Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children and teens is far too common. Countless studies have shown that children do not openly express to adults what is happening to them. It’s so important for parents to be keenly aware if their child is acting out, and equally important to assess the adults who play key roles in their lives. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), an estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members (e.g., family friends, babysitters, childcare providers, neighbors). About 30% of perpetrators are family members, (e.g., fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins). 10% of perpetrators are strangers to the child.
These abusers are good at what they do. They know how to manipulate; they know who to prey on, and when the best opportunities arise. They also like the risk of getting caught. They are the masters of using manipulation tools to get what they want — little games they play, keywords that only they share, and other absurd tactics. They choose the children or teens that won’t tell, won’t ask questions, and will just follow what they are told to do. Some children may have that gut feeling telling them that it‘s wrong, but for some reason they think and feel it’s what they are supposed to do.
As a young child, I was exposed to two situations that changed the way I viewed the church and caused me never to look at my biggest, childhood passion the same again. Thankfully, I was not directly impacted but I saw what it did to a few friends of mine. I was painfully shy as a child and was not the most popular kid back then. However, my saving grace was that I was extraordinary intuitive and a tough nut to crack. Wow, how time can change you. Oh, the intuitive and self-protective kid is still there, but the shyness and introverted little person is long gone.
Because neither party was proven guilty of any crime, I won’t go into the details of either situation. Suffice it to say these individuals used their power, their status and their work situations to their advantage. They single handily tore up families and parts of the community. I witnessed the two sides battle it out. I even lost some friends in the process because of my strong conviction siding with the abused kids. I saw a need or should I say, want, to sweep it under the rug because, “this kind of thing doesn’t happen in our backyard.” Think again. It happens everywhere. I saw families rattled with guilt, confusion, disbelief, and heartbreak. I watched them struggle to cope. I also understand that the past still haunts them, which is heartbreaking. No child, and I repeat, no child, or human being for that matter, should be a victim of emotional, sexual or physical abuse. Any person, who takes advantage of a child or teen and rationalizes it as acceptable behavior, is sick and the lowest of the low. For years, I thought how could I write about this without it ripping me up inside and not incriminate these monsters? So I wrote this as a a caution to parents instead.
There are more than 10, but here are 10 things parents should do or look out for when it comes to protecting their children against sexual predators:
1. As long as your child lives in your home and is under 18, their room is NOT off limits. Sorry kids. Privacy or no privacy. Their computers, tablets and phones should also be free game. Unfortunately, suicide attempts are common for victims of sexual abuse. Wouldn’t you rather find their note before they complete that final transaction?
2. Talk to your children. Let them know that if anyone ever touches them inappropriately, family member or otherwise, that they can come to you. Don’t make it such a taboo subject that they are not comfortable, feel dirty or think they did something wrong. Children and teens get embarrassed and feel it’s easier to keep their mouths shut. Explain what sex is and what it should be between two people.
3. Know your child’s teachers, coaches, instructors, priests, mentors and any adults they look up to. Do background checks on them if necessary. Don’t be overly trusting of them. Don’t, and I repeat DON’T put them on a pedestal. They make mistakes. They are human beings and not some god sent down from the heavens to benefit your child.
4. Are sleepovers necessary? And if they are, know where your child is sleeping. And if they act out the day they come home, don’t dismiss it. Find out why! Don’t be afraid. And if you sense something is off, go with your gut. Say something. So what if you lose a neighbor or a friend. Your child comes first.
5. Don’t allow your child to be driven home by a teacher, instructor, other parent or coach alone, especially late at night. Red Flag: If you live five minutes away from the school and they get home an hour or so later than when they should have, find out why. Study their demeanor. In these instances, your child is most vulnerable and who knows where they may have stopped before they pull up in your driveway.
6. Look for any signs that your child is acting out. Click here to see a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms that your child, or a child you may know, is or has been sexually abused.
7. If they get any gifts from an adult for no apparent reason, something is up. Even if it’s not an extravagant gift, random gift giving is out of the norm so investigate.
8. If your child has a private lesson with an instructor or coach or whatever, be there! Schedule it at a time when you can be there. Not only will you ensure your child is in a comfortable setting, you will know what they need to work on to help them improve. You are their best teacher.
9. Be careful if an instructor starts to butter you, the parent, up too much. Getting “in” with the parents is not uncommon. Plus these monsters are good. They earn the parents trust just as they earn their prey’s trust. Plus, they may or will take advantage of you in other ways if they can.
10. Lastly, if your child is a victim, don’t blame him or her! It’s all on the adult in this situation. Your child is not dirty. He or she is the person you raised to be a standup citizen and a good person. All the blame goes to the predator. I can’t stress enough at how good these predators are at manipulation.
When I heard details from my friends, I cried; I nearly threw up, and it made me angrier than I think they were. How could someone we all trusted do that? And worse, how could someone that our families trusted do that? It was all a big game, and we all got played. Parents need to take control. No person should walk free for harming a child. Not one.
There are countless articles about this subject and countless children who have fallen victim to sexual abuse. There are a number of resources and groups that support parents, children and teens such as CDC, ABA, RAINN and more. These organizations provide the knowledge to help prevent and cope with the aftermath of sexual abuse. I‘m not trying to instill fear here, but rather let you know that it can happen right under your noses.