A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse Author on Why It’s So Crucial to Talk with Children Early

RAINNews recently sat down with Evelyn Yang, author of the just released A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse, to discuss her inspiration for this book, writing for young audiences, and why it’s so important to talk with children early about sexual abuse in language they can understand. Yang is an author, mother, former marketing director, survivor, and member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council. When her husband ran for President in 2020, Yang gained an unanticipated platform, which she used to share that her obstetrician had abused her during her first pregnancy in 2012.

What compelled you to write this book?

On a deeply personal level, this book is a part of my healing. It’s a blessing for me to be able to channel my trauma into something productive that can help others find healing. One thing I didn’t share when I initially came forward about experiencing abuse by my doctor was that it triggered a memory of childhood sexual abuse that I had repressed for over 30 years. I think this book was a way for me to process that trauma as well.

On a pragmatic level, I was reflecting on how I had shared this tremendous secret of sexual assault by my doctor with the world, but had not yet explained to my own children what sexual abuse was, even after my own childhood experience. In that moment, I felt an enormous weight of responsibility AND lack of resources. Especially when you consider the staggering statistics around sexual abuse—1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18—it actually makes the conversation critical. But as a society, we tend to address sexual abuse reactively. We only talk about it when something bad has happened. That’s a terrible time to learn about something for the first time, as it was in my case as a young girl. My goal was to give parents and educators a tool to get in front of the issue in a way that didn’t feel scary, overwhelming, or overly clinical.

So I like to consider this book about safety—we teach our children how to cross the street safely, how to say no to drugs, what to do in the event of a fire. This is not that different. We need to normalize teaching our kids about the signs of sexual abuse and the importance of reporting it. We know too well how even adults often have a difficult time talking about personal experiences with sexual assault. We can imagine how much harder it is for children. It’s why we need to create these safe spaces for them, and give them that explicit permission to “tell.”

You mention your own experience, but as an adult, with sexual abuse. Why did you feel this was important to include in the book?

This is not a clinical book. The book comes from my perspective and experience as a survivor. I think it’s significant to be able to say, “This happened to me. I felt confused, I felt scared and unsure, but this is what I did.” That personal narrative makes the story more memorable, and, therefore, hopefully a more effective tool for kids in vulnerable situations.

While I was abused by my doctor as an adult, it’s also the case that I was preyed upon, groomed for abuse and made to second guess my own instincts. The abuse made me feel small, powerless and confused. I felt this was a powerful example of how even grownups can find themselves in this situation, and that if it happens, there need not be shame—the most important thing you can do is tell someone.

In my case, after I came forward, dozens of women came forward about the same doctor, who was subsequently arrested for abusing minors under his care. I don’t elaborate on that in the book, but the takeaway is that when I told someone, they believed me. I was able to help myself and others. That’s a message of empowerment that’s unique to this experience, and I thought it was an important lesson to highlight to children the potential power of their voice.

The book encourages parents to read and discuss with their children. Why is that so important for this subject?

This situation is more common for families than we realize. Cracking open the topic between a trusted adult and a kid helps to build a strong baseline of understanding and language around sexual abuse if it should happen. My hope is that it can help kids name and recognize the signs and situation before it happens, and get help. We know that childhood sexual abuse tends to carry on over a prolonged period because the abuser relies on the child’s silence, confusion, shame, and fear. I hope this book can help break that cycle in the worst cases. Abuse thrives in silence. The key point of the book is that no matter what happens, the single most important thing you can do is to tell someone. It’s always brave to tell the truth, and your voice is powerful. This is an important lesson for every child—regardless of whether or not they are currently in an abusive situation or not. Kids can use my experience to understand the importance of speaking up even when it’s uncomfortable, in order to help themselves and others. It’s a principle that can ideally help them throughout their lives, into adolescence and adulthood.

The layout of this book is so simple and clean with no illustrations. Tell us about that choice; it seems counterintuitive for a book meant for children. How does it help with conveying important messages?

I had this book in mind before I discovered the A Kid’s Book About (AKBA) series. I had words, but I struggled precisely with how to illustrate it. For example, do I use illustrations of human children or animals? Bunnies or bears? None of that felt right or like the book I wanted to put out into the world. When I was connected with AKBA, it’s like the stars aligned. Their philosophy and platform couldn’t be more perfect for the subject of sexual abuse, and it fit right in with their other titles such as A Kid’s Book About Racism / Shame / Addiction / Empathy / God. These are important issues where the words alone carry all the weight. My book’s design and layout is consistent with all of the AKBA titles, with the thought being that if there are no cute or distracting characters or illustrations, kids will more easily relate to the story and message. There is enormous impact made with font and format, allowing emotion and emphasis to come through. I love how the style of the series is built on the belief that kids are ready for these harder conversations, and the driving mission to treat them with respect and tell them the truth. But, ultimately, that each subject is presented in a way that’s accessible and affirming for kids.

One important message in the book is that it is okay to speak up for yourself; that it’s not being “rude” to do so. Why did you choose this language?

So many of us, especially as children, are programmed to not be rude. My experience with sexual abuse as a child was atypical, where the perpetrator was a stranger. When he first tried to engage me, I remember clearly that I didn’t want to be rude, even though I had a bad gut feeling. I can only imagine how much more pressure there would be if it was not a stranger, and rather someone I had a relationship with, which is true in 93 percent of childhood sexual abuse cases. I wanted to explain to kids that it’s not being rude when you give voice to what your gut is telling you, and I wanted to encourage them to speak up even if they are afraid of getting someone they care about in trouble, or of getting in trouble themselves.

You give kids some important language to start talking about what they may have experienced. Specifically: “This happened to me and I’m not sure how I feel about it.” How did you develop that language and make it kid-friendly?

That language came from my experience and the experience of other survivors, where there is a certain level of self-doubt or self-blame that often settles in when you experience an abusive situation. There are so many second-guessing questions we tend to ask ourselves: maybe it was my fault in a way, maybe it was an accident, maybe I’m making a fuss about something that’s not a big deal. Because it’s hard to speak up and confront it, it can be easier to let it go. For children in particular, that confusion can lead to shame, which leads to further silence and repression. I wanted to give kids specific language to come forward with situations that may not be clear yet in their minds, relieving them of the burden of being sure before they said something. As a parent, this is how I wish my relationship would be with my children always, under any circumstance.

Where do you see sex abuse dialogue and intervention trending?

I think it’s trending in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do. Erin’s Law in particular has been instrumental in advancing sex abuse prevention education in schools. We should try and pass this law in every single state. But even when it is law, we see that not all schools are applying the mandates consistently. We should be supporting educators to increase that effort and part of that is promoting awareness that those standards exist. It is more critical than ever right now. As we’ve seen, an alarming increase in sexual violence has been a horrendous side effect of the pandemic. Traditionally, schools are safe havens—it’s where a lot of suspected abuse is reported. Now with many kids out of school, we know that many kids are home potentially trapped with their abusers. Experts have warned that we will be working through the aftermath for years to come. It’s one reason I’ve committed sales of this book to RAINN and fund resources to help survivors.

A Kids Book About Sexual Abuse is part of the A Kid’s Book About series and is available for purchase beginning April 5 online.

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