Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. – Aesop’s Fables
It is something we hear as children and we frequently think about it in business or when making large purchases. Unfortunately, for many parents, the idea that someone they know or even love could sexually abuse their children is so far from their mind that their children easily fall prey.
The Darkness to Light program states that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by the age of 18. Of those children, about 90% know their perpetrators. In fact, teenagers are often juvenile offenders who victimize younger children. As many as 40% of children are sexually abused by older, or more powerful children. The positive to this is that adolescent sex offenders are more responsive to treatment than adults. They do not appear to continue to re-offend into adulthood, especially when provided with appropriate treatment.
For parents, you must be vigilant and unapologetic in doing whatever it takes to keep your children safe. Taking the Darkness to Light training is one of the best steps for raising your awareness and feeling empowered to do whatever it takes to protect your children. To sign up for a training in your area, visit www.d2l.org. I found the training personally useful because I have sons who will eventually reach the age when they cannot go into the bathroom with me. D2L taught me how to loudly announce my presence and to not be afraid to continue to make it known until my son exited the restroom. More importantly, it taught me that the random pervert in the bathroom is not the person I need to fear. In truth, I need to fear anyone who has an opportunity to have a one-on-one encounter with my sons. This can include athletic coaches, Sunday school teachers, preschool teachers, daycare workers, and even members of your own family. Pedophiles are master manipulators. They are smart and they lurk in places where children congregate. They are literally wolves in sheep’s clothing.
A key element of protecting your children includes limiting one-on-one encounters with other people. Ask yourself if an activity your child is engaging in will possibly expose them to such an encounter. If it will, eliminate that activity in favor of something else. Look at the geographical layout of your child’s location. Does every daycare or Sunday school classroom have a window? Can anyone walking by easily see what is happening inside that room? Does the facility have security cameras that can monitor your children’s safety? Has the staff of the location received a training to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse?
Many parents feel uncomfortable asking these types of questions. They fear coming across as a trouble maker. No parent should ever apologize or feel uncomfortable for seeking to protect their child from sexual abuse. The ramifications of sexual abuse can include addiction, poor future relationship choices, future exposure to domestic violence, depression, and suicide. It is critical that parents investigate the environments of their children. It is also critical that we as a community support parents in asking these types of questions. We should all demand higher standards for protecting our children. Never make parents feel that their questions or concerns lack merit and reject any internal desires to be defensive in the face of such questions or concerns.
Further, make sure your children know the proper term for their “parts”. Pedophiles prey on children who call their parts other things because they know that it makes prosecution of these crimes far harder. Our society has a history of teaching children absolutely ridiculous things to call their body parts. This is an incredibly dangerous precedent. For instance, if a child refers to their private parts as a “kitty” or a “cookie,” and then tells a trusted teacher or friend that someone “touched their kitty” or “ate their cookie” their report will go unrecognized and unfortunately, the abuse will likely continue to cycle.
Also, have a plan about how you will respond if your child ever reports criminal or attempted criminal activity. The hope is that by avoiding one-on-one situations and heavily investigating the physical surroundings of your child, that will never be an issue, but you need to be prepared. Often when children report such acts, parents are so horrified that they scream or express rage. A victimized child has often been told by a perpetrator that they will get into trouble if they tell anyone about the abuse. Thus, grooming the child to keep silent. If the child does report to a trusted adult and then sees anger, this proves the abuser right. Children will then retract their statements and no one will ever truly know what happened.
It is also of critical importance that you believe your children. It is estimated that only 4-8% of child sexual abuse reports are fabricated. Most of the fabricated reports are made by adults involved in custody disputes or by adolescents. Always remember that pedophiles are master manipulators. Often, they prey on single women in order to get to her children. Many women believe their child’s abuser is in love, and he is, with her child. If your child tells you something shocking, please believe them. Children who are believed are children who have better long-term results. Children who are treated like liars are more likely to suffer long-term negative effects. They are also more likely to endure years of abuse because the abuser will not stop. He will just get better at lying. He will also tell the child that he wasn’t believed when speaking up and will not be believed if he speaks later. To the child, his statements are true. The child will then remain silent and the abuse will continue. The longer the abuse goes on, the more likely the child will suffer long-term ill effects.
If you have concerns about a child in your life, you should immediately call 911 or reach out to your county’s Child Welfare Services. It’s a responsibility we should never take lightly or forget.