Keeping Our Children Safe
As survivors of abuse, and parents who must share access of our children with our abusers, it is critically important to talk to them about protecting themselves from sexual abuse. Why? Because according to research, studies indicate that a batterer is about four to six times more likely than a non-batterer to sexually abuse his children (see Lundy Bancroft). So, it is critical that we talk to our children about good touch and bad touch and about protecting themselves.
When you talk to your kids about protective behaviors (learning to keep themselves safe from sexual perpetrators), I think it’s a good thing to use the proper names for their body parts. Kids can get confused about what parts are private if they don’t know the real names of the body parts, and perpetrators can use the fact that the kids don’t know the real names, to trick and confuse them and gain access.
Teach your kids where their private parts are and that they are private. Some people say anywhere that a swimsuit covers. Teach them that no one should look at or touch those parts (with their hand, mouth or their own private parts, or with any object) and that no one should touch their private parts on any part of your child’s body, or ask the child to touch the other person’s private parts in any way. The only people who can touch a child’s private parts are doctors and nurses and only for medical reasons.
I also think it’s important to clarify that not even parents can touch in those places, and that sometimes people will try to trick kids into thinking it’s a special thing or a special way for dads and daughters/sons, or mothers and daughters/sons, to show love to each other, but that that is a trick and a lie.
Other tricks perpetrators use to gain access to kids
The Apple Of My Eye Trick
The first trick is named after Laura Ahearn’s “The Apple Of My Eye” sexual abuse prevention program. This trick is at the top on her list for the most insidious of all because predators use the same innocent vulnerability we strive to protect in our children for purposes of methodically gaining their trust by giving special attention to them so they can eventually sexually abuse them. Children seek love, attention and affection and sexual predators use this vulnerability to “seduce” a child the same way they would attempt to seduce an adult.
Accidental Touching Trick
Children are often unaware that an accidental touching may be intentional, or may be an offender making touch seem innocous or ‘normal’ so they can attempt to touch closer to genitalia the next time.
Assistance Lure Trick
An offender senses a role he might play by assisting a family with children. His assistance might be needed for babysitting or for driving a child to activities. Watch for those who are more interested in your child than you; there is a reason.
Many of us have taught our children to respect authority without realizing that individuals who target our children take advantage of their position such as a teacher, coach, religious or club leader or even parent.
Offenders may continually talk to children about sex or use pornography to demonstrate sexual acts. They may arouse a child’s curiosity by emailing or leaving sexual material and aids around where they may see them.
Drug & Alcohol Trick
Drugs or alcohol can be used to incapacitate a child making them highly vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Crisis can be confusing for young children and offenders count on that so they construct an emergency to lure children.
Older children may bribe a younger child (or same age) by saying that they will not be their friend anymore unless they participate in a sexual act. A parent may tell their child that they will not love them anymore or that the child must not love the parent if they don’t want to do it.
Body-contact games such as wrestling or tickling are played where touching genitalia is part of the rules or part of the ‘normal’ behaviour.
Hero Trick / Special Privileges Trick
(Coach/Teacher/Parent/Person In A Position Of Authority)
Children are often impressed with those individuals they look up to such as those in a position of authority like a coach, teacher, parent, older cousin. They may endure abuse to maintain a relationship where they are receiving special privileges for fear of losing those privileges
Offender is continually attempting to take a child out alone for special trips or outings and insists that no one else attend.
Children may be threatened into cooperation and further silenced. Once the abuse has taken place, they threaten to expose the child either to their other parent or to their friends. The offender may threaten the abused child into recruiting other children.
Teach children to tell safe adults
Some secrets should not be kept secret
There is nothing so bad that you can’t talk with someone about it.
Teach children that if something happens which makes them feel unsafe, they should tell a trusted adult or adults, and they should keep on telling until something is done about it, so they no longer feel unsafe. Teach them there is nothing so bad that you can’t talk with someone about it — that would be a good sign to put on the fridge.
Some of the literature on this topic assumes that both parents are safe, and thus encourages the kids to tell both of their parents if someone has tried to touch them inappropriately; but what if the perpetrator IS one of their parents? I suggest you tell the kids to tell someone they trust, someone who they feel safe with, instead of simply saying that they should tell their parents.
