Here is a disturbing truth: a national survey of adolescents found that about 1.8 million children in the United States have been victims of sexual assault. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report reveals “children who do not live with both parents as well as children living in homes marked by parental discord, divorce, or domestic violence, have a higher risk of being sexually abused.” Here are some steps you can take you keep your child safe from sexual predators:
Be cautious/avoid high risk situations
Anyone can be a sexual predator, and more often victims have known their abuser. The sad reality is that people that you may think you know and trust (coaches, religious leaders, a teacher, family-friends, etc.) could be a sexual predator.
It is important to be cautious of who your child is spending a lot of time with. Offenders will often try to spend time alone with a child and try to develop trust and a “special” relationship. So watch out for someone who wants or just “happens” to spend a lot time alone with your child, or someone who treats them extra attention or gives them gifts to gain their affection. Avoid sending your children to sleepovers where you do not know the parents, even if it is more convenient for you.
Be a visible parent. Make it known that you are very involved in your child’s life and are very aware of who your kids are spending time with and what they are doing. Introduce yourself to your child’s coach, piano teacher, youth group leader etc. You can mention to them something like how you and your kid “talk about what they did at practice every day,” because sex offenders are less likely to prey on a child with an involved parent.
Establish Trust & Open Communication
It is important that your child feels that they can trust you and tell you anything. This way, if something were to happen to them or if there is an inappropriate incident with an adult, you can find out about it right away and put a stop to it. Many children keep sexual abuse to themselves for fear of being reprimanded.
Develop a relationship with your child with no secrets and encourage open, honest communication. It is important to show your child that you will not get mad if they tell you the truth, even if the truth is something like they spilled juice on their brand new shirt. If you lash out at them for little things, they will become more reluctant to tell you big things in fear that you may blow up or get mad at them.
If your child is having a harder time opening up, you can try asking them more specific questions besides “how was your day?” Try asking questions like “what are 3 good things that happened at today, and 3 not so good things that happened today?” Let them know that you will never be mad at them for telling you the truth.
Practice Safety Skills
Do not assume that your child knows what to do in a dangerous situation. It is important to teach them how to respond to different scenarios.
Test your child using online questionnaires, games, and testing them with hypothetical situations to see how they would react. It important to remember that sex offenders are often people that your child knows, so instead of asking them things like “what would you do if a stranger offered you candy?” ask them things like “what would you do if Coach started tickling you?” There are many tests and other hypothetical questions that you can look up online.
Use a Code Word
In the case of an emergency, you may need someone to pick up or help your child. Use a “code word” or “safe word” to help your child identify that the adult was actually sent by you. This is a word that is between you and your child that shows that it is safe. Have anyone you send for your child use the code word so that they know not to go with or get in a car with any adult until the code word is said.
Understand Right from Wrong
Teach your child to understand and recognize the difference between good and bad behavior. Teach them that there are certain things that adults are not supposed to do, and that you child is in charge of his or her own body. Have them identify “no zones” or their “private parts” and recognize that those areas are not for anyone to see or touch. Make sure they understand that certain behaviors are inappropriate, and that if an adult wants to hang out alone, starts to tickle, wrestle, touch, or make them feel uncomfortable, they should immediately do what they can leave the situation and tell you and/or somebody right away.
It is important to note that a lot of times sexual predators will test the comfort level of children to see how they will react. For instance, they might use a swear word or “accidently” touch their genitalia to see if they will tell someone. They seek to gain trust and test limits before they pursue their victim and will often use their authority, intimidation, “special treatment,” and the naivety of a child to make sure they don’t get caught or desensitize them to the behavior. That is why it is your job to make sure that your child does not fall victim to these tricks and to make sure they know what is considered wrong or inappropriate behavior. Keeping open dialogue with your child will also help them identify any inappropriate behavior before it starts to become a more dangerous problem.
Do not force your child
It is important to listen to your child and to be in tune with what they are saying or feeling. If they do not want to go to someone’s house do not force them to go. Instead, ask them why they are reluctant and figure out what is prompting this discomfort. Do not force children to hug or kiss adults. Parents often prompt their kids to greet people in this manner, and tell their children it is rude not to, but it may be crossing physical boundaries and is giving them the message that adults can give you this type of physical attention even though they do not know them that well.
There are different types of parental controls and software that you can download on your computer that can block children from gaining access to certain sites and monitor who your child is talking to. However, in this day in age, it is difficult to fully monitor everything that your child is doing on their cellphone, computer, etc. Therefore, it is important to talk to your kids about proper Internet use, and to warn them of the risks of sharing personal information online. Consider having them sign a safety pledge as a reminder to not use inappropriately use electronics.
Follow your instincts
It is important to trust your instincts when it comes to your child’s safety. It is also important to instill this same value in your children. Let them know to always follow their gut, and if they have that “yucky feeling” or something doesn’t feel right, to always listen to that feeling. Although a child may not fully understand the situation, they may feel that something is not right. Teach your child that if they have this “yucky” feeling with an adult they should shout “stop” or “no,” leave the situation if they can get away, and tell somebody immediately.
Be a protector
Ever think “What if that was my child?”. Well sexual assault can happen to anyone’s child. Children are extremely vulnerable and often feel helpless in the face of abuse. Assume responsibility and vow to speak up and report to the authorities can suspicious behavior.
Look out for red flags such as:
- Someone who wants to spend alone time with a child
- Someone who manages to get alone time with a child, separate them from the other children
- Someone who touches, kisses, constantly asks for hugs, and is extremely or inappropriately physical with a child
- Someone who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child (makes jokes, or asks questions)
- Someone who spends most of their spare time with children rather than people their own age
- Someone who crosses boundaries between the child-adult relationship
- Someone who goes out of their way to babysit, take kids out on trips, or spend time alone with a child
- Someone who gives a child expensive gifts, money, or special treatment for no reason
- Someone who just “hangs out” at parks, beaches, and places where there is a lot of children and talks or takes pictures with them
- Someone who frequently walks into the bathroom or locker room when children are changing/showering
Check your area
You may be shocked to learn that there may be a sexual predator living in your area. It is important to know who these people are and where they are located. You can even consider showing your child a picture of this person, letting them know that they have been known to trick kids, and that they should watch out for them.
You can check out these sites to learn which sexual predators are near your area:
By: Chantal Bishara