Child abusers are always looking for their next mark. But it’s not just the latchkey kid or the child of the single parent who’s at risk. All children and teens are at risk. We don’t want to think about it, and most of us don’t believe it, but it’s true. Your child is at risk. My child was at risk, and I didn't know it.
Our world was rocked when we received an $800 cell phone bill that unveiled a secret, sexually abusive relationship between our then 15 year old daughter Kalