As an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, Jill Starishevsky has prosecuted hundreds of child abuse and sex crime cases. But Jill took it one step further. The mom of two girls, Ally, 4 ½ and Becca, 2 ½, Jill decided to write My Body Belongs To Me, a book about child sex abuse, written for both children and parents alike. Celebrity Parents spoke with Jill about her book, her family, and her mission to keep kids safe.
What was the impetus for writing My Body Belongs to Me?
I had one case where a young girl had been the victim of sexual abuse for years at the hands of her stepfather. She saw an episode of Oprah called “Tortured Children”, about children who were being physically abused. The show ended with the message: “If you are being abused, tell someone.” The next day, the little girl went to school and told her teacher. After three years of being abused, all it took for this little girl to say something was the message, “Tell someone.” I wished Oprah would end every show with this message!
It wasn’t until years later when my daughter was about to turn 3 that I realized that although I did this for a living, I had no idea when to explain to my own child about good/touch bad touch or even what to say. I went to the library, but there were no resources at all for children to explain what abuse was.
That’s not surprising. No one really wants to talk about it.
No, they don’t. Everyone is afraid to talk about it, or thinks that it won’t happen to them. At this point, though, I was determined to do something. I have a website, called The Poem Lady (www.thepoemlady.com), where I write poems for special occasions. I wrote a poem about good touch/bad touch and showed it to my husband. He said, “Jill, that’s not a poem, that’s a book, and you need to write it.”
I found a publisher for the book, but they wanted me to take out the part where the child was actually touched. I refused to, and decided to publish it myself. I started my own publishing company, Safety Star Media Publishing, which is a take on my last name.
What has been the response to the book?
There has been an incredible response. Every time someone responds favorably to the book, I feel like we’re winning the fight. It’s a war. These predators are after our children: They know what our children like, they know what to give them, and they know what to say to them. They’re tricky, and if we don’t talk about this subject, we are sending our children out into the world, unarmed. They have to have the knowledge to be able to fight back.
When is a good age to start the discussion?
I think it’s best to start between ages 3-5. You can explain what private parts are; they are the parts of your body covered by your underwear or bathing suit. We have to speak to our children. Prevention is the only way to stop the abuse. We need to get past the idea that it’s never going to happen to our children, because every single parent whose child is a victim never thought that it was going to happen to them, either.
In addition to the book, you also have a really cool site, www.howsmynanny.com. How did you start that?
One day, I was in the park and I saw a nanny who wasn’t doing her job. I wanted to tell the parents of the child, but there was no way for me to communicate with her. So I created a website, www.howsmynanny.com. It is a member-based service; once you register, you will receive an individual license plate in the mail. You attach it to your child’s stroller, and if someone sees your nanny doing something bad or even something praise-worthy, they can sign into the site and send a message directly to the parent.
Between your work as a prosecutor, the book, and howsmynanny.com, you are building a safety empire! How do you not let this affect you on a day-to-day basis?
As a prosecutor, I’m taking action against these people. I’m able to do something. With the website and the book, these are my efforts to hopefully prevent abuse from happening or empower children who have been abused to speak up, so that it will end. It would be harder to see all this and not be able to do anything to help. I want all children to become Safety Stars!
Do you have plans to write another book?
I am planning on writing another book, but this one will be about cyber crimes. The Internet is opening children up to a lot of potential dangers. The key is to teach children how to be safe in a non-scary way. Through education, our children will become empowered. I’ll never know how many children my book has helped, but if it helps just one child, then it was worth it.