life support.

During the next couple of days family showed up from out of state, and we had a huge amount of support from the base, and the local church we attended. There were always two people at the hospital with us for the whole time we were there…sometimes more. I hardly left Noah’s bed, as his body continually got worse.

Finally on Saturday, July 28th 2007, tests had shown that Noah’s brain was no longer functioning. We had life support turned off. Family and friends gathered around his bed. Noah’s “million dollars” and his Orange Tic-Tacs lay next to him. We all said our goodbye’s.

We had two funerals for Noah. One was for our Air Force family and our Church family in Illinois. Then the next day Noah’s body was flown to Maine for his final funeral at his grave side. This is where I draw a blank. I have almost no memory for about 6 months after we had the life support turned off. I rely on what my family and friends tell me happened. Travis remembers it all. He was/is my rock. Travis had to make the arrangements. I was useless with grief and guilt and the desire to end my life. I do remember feelings more than I remember events. I remember I hated waking up. It meant I was still alive.

To this day – two years and 7 months later, I still struggle. Noahs resting spot 2009I have terrible memory problems, major depressive episodes, guilt, hallucinations and super anxieties. Sometimes I feel as though I am a terrible burden to my family. Travis is still my foundation…my rock. We share a bond stronger than ever. I am so blessed to have him.

I am told I am my own worst enemy. No charges were ever brought upon me because it clearly was a horrible accident. Guilt and sorrow are overwhelming at times, and there are still times when I wish someone would run over me and I could be done with this world and go to my baby boy in Heaven, Lord willing.

For now, until I can meet with my son again I have sentenced myself to life.

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Note from Pediatric Safety: Our love and support go out to Dawn and her family…and we are grateful to her for sharing her story to help others. Tragedies like this happen way too often. For more information and how you can help, please visit http://www.kidsandcars.org

YouTube – Adding Child Safety to the Menu

With millions of videos on YouTube, keeping your child safe from inappropriate videos has been a major challenge. There’s a significant amount of sexual content and violence…in fact, typing in the word “cartoon” on YouTube leads to over 300,000 hits and on the first page you find a video YouTubeentitled “very creepy, disturbing children’s cartoon, banned from TV”. And we all know how enticing something that is banned can seem. Scott Rubin, YouTube’s head of child safety, cites that “YouTube was never intended to be used by children under age 13”.  Unfortunately the best of intentions do not always match the end result.  So what is a parent to do??? You could of course choose to block YouTube entirely or keep a constant eye on your child while they scanned through the vast amount of video streams available to them. Finally however, there is another option for parents, one that should make the task of keeping your child safe a little more manageable.

As of last Thursday, YouTube’s parental controls will now be displayed on the bottom of every YouTube screen. You can also create a blocking filter to limit what YouTube will display. According to NY Times reporter Warren Buckleitner, here’s how to turn it on:

  1. Scroll to the bottom of any YouTube page.
  2. Click on the words “Safety Mode is Off.”
  3. Adjust the settings, click Save and start searching. To permanently lock on Safety Mode, you must log on to your YouTube account.

So how does Safety Mode work? CNET Senior Editor Natalie Del Conte describes Safety Mode as accomplishing three things: it “limits content on videos containing nudity, pornography, narcotics, graphic violence, and news events containing graphic violence; collapses all comments on videos automatically (you can choose to view comments, but comments with profanity will be filtered out); locks Safety Mode for all users, even if a user is logged out, so kids can’t turn off Safety Mode if they try to.”

Keep in mind, Safety Mode is both browser specific and account specific, so you must turn it on for every browser (i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc) and every account you want to filter. And make sure private browsing is disengaged since Safety Mode will not function if that is turned on. Still nothing is failsafe, so monitoring your child’s internet use remains the best policy. Knowing however that a child’s search for “naked” brings up a message that says “the word “naked” has been filtered from the search because Safety Mode is enabled” should provide concerned parents the ability to breathe a little easier