Every day, we hear more reports of child abduction and/or sexual abuse by sexual predators. These predators can be strangers. However, as statistics below show, most times your children will know the perpetrators of such harmful crimes. What are some useful parenting tips to end childhood sexual abuse, protecting children from both known and unknown sexual predators?
RAINN (the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) provides the following statistics. However, since childhood sexual abuse is often hidden and it is generally estimated that approximately 88% of sexual abuse cases are never reported, national statistics can vary broadly. Therefore, it is likely the crime is more extensive than these figures reflect.
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been sexually abused in their lifetimes in the United States
- 44% of sexual abuse victims are under the age of 18
- 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker
- Childhood sexual abuse occurs everywhere, regardless of social, economic or ethnic backgrounds
In addition, domestic violence accounts for a great amount of sexual abuse, even among children, as many domestic violence perpetrators also abuse children in the household. The strongest risk factor for the same violent behavior occurs in homes where children witness violence with and among their caregivers. In fact, boys who observe or who may be forced to participate in domestic violence, including inappropriate sexual behavior, are twice as likely to abuse both their partners and their own children when they have reached adulthood.
Cost to Society
Whether you have children or not, the problem affects everyone, as the Center for Sex Offender Management estimates that 30% to 60% of children sexually abused as children later become adult sex offenders. Furthermore, there is a definitive economic impact on society, most notably a loss of health due to the physical and emotional distress of such crimes. As victims reach adulthood, those untreated problems are further exacerbated by loss of work. Even incarceration of sentenced sex offenders attributes to a strain on the prison system and loss of revenue. Currently in the United States, almost 8 million paid workdays and 5.6 million days of household productivity are lost per year due to such destructive crimes, equivalent to 32,000 full-time jobs. The cost for loss of health, work and imprisonment translates to annual lost revenues of approximately $5.8 billion.
Look for Signs of Abuse
Many people ignore the signs of childhood sexual and physical abuse. It is important to investigate further if your child displays any of the following:
- Change in Behavior and Health
- Those children who fall victim to sexual perpetrators may exhibit poor physical and mental health. They could also begin having social difficulties. Furthermore, cognitive dysfunction and behavioral problems may suddenly manifest.
- Keeping Secrets
- Sexual predators do not want to be caught. They will instruct the child to keep the ‘secret’ about any inappropriate behavior. Sexual perpetrators rely on the fact that children ‘do as they are told’ by someone older. In addition, although most people think that only adults are sexual and/or physical abusers, as the vicious cycle of abuse continues more people under the age of 18 become abusers themselves. Therefore, be cognizant of any secrets you discover being kept from you from ANYONE older than your child’s age.
- Withdrawing from Other Friends – Spending Time with Someone Older Than Your Child
- Children can become confused about their bodies if they are violated inappropriately. The sexual acts performed can be pleasurable and many times sexual predators will tell your child that their sexual escapades are not wrong. Therefore, your child, although they may feel guilty about what is happening, may incorrectly believe that what they are doing is not improper since it feels good. Beware if you notice your child has withdrawn from others, wishing to spend alone time with another older person.
- Receiving Unexplained Gifts from Others
- Inappropriate sexual behavior is about control, not sex. This is one reason children are such easy targets. Sexual predators will often give gifts to your child as another way to reinforce their control over them. Always ask and investigate any unexplained gifts to your child.
- Discovery of Spending Time Alone with Older Person in Isolated or Unique Locations
- Sexual predators love to isolate their victims. They oftentimes will set up ‘special meeting’ places, away from suspicious eyes. Therefore, if you discover your child is spending time alone with someone older in any isolated or unique location, it is wise to probe further.
Ways to Protect Your Child
- Trust Your Instincts
- Communicate Early and Often
Sexual predators choose their crime victims based upon availability. Therefore, it makes sense that most victims personally know their perpetrators since they may be already easily acquainted with them in their circle of family, friends and community. Therefore, dealing with sexual abuse with someone your child may know could present additional challenges. First, the chances you will know your child’s sexual predator is very high. Be open to this fact. No matter how much you may trust your spouse, your family, your friends, and members of your community, such as teachers, counselors and spiritual support, do not ignore any of the above signs of abuse. Furthermore, oftentimes a parent’s instincts will alert them to a problem, but they ignore it because they already know the person. We think sexual predators look like monsters. However, they look like everyone else. Never ignore your instincts. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Open a line of communication about inappropriate sexual behavior early. Establish trust with your child so that they will feel free to share anything with you. Teach your child:
- Reinforce ‘Stranger Danger’ Rules
- Saying ‘No’ is OK
- Some Secrets are Bad
- Communicate Differences Between Different Types of Touch
- Warn of Sexual Predators on the Internet
Many schools provide education on staying away from strangers. However, please reinforce those warnings and advice. Tell your children to stay away from strangers, do not get into their car and do not offer assistant to lone strangers, etc. If addition, travel with buddies when possible.
Children are taught to do as they are told and respect adults. However, be sure they are aware that it is OK to say no when they feel uncomfortable, regardless of whom they are confronting.
Instruct your child between the difference between harmless secrets shared with friends and inappropriate ones. Anything having to do with sexual behavior or physical abuse in any way needs to be shared with a child’s parent.
Touching is a wonderful part of life. However, it is most beneficial to educate your children about the differences between different types of touching with regard to discerning the differences between ‘real love’ and ‘fake love.’ For instance, if another person speaks of love as allowing your child access to put their hands down inside your child’s clothing in those areas normally covered by a bathing suit, there may be some cause for concern and evaluation. In addition, you do not want your child afraid of your doctor who may need to explore these areas. Therefore, relating touching to ‘real love’ and ‘fake love’ may help with trips to the doctor since he normally does not relate touching to love. Regardless, reiterate that sexual touching done ALONE with an older person needs to be thwarted. The best suggestion is to open the lines of communication and education. It may also be beneficial to accompany your child to the doctor.
The internet, although a valuable source of education and information, can also be very dangerous. Be vigilant about knowing to whom your child may be communicating. Instruct them never to give out personal information online and to report to you anyone discussing keeping ‘secrets’ or talking about ‘private’ areas of the body.
Although there are numerous programs and parents who utilize the above tactics, there still is an overwhelming incidence of childhood sexual and physical abuse. What is lacking? If you teach children to listen to their own gut in any situation, harm can be averted. Instruct your child to listen and act on the spirit that is within them guiding them to a constructive path. If their intuition makes them uncomfortable with a certain situation, teach them to run away and get help.
Finally, please listen to your child no matter how outrageous you may feel about their story. Once you have told your child to tell you their ‘secrets’ and to share whatever they are feeling and then you discount their story, you simply destroy trust. Take everything they say as truth, no matter the other person involved. Investigate further anything they tell you. After all, as a parent, it is your job to protect your child, not another adult. Listening to your child could stop harm.
Sexual predators destroy lives. However, if we all implement these useful parenting tips, childhood sexual abuse could end. Our children and society can be protected more successfully from known and unknown sexual predators. Is it not worth a try?