Education is Key

By Kevin Tankersley

Starting the conversation with your kids about sexual abuse

Pictured: Photo by Brittany Ross

Since 2008, Dr. Soo Battle has presented her program called Camp Careful to more than 3,100 children, teenagers and parents. During her presentations, Battle offers age-appropriate information on ways to reduce and prevent sexual abuse of children. Battle graduated from the University of Texas and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston School of Medicine and now works as a pediatrician in Waco. She’s married to Dr. Jake Battle, who is an orthopedic surgeon at Coryell Health, and they have two children: Sam, a freshman at Midway High School; and Brooke, a sixth grader at River Valley Intermediate School.

WACOAN: What got you started with Camp Careful?

Battle: I originally had a group of eight to 10 of my son’s friends and their mothers come to the Advocacy Center [for Crime Victims and Children] to learn about ‘stranger danger’ and keeping ‘private parts private.’ I was on the board of directors at the Advocacy Center, so I knew the importance of this information. My son was 4 years old at the time, and I felt like it was important for him to learn how to protect himself even at a young age.

WACOAN: How long have you been working at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children? What all does that agency do?

Battle: I started doing the child sexual abuse medical exams in December 2015, and in December 2018 I added the position of medical advisor to my responsibilities. The Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children is a nonprofit umbrella agency that cares for all victims of crime. The agency has three programs: Children’s Advocacy Center, The Victims Center, and the Prevention and Education program. The Children’s Advocacy Center provides forensic interviews and medical exams. The Victims Center provides [a] 24-hour crisis hotline, sexual assault forensic exams at the emergency rooms, counseling and case management. The P&E program provides prevention-related classes and programs throughout the community.

WACOAN: I attended a recent session you presented, and you said some things that I found interesting. One is that ‘stranger danger’ isn’t a big threat to children. Where do threats to children usually come from then?

Battle: There is definitely the threat of stranger danger with children, so we need to teach them rules and boundaries in relation to how to deal with strangers. However, in the area of child sexual abuse, 90 percent of child sexual abuse perpetrators are someone the child knows and trusts. Of that 90 percent, roughly 30 percent are family members, and the other 60 percent are other people close to the child and their family, for instance, family friends, neighbors, school friends, acquaintances, authority figures [such as] teachers, coaches, clergy, youth activity leaders, etc.

So while learning about stranger danger is important, it is equally, if not more, important to teach our kids how to be safe from certain situations. Don’t just teach about the ‘scary man in the white van.’ Teach your children about how to keep their bodies safe from anyone.

WACOAN: You also told parents to be watchful but not paranoid. How can a parent do that?

Battle: Education is key. Learn how to talk to your kids about their bodies. Teach them how to protect themselves and how to keep their bodies private. Teach what situations to avoid. Teach them that they’re the boss of their bodies. When kids know safety rules, they are able to protect themselves better.

Be consistent with your message and follow-up frequently. Remind them of the rules and message before they go off to parties, sleepovers, camps, etc. Prevention starts with education.

WACOAN: If a child has been assaulted, are there outward signs that might alert a parent?

Battle: One of the biggest things we see with child victims of sexual assault is a change in behavior. Changes may include anger, fear, depression, self-harm [like] cutting, violence, unusual sexual behavior, sleeping troubles, appetite changes, discipline issues, school grades dropping or isolation from friends.

Physical signs might include abdominal symptoms, constipation, pain with urination, bladder infections, pain or discharge from private parts, accidents or soiling of underwear. Any change of behavior or frequent or persistent physical symptoms should be evaluated.

WACOAN: You talked about how teens can protect themselves, especially when they go to a party where there might be people they don’t know. Can you elaborate on those steps a bit, please?

Battle: The four key points when I talk to teenagers are, one, use the buddy system. Always have a friend that will make sure you don’t leave with another person. Your buddy should never leave the party without you.

Two, be a good friend. I tell teenagers that the other half of the buddy system is to act on it. Do what you need to stop your friend from getting in a situation they can’t control. Speak up, even if your friend doesn’t like it.

Three, beware of alcohol and drugs. Both of those obviously impair judgement.

Four, remember what consent means. It’s not just ‘No means no.’ A lot of other things determine consent besides the words yes or no.

WACOAN: You also told parents, ‘Don’t be clueless.’ What did you mean by that?

Battle: I think I said that in the context of teenagers in general. Don’t assume just because your kid is a good kid that you don’t need to talk to them about alcohol, drugs, sex, consent and things like that.

Teenagers appreciate my Camp Careful classes and respond really well because I talk to them like I get them. I tell them, ‘Look, I know there are parties you go to with alcohol and drugs. I know you vape. I know people are having sex. So let’s talk about how to keep safe when those are around.’

Also, parents need to be aware of their teenager’s social media activity and digital footprint. Be aware, don’t be clueless.

WACOAN: You mentioned that there’s a video on YouTube that parents need to watch, but they need to watch the ‘clean’ version of it. What’s the video, and why do you recommend it?

Battle: The video is called Tea Consent (Clean), and you can watch it on YouTube. I show teenagers this video because it uses a great, easy-to-understand and humorous example of drinking tea to understand the concept of consent.

WACOAN: And how big of a shock will it be if, perchance, someone accidentally clicks on the other version instead of the clean version?

Battle: Oh, goodness. I accidentally clicked on the non-clean version in a presentation once, and it starts with a curse word. Don’t do that! Make sure you find the clean version!

WACOAN: You also talked a lot about social media, and you gave parents several tips to help their children stay safe there. What were some of those tips?

Battle: Parents need to be present and involved in their children’s digital lives. Even if you trust your child, which I hope you do, they are exposed to things that might not be in their control. Or things they aren’t expecting. Monitor your child’s social media constantly. Be aware of the apps that are out there and what they and their friends are sending each other.