You could talk about who safe people are for them and even help them make a list of those people who they could tell if they felt unsafe. Let them know it’s ok for them to tell anyone on their list, but that they need to tell someone they trust. An idea for making the list is to get the child to draw an outline around their hand and on the drawing the child then labels each finger with the name of a different grown-up they could tell (another item for the fridge?)
Talk to your kids about secrets, because perpetrators often use these as a way of keeping kids from discussing what has happened to them. There are good and bad secrets and kids can get confused as to which is which.
If someone asks you to keep a secret and says you must keep it secret otherwise he or she will get in trouble, or will get angry, or someone else might get hurt, and the person says you must never ever tell anyone else, that is not right. Some secrets should not be kept secret. Tell your child “If you feel unsafe or yucky about anything and someone says you should keep it a secret, you do not have to keep that secret. Some secrets should not be kept secret.”
On the other hand, good secrets are ok; you know they’re okay because you only keep them for a little while and then tell the person, to surprise them (like a suprise party) and it’s always about good things, not bad things or things that make the child feel bad. No one gets hurt with good secrets. When it’s a good secret, no one lives in fear because of it.
The most important thing is to talk to your children about this. Help them protect themselves as best you can. And with that, I will leave you with three more lists that I believe are critical for protective parents to know:
Common things abusers say, to keep children from telling about the abuse
“If you tell, I will get in trouble and so will you.”
“If you tell, I will hurt/kill your loved one or pet.”
“If you tell, no one will understand and we will both get in trouble.”
“If you tell, I will kill/hurt you.”
“If you don’t tell, I will get you xyz.”
“Daddys and daughters show love this way and it is a secret just for us.”
“If you tell anyone, they will blame you.”
“If you tell, I will say it is your fault.”
“No one will believe you.”
“If you tell, I will tell them you are lying.”
“Your mom/dad will be SO angry with you if she/he finds out.”
“Mommy/Daddy is not here. She/He isn’t part of our family, so we don’t have to tell her/him.”
“This is normal. I am teaching you how to be a woman/man.”
Signs that your child has been or is being sexually abused
- A fear of certain places, people, or activities, especially being alone with certain people
- Reporting feeling forced or coerced into giving affection
- Reluctance to undress
- Disturbed sleep/frequent nightmares
- Sudden mood swings, withdrawal, rage, fear, anxiety, anger
- Excessive crying
- Avoids touch
- Loss of appetite, or trouble eating or swallowing
- Drastic change in school performance
- Drawing with bizarre themes
- Sexually acting out on younger children
- Sexual behavior or knowledge beyond their years
- Has new words for private body parts
- Reverting back to outgrown behavior (bedwetting and thumb sucking)
- Suicide attempts
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Itching or pain in the genital areas
- Excessive bladder infections
- Excessive urinary tract infections
- Excessive yeast infections
- Bleeding or trauma in oral, genital or anal areas
- Swollen or red cervix, vulva, perineum
- Sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy or AIDS
Red flags to look for in identifying perpetrators
Red Flag 1 – Someone who wants to spend more time with your child than you.
Red Flag 2 – Someone who manages to get time alone with, or attempts to be alone with your child or other children
Red Flag 3 – Someone who insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding a child, even when a child doesn’t want this affection
Red Flag 4 – Someone who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child or teen and asks either the parents or the child sexually-oriented questions.
Red Flag 5 – Someone who relates extremely well to children and spends most of his/her spare time with them and has little interest in spending time with individuals their own age
Red Flag 6 – Someone who has few or no boundaries and does not respect the limits of their role in their relationship with children.
Red Flag 7 – Someone who regularly offers to babysit, help-out or takes children on day or overnight outings alone.
Red Flag 8 – Someone who buys expensive gifts or gives children money for no reason.
Red Flag 9 – Someone who frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom or bath tub while they are showering or changing.
Red Flag 10- Someone who inappropriately makes comments about the way your child looks.
For Further Reading