With recent publicity on sexual abuse allegations, now is the time to talk about things that parents can do to reduce the risk of their children being assaulted.
People are beginning to understand and talk about how sex offenders can be a friend or a family member. The Penn State and Syracuse scandals have broken our denial about how famous, powerful, and revered people cannot possibly be offenders.
Now that we are more aware of the problem as a society, we need to take steps to protect children from further abuse. With this in mind, here are ten practical ways to protect your children from predators.
1) Encourage Your Kids To Talk To You About Their Day. Children cannot be expected to understand when it is okay to say "no" to or run away from an adult. This would be too confusing. Instead, build trust by regularly talking to them about their day. Make them feel comfortable raising any topic. Then, if your kids report any unacceptable behavior by others to you, it is your responsibility to take action.
2) Become Educated On Sexual Abuse. Did you know 1 out of 6 girls will be molested by the age of 18? Did you know that the typical sexual predator will assault 117 times before being caught? Get familiar with the facts. It is vital for you to educate yourself about sexual abuse. A good place to start is the Center For Sex Management website.
3) Look For "Red Flags." Sex offenders often "groom" parents and children to gain their trust. They can be very slick and fool you into thinking they are trustworthy, but there is always a "red flag" that is just a little bit unusual. For instance, if an adult has many toys and video games in his house and several local kids go there every day, this is a possible red flag. If he doesn't seem to have any adult friends or activities, this is a bigger red flag. Check this person out. Have a conversation with him, if possible. If he is on the sex offender registry, report him to the authorities.
4) Know Where Your Children Are And Who They Are With At All Times. Know your children's friends and their parents. Make sure they are reliable before you allow your child to spend time at their house.
5) Make Sure There Is More Than One Chaperone For Groups Of Youth. There should always be more than one adult with any group of children. Offer to chaperone activities for youth. Get to know other chaperones well. Adults should confront any suspicious activity of another adult. Don't just let it slide. It's difficult, but these things need to be discussed openly. Secrecy and difficulty talking about these topics are a sex offender's best friends.
6) Teach Children That The Danger May Come From Someone They Trust. Tell your kids, "Bad touch is bad touch and no one gets to do it to our bodies. If anyone does bad touch, you go to a grown up for help. When you are not sure about whether something a grown up is doing is okay, ask another grown up to help you."
7) Find Therapy For Victims. All victims of sexual abuse should have easy access to therapy. School based mental health programs can make therapists more readily available to students when they are troubled.
8) Understand The Signs. Abuse is not usually as obvious as broken bones or bruises. Adults should be knowledgeable about the signs that children are in need of counseling. These signs might be significant changes in sleeping, eating, mood, or strange behavior that does not quickly go away.
9) Take Action If You Suspect Abuse. If you suspect that your kids have been abused, you need to contact the Police or Department of Social Services in the county where you live. These departments will investigate the alleged abuse and take the proper action. Citizens should not conduct their own investigations.
10) Support Research. We must continue to research prevention, assessment, and effective treatment of victims and offenders. Those treating victims and sex offenders must be appropriately trained in the most up-to-date methods. Only then will there be "NO MORE VICTIMS" or quick recovery for survivors. Support sex offender research, training, and management by raising the issue in your community and by calling your legislators. Make it known that you care.
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–Dr. Kathy Seifert