A FEW of us wants to dwell on the subject of sexual abuse of children. Parents shudder at the very thought of it! Such abuse, however, is a frightening and unpleasant reality in today’s world, and its effects on children can be devastating. Is the matter worth considering? Well, what would you be willing to give for the sake of your child’s safety? Learning about the unpleasant realities of abuse is surely a small price to pay. Such knowledge can really make a difference.
Do not let the plague of abuse rob you of your courage. At the very least, you have the power that your child does not have—strengths that it will take years, even decades, for your child to gain. The passing years have brought you a fund of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. The key is to enhance those strengths and put them to use in protecting your child. We will discuss three basic steps that every parent can take. They are as follows:
(1) Become your child’s first line of defense against abuse,
(2) give your child some needed background education, and
(3) equip your child with some basic protective tools.
Are You the First Line of Defense?
The primary responsibility for protecting children against abuse belongs to parents, not to children. So educating parents comes before educating children. If you are a parent, there are a few things you need to know about child abuse. You need to know who abuses children and how they go about it. Parents often think of molesters as strangers who lurk in the shadows, seeking ways to kidnap and rape children. Such monsters certainly do exist. The news media bring them to our attention very often. However, they are relatively rare. In about 90 percent of the cases of sexual abuse of a child, the perpetrator is someone the child already knows and trusts.
Naturally, you do not want to believe that an affable neighbor, teacher, health-care worker, coach, or relative could lust after your child. In truth, most people are not like that. There is no need to become suspicious of everybody around you. Still, you can protect your child by learning how the typical abuser operates
Give Your Child Background Education
Knowing such tactics can make you, the parent, better prepared to act as the first line of defense. For instance, if someone who appears more interested in children than in adults singles out your child for special attention and gifts or offers free babysitting or private excursions with your child, what will you do? Decide that the person must be a molester? No. Do not be quick to jump to conclusions. Such behaviour may be quite innocent. Nonetheless, it can put you on the alert.
Remember, any offer that sounds too good to be true may be just that. Carefully screen anyone who volunteers to spend time alone with your child. Let such an individual know that you are likely to check on your child at any time
Be actively involved in your child’s activities, friendships, and schoolwork. Learn all the details about any planned excursion. One mental-health professional who spent 33 years working with cases of sexual abuse notes that he has seen countless cases that could have been prevented by simple vigilance on the parents’ part. He quotes one convicted molester as saying: “Parents literally give us their children. . . . They sure made it easy for me.” Remember, most molesters prefer easy targets. Parents who are actively involved in their children’s lives make their children difficult targets.
Another way to act as your child’s first line of defense is to be a good listener. Children will rarely disclose abuse directly; they are too ashamed and worried about the reaction. So listen carefully, even for subtle clues. * If your child says something that concerns you, calmly use questions to draw him out. * If he says that he does not want a certain babysitter to come back, ask why. If he says that an adult plays funny games with him, ask him: “What kind of game? What does he do?” If he complains that someone tickled him, ask him, “Where did he tickle you?” Do not be quick to dismiss a child’s answers. Abusers tell a child that no one will believe him; all too often, that is true. And if a child has been abused, being believed and supported by a parent is a big step toward recovery.