Book offers non-threatening way to talk to children about sexual abuse

One in four girls and one in six boys nationally will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, according to the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy.

Of those, less than 10 percent will ever tell, even though they know their offender 90 percent of the time.

That alone, child counselors and advocates say, is reason enough to shift much of the conversation about child sexual abuse away from strangers to the people we know.

And so soon after her daughter was born in 2008,  Tatiana Matthews, a Dunwoody mother and licensed professional counselor, said she felt compelled to go beyond helping repair the sexually abused children she saw in her practice each week. She needed to somehow prevent the abuse from ever happening, and so one evening, Matthews sat down and penned "Fred the Fox Shouts No!,” offering parents a way to talk openly about the issue with children ages 3 to 10.

The 24-page book not only introduces the concepts of private parts and personal rights but seeks to empower children to use their voice to protect themselves and to swiftly report abuse when it has occurred.

Instead of continuing to cover such old territory as stranger danger, Matthews takes on the equally important but less talked about aspect of child sexual abuse: family and friends.

"We've sort of made the perpetrator look like the dirty old man in a raincoat, but really it's a family member or friend," said Nancy Chandler, CEO of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy.

After years of attending continuing education conferences, Matthews found herself face to face with victims of sexual abuse in her Alpharetta practice. The numbers she’d grown so familiar with were no longer just a set of digits strung together. They were real people.

“I saw the numbers being validated over and over again,” said Matthews, a 37-year-old mother. “It was scary.”

Continuing to focus on stranger danger is to avoid the real problem, said Chandler, whose organization has been training adults on how to prevent child sexual abuse since 2006.

"Child sexual abuse is a public health issue, and it's imperative that we teach people how to prevent it," she said.

To date, Chandler said, the agency has trained about 19,000 people and continues to offer training every month. Anyone interested can call 678-904-2880 or log onto

Because talking about sexual abuse still makes parents uncomfortable, Matthews hopes "Fred the Fox" can serve to break the ice a little.

“It’s not a topic that many parents want to think about, let alone talk about,” Matthews said.

The book, which costs $17.99, is available online at Matthews said she will donate a portion of the profits from the sale of the book to organizations that promote healthy and safe children.

"Fred the Fox" is already receiving rave reviews from local parents, many of whom say they have heard stories of children being molested.

Kara Krohn, a 38-year-old mother of two young children, purchased the book a month ago.

“I’d been struggling with finding a way to talk to my 4-year-old son about sexual abuse,” Krohn said.

The Dunwoody mom said she particularly liked the book because it encouraged participation from the children.

“It’s a serious subject, but they do a good job of presenting the issue in a non-threatening way,” she said.

Her son Max particularly enjoys it “because he gets to yell ‘no’ louder and louder.”

Patty Childs, principal at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic School in Sandy Springs, said she recently purchased the book for her school library.

“It's sad that we would have to have the conversation, but it’s not a topic we can bury our heads in the sand over,” said Childs.

Childs said "Fred the Fox" is appealing to children, perhaps, "because it is interactive and children tend to listen to the message a little better sometimes than when you’re just talking to them about it.”

Of the 20 or so people she sees each week at her practice, Matthews said that 10 to 20 percent have been sexually abused, and all of them had close relationships with their perpetrators. Most of them were family members or very close friends.

“Yes, we have to be vigilant with strangers, but in regards to sexual abuse prevention, it's much more about safety with people that we know and people that we trust,” she said.

Perpetrators generally align with parents and kids and so are more likely present at the places kids frequent, such as sporting events, schools and churches.

Perhaps most startling, Matthews said, is this: 50 percent of all sexual offenders are under the age of 18.

“We’re not just talking about adult-children interaction. We’re talking about the fourth-grader who acts out on the second-grader or two kids of the same age where one is dominating the sexual play,” she said. “It is about when coercion or force is used to have another child engage in sexual play that it is then no longer considered developmentally appropriate.”

Tips for recognizing signs of sexual abuse

  • An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
  • Angry outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Pregnancy or contraction of a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
  • Propensity to run away
  • Refusal to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Regressive behaviors depending on their age (return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting)
  • Reluctance to be left alone with a particular person or people
  • Sexual knowledge, language and/or behaviors that are unusual and inappropriate for their age

Source: American Psychological Association