The Importance of the Sex Talk: A Latin American Perspective
I wish I could say that I remember the time my parents had the “big talk” with me, but the truth is that we never actually had it. I was born in the U.S. but in a home where we only spoke Spanish, ate “sopa de res,” and watched Don Francisco every Saturday night, religiously. My parents, Salvadorian immigrants, worked day and night to provide for our family. We weren’t rich, but my little brother and I had everything we needed and, for the most part, had a wonderful childhood.
Nonetheless, the time that my parents sacrificed working to make sure we had everything we needed had certain implications that would change the course of my life. There were, no doubt, many reasons we were never able to have the “big talk” or even Little Talks that we know here at Defend Innocence help reduce the risk of child sexual abuse (CSA). At 5 years old I was a victim of this horrible epidemic that affects 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys. The most alarming thing, perhaps, is the fact that the cases are vastly underreported, whether it be because of fear, shame, or lack of resources in certain parts of the world.
I don’t know for certain whether finding out about The Younique Foundation and Defend Innocence was divine intervention or mere coincidence, but despite what happened in my youth, I feel that I am one of the lucky ones because I have access to these resources. I feel strongly that I need to tell my story and share this information with anyone I can to raise awareness about something that is happening right under our noses. My abuse happened in my own home by someone who was renting one of our rooms, which coincides with the statistic that children know their perpetrator in 90% of sexual abuse cases. The part that truly breaks my heart is knowing that 30% of sexual abuse perpetrators are actually family members.
In an article1 examining the role that shame plays in child sexual abuse cases in Latin American children, or children whose ancestors come from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, we see that there are two types of shame. The first type of shame is internal shame, which is the internal process, the devaluing and rejecting of one’s self. The second type is called external shame, which is when a victim feels a lack of worth in the eyes of others. Shame plays a large role not just within Latin American culture surrounding these topics, but also for survivors of CSA and their loved ones.
My family didn’t find out about my abuse until I was 23. It was a secret that weighed heavily on my soul for years, and I am so grateful to have a family who knew how to comfort me and give me the love I needed at that moment. For me it was definitely an awkward moment, because although we’re relatively open in my family, we hardly ever speak about topics regarding sexuality. I now see the value in accepting that although certain topics can be very awkward, it’s better to talk about them than to act like they don’t exist.
I know that every family is different, and that there are Latin American families who do talk about healthy sexuality. As the Spanish social media coordinator for Defend Innocence in Spanish—Defendamos La Inocencia—I’ve been able to see with my own eyes the growth in overall awareness of child sexual abuse in Latin American communities. This growth is due in part to the readily available online resources, but it’s also due to the realization that child sexual abuse is a harsh reality that we can and should attempt to tackle and, at the very least, begin talking about.
I know I’m not the only victim, and I probably won’t be the last. But I also know our youth are the future and by beginning to have conversations with them about sexual health at a young age (even starting from 0–2 years of age!), regardless of how awkward it may seem at first, we truly can reduce the risk of child sexual abuse. I encourage you to read our blogs about how to start these conversations, to share this information with your loved ones, and to embrace the awkward moments and shame that can surface when talking with your children about sex. It’s never too soon (or too late) to start having these conversations with your children, and certainly never too late to start defending innocence.
- Fontes, L. A. (2007). Sin vergüenza: Addressing shame with Latino victims of child sexual abuse and their families. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 16(1), 61-83.