We live in a world totally different from when we, as parents, grew up. Teenagers these days are sending inappropriate photos and videos to each other, or they’re seeing them on Instagram feeds and stories and Snapchat. They’re meeting total strangers online. I ask parents to be vigilant and aware of what’s out there.

WACOAN: You said, ‘Digital media is forever.’ So say there’s a photo on my phone that I delete, then I delete it from the ‘Recently deleted’ folder. I assume it’s gone. But that’s not the case, is it?

Battle: What we’re seeing these days is teenagers doing silly, inappropriate or often illegal things and recording it digitally with photos or videos. And then they’re sharing it for their friends to see and like on social media. Well, even when these things are posted in Instagram direct message, Instagram stories or Snapchat, where supposedly they disappear, they don’t really disappear.

First of all, people can screenshot anything. Once somebody screenshots something, it’s out of your hands. They can forward it to whoever they want. So now that picture or video is no longer under your control.

Secondly, I know that at the Advocacy Center and with law enforcement that we work with, those digital images and videos are easily retrieved from the phones and used as evidence. Nothing is deleted forever. Tech experts with law enforcement get images and videos all the time from things that were supposedly deleted.

WACOAN: What age do kids need to be before parents start talking to them about how to keep themselves safe?

Battle: We should start teaching our children about body safety as soon as they can talk, and as soon as they can say their body part names. Don’t we teach our young children about how to safely cross the road, how to be safe around the hot stove, how to not play with sharp things at a young age? They know these safety rules as young toddlers and preschoolers. So why not start teaching them about their bodies at the same time? I start Camp Careful classes at the age of 3.

WACOAN: You mentioned that it’s good for families not to have ‘cute’ names for the body’s private parts. Why is that?

Battle: Parents have used silly or cutesy names for private parts for decades. Unfortunately, that is teaching our children that those parts are things we don’t discuss or things we have to be embarrassed about. If we teach them ‘We don’t talk about those parts,’ then if something happens to their private parts or somebody touches their private parts, children will be reluctant to tell their parents about it.

Teach private part names like vagina and penis just like you would eyes, ears, nose, throat. Children need to know the proper name so they can tell the parent or a doctor about it if needed.

WACOAN: I believe that you, and definitely the police officers in the break-out sessions, mentioned that the biggest substance use issue in schools now is vaping. I’ve seen folks vaping using big, round handheld devices and blowing out huge clouds of smoke. But all vaping devices aren’t that big and obvious now, are they?

Battle: Adults often use those big handheld vaping devices. Teenagers, on the other hand, are using small vaping devices that look like a USB flash drive. In particular, kids seem to be using the Juul vaping devices. They are easy to hide, have minimal smoke and come in flavored pods.

We are seeing a huge increase in the number of middle school and high school [students] vaping. Parents need to be aware of what Juuling looks like. And don’t just think it’s the ‘bad’ kids doing it. The smart kids, the jocks, the band students, the popular kids, the loners — it’s everywhere. Again, be aware, don’t be clueless.

WACOAN: If someone can’t make it to one of your sessions, what kind of information do you provide on your blog and website?

Battle: My website, www.campcareful.com, and also my Facebook page, Camp Careful – Dr. Soo Battle, have blog articles about general pediatric safety, child sexual abuse prevention tips, updates on upcoming classes and other safety information. Sign up for my newsletter on my website if you don’t have a Facebook account.

WACOAN: You graduated from the University of Texas, then went to medical school in Galveston. What led you to Waco?

Battle: My husband took a job with an orthopedic surgery group in 2005. I decided to take some time off to be with my young son and had another child in 2007. In 2009, I took a job with Baylor Scott & White Pediatrics part time and got involved in the community. We’ve loved being in Waco.

WACOAN: What do you and your family like to do for fun?

Battle: In my spare time, I enjoy running and am actually training for my first marathon in February. I also enjoy reading novels. And of course I have a great group of friends — we call [each other] our ‘tribe’ — that keep each other going from week to week. Our kids’ sports and activities definitely keep us busy on the weekends.

Jake and I carve out time together with frequent date nights or quick weekend trips to Dallas without kids to enjoy a nice dinner and attend a musical or something. Our family loves watching sports together — baseball, football, the Texas Longhorns — snow skiing, beach vacations and traveling.

WACOAN: Are you reading anything good right now, either for work or pleasure?

Battle: Well, I just finished reading ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens, which was such a great read. The last great book before that was ‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee. A multigenerational family saga about a Korean family.

Currently, I’m reading ‘A Column of Fire’ by Ken Follett, but it’s been on my nightstand for a couple of months. Hoping to get back into it soon.

WACOAN: What else do I need to know?

Battle: With regard to teenagers, I often say, ‘They don’t know what they don’t know.’ What I mean by this with Camp Careful is there are so many laws and rules about sexting, consent and sexual assault that teens don’t know much about. Probably most parents don’t know about these laws or understand them either. We could save our teenagers from doing the wrong thing or doing an illegal thing if we just educated them about these laws.

For instance, what does it really mean for someone to consent to sexual activity? When can a person not give consent? What if someone is drunk? What if a boyfriend and girlfriend consent, but they’re 13 years old? Fourteen years old? Does it make a difference? Am I breaking a law by sending an intimate photo to my boyfriend or girlfriend? What if they send it to someone else?

Most teenagers don’t know when some of these things may actually be breaking the law. Parents need to be aware, and we need to teach these laws to our children. We teach them about driving laws, drinking laws, smoking laws. Why not teach them about sexual assault and sexting laws too?

Join the Conversation