Safeguarding Your Children from Sexual Predators: Part II

A child's safety is an adult's job.

"We can and should educate our children--and it's important for them to learn age appropriate information-but it's no substitute for adult responsibility." *

In my last post I talked about Knowing the Facts about abuse and provided a definition of terms. You may have been overwhelmed and aghast over some of the statistics concerning abuse that I listed. But, we all need to be informed in our communities, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and families. It's tempting to think that these things happen in other communities--"certainly not in OURS!" But then, we turn on the news and see how close to home these issues are and continue to be.

Educate Your Children

In 1962 an article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association describing symptoms of child abuse. By 1972, every state in the U.S. had statutes known as "mandatory reporting" laws which required certain professionals such as doctors and teachers to report suspected child abuse to their local Child Protective Services agency.

Today, there are numerous books on educating your own children about sexual abuse in all age ranges. In this post, I just want to provide you with some general guidelines for educating your children; understanding why children are often afraid to tell; and how children tend to communicate when abuse has occurred. Before I do so, I'd like you to read and re-read the following quote by Dr. Jim Hopper of Harvard:

"It's so important that adults take responsibility for this [protecting their own children], so that it doesn't depend on the courage of the child."

So there's my caveat to educating your children. As much as we should educate our children, we as parents, must not look solely to the child to do what it is our responsibility to do.

General Guidelines:

Be matter-of-fact as you discuss these guidelines with your children. Manage your own fears and anxiety. Be calm, confident, and caring.

  • Have age appropriate discussions with your child regarding their bodies, what abuse is, and about sex.
  • Provide healthy information about what good sexual boundaries are
  • Teach children that it is "against the rules" for adults or other children to act in a sexual way with them and use examples. (ie. If you are touched by a person in a way that you don't feel right about, tell me about it. I will believe you and help you.)
  • Talk about how children are often "tricked" or "lured" by abusers. (candy, animals, money, gifts)
  • Tell children not to keep secrets. Tell your children to let you know that if a child or adult plays secret games or tells them something bad will happen if they don't keep the secret.
  • Tell children they have a right to say "no."
  • Tell children that adults are not always right.
  • Help children develop assertiveness skills. Verbal skills- "I'm not allowed to do that"; "Leave me alone. I'll tell." Non-verbal skills- take someone's hand off them, moving or running away, look person in eye, stand tall, shake their head.
  • They can come to you and talk if they don't feel right about something a grown up says or does. (Be sure to mention that an abuser might be someone they know like an adult friend, family member or older child/teenager.)
  • Model proper guidelines at home (modesty/privacy) without shame.
  • Be proactive. If your child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular person, ask why.

Why Children are Afraid to Tell:

  • Abuser shames child or implies "complicity."
  • Abuser tells child their parents will be angry with them or threatens a family member
  • Abuser "reframes" incident to confuse child about what is right and wrong. (ie. it's okay or it's just a game)
  • Children are afraid of disappointing parents and/or disrupting the family.
  • Some children who don't disclose abuse initially are ashamed to tell if it happens again.
  • If physical pleasure is experienced by child they feel guilty and complicit.
  • Children fear they won't be believed and instead, will be punished.

How Children Communicate:

  • Children who disclose often tell another trusted adult rather than a parent. (Don't blame child if this happens or ask "why didn't you tell me?")

  • Children may tell "parts" of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult's reaction.

  • Children will often shut-down and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.

In my next post I will talk about how to Minimize Opportunities and how to establish your own set of family rules.