by Elise Ellsworth
Every parent’s nightmare is the discovery that one of their children has been sexually molested or abused. However, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will become victims of childhood sexual abuse. How can you outsmart molesters and keep your child free from the damaging and lifelong consequences of abuse?
Be Aware of the Profile of a Typical Child Molestor
Many parents spend time warning their children of stranger danger and internet stalkers. However, these types of cases make up only about 10% of child abuse scenarios. Here are some characteristics of the typical child molester from the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute:
- Male (1 in 20 males will molest a child at some time, compared to 1 in 3,300 females)
- Married (77% of child molesters are married)
- A Family Member or Someone You Know Well (90% of molesters targeted a family member or someone they knew well as a victim)
- Preys on a pre-teen child
If a person with a similar profile seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time with your child, talk with your child and keep the relationship under close supervision.
Know Your Child’s Whereabouts At All Times
This sounds common sense but the more vigilant you are at insisting that you know your child’s whereabouts, and what activities they are planning to pursue, the less likely that your child will be abused. An abuser’s greatest fear is being discovered. So, be nosy. You should be alert to any situation where an adult or teen spends time alone with your child. A good rule from the Boy Scouts Parents’ Guide is that your child always needs to check with you before “changing plans, going anywhere or accepting anything.”
Make Sure that All Group Activities Have More Than One Chaperone
Scouts, after school activities, sports, lessons and other venues can make children an easy target. Make sure that your child has a sibling or buddy at these activities and that all activities have more than one adult chaperone. Abusers prey on secrecy and won’t abuse with other adults around.
Look for Red Flag Behaviors
Do you have a friend or family member who has never quite grown up? Who brings you or your child toys or gifts? Who insists on having a special relationship with your child or seems especially “touchy” with him or her? Who offers special privileges to your child? Who loves to play video games or to spend time playing with children, to the exclusion of other adults? Who has few real friendships? These are red-flag warning signs that this adult could be “grooming” your child for sexual exploitation.
Talk to Your Child
Talk to your children. Find out their interests. Find out where they spend their time. Take an interest in their activities and tell them that you are proud of them. If abuse happens, children need to have a trusted adult who they feel safe telling about the abuse. You should be that person. Children need to know about inappropriate imagery and touch. Ensure your child that you will not react with anger if they need to tell you about an abusive situation.
Pay attention to Your Own Intuition
My mother refused to let us be around an acquaintance of my father’s, a nice man who operated a petting zoo, because something “didn’t seem right” about him. He turned out to be a child molester. I have had similar experiences with a friendly man in extended family (who turned out to have a past history of molestation) and a man at my church (this man was also later charged with child molestation and abuse). Both times I felt uncomfortable with these men who had few adult friends and seemed especially drawn to children. Pay attention to these uncomfortable feelings and set some clear boundaries with your child.
Be Alert to Danger Signs in Your Child
Does your child seem uncomfortable around a certain adult friend? Has he been withdrawing from relationships or friendships? Is she more emotional or angry than usual? Is the child experiencing increased depression, anxiety or fear? These are all warning signs of child abuse.
Build Your Child’s Confidence and Beware of the Single Mom Trap
Help your child to feel confident and to have a strong support network of peers. Abusers are very savvy. They carefully select weaker victims. Children in single parent situations are much more likely to be abused than children from intact families. Molesters often prey on single mothers or parents who are already overwhelmed by offering free child care and taking the place of “surrogate father.” Stepchildren are also much more likely to be abused than biological children. Children who are socially awkward, handicapped or “loners” make easy targets because they want to feel loved and wanted. Help your kids to engage in social activities and to feel part of a group. Build your child’s self-esteem and help them to feel good at a number of things.
If you have suspicions of abuse or if your child has made allegations of abuse you need to act quickly. Contact the ChildHelp® National Child Abuse Hotline 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453; http://www.childhelp.org/get_help).