The “Me too” movement has given voice to many women/men/children who have been the victim of sexual abuse for many years. They have been victimized by trusted teachers, religious leaders, coaches, neighbor, babysitters and neighbours. These and many other stories are classic examples of how individuals have misused their position of trust and authority to abuse kids. Unfortunately, there are far more victims who have never told anyone, and so they suffer in silence fearing that they would never be believed among other reasons.
Parents and guardians are left wondering what we can do to prevent our kids from becoming victims
In the Home Alone and Babysitting Courses, we teach children about what is appropriate and inappropriate touch. We also teach them how to protect themselves from predators and take charge of their safety.
The following ideas may protect your child from the tragedy of sexual abuse and its lifelong devastating effects.
Talk about it
The best prevention against child sexual abuse is to have an open and age-appropriate conversation about it. Speak to them in a manner that does not instill fear. By speaking about it they will know what to look for. It will also give them the confidence to speak up if someone tries to make inappropriate advances towards them. Make it clear to them that there are to be ‘No secrets”, and what to do if someone tries to get them to keep a secret. Teach them about their bodies, and calling private parts by their proper names.
What does a sexual predator/abuser look like?
Also, in the Home alone course, we teach children that people who may want to hurt them may not look weird or mean. Often, they are very generous, friendly and look quite “normal”, they do not stand out from the crowd. These strategies are used by predators to make you trust them and feel comfortable with them before they try to touch you inappropriately or hurt you physically.
Here are a few signs to look for with sexual predators:
They are often the most unsuspected people because they are often not strangers. It may be a close relative, teachers, another parent (step-parent), coach, any person in authority.
- Many abusers begin to groom their victims. They befriend the child as a way of gaining their trust in order to take advantage of their child for sexual purposes. They give their victims gifts, which often advances to a gentle touch (arms around the neck), they create a sense of caring/affection, making the victim feel special. Make it a priority to question your kids about gifts or new toys that you did not buy.
- Be aware of new people in your life and the amount of time they spend with your children/family.
- They prey upon trusting and vulnerable people as they seek opportunities to isolate the child in order to be alone with them. They may offer to do nice things for them e.g. take them to the park or other outings for you especially those who are single parents.
Make sure you know what someone is doing with your kids.
Keep in mind that anyone can be a sexual predator. We can’t discriminate them just by their looks. About 30% of sexual abuse occurs in a relationship with a family member, and 60 percent of abuse takes place with someone else known by the victim.
Sometimes as parents we let our guard down especially with those who are paid to provide a service e.g. a therapist, coach, youth leader, dance teacher, etc. Don’t trust people so easily because they are the “professionals”. Trust your instincts, if something feels uncomfortable, pay attention and do not ignore it. Parents need to help children understand that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, including those in authority, they can confidently resist that person and tell their parents.
Watch for change in behaviour.
Make sure that your child knows that they can talk to you about anything and that you are available to listen and validate their feelings.
Does your child demonstrate strange behavior or conduct or resist spending time with a person? Has he suddenly withdrawn or performing poorly in school? Has there been a change in his/her sleep pattern? These are all telltale signs that something is wrong. Investigate and show lots of love and attention and encourage your child to open up.
Prepare your kids to take charge of their safety.
- We do this by talking about the prevalence of sexual predators and educate them using the language they can understand.
- Develop a safety plan
- Educate them about keeping secrets
- Do role plays and practice skills with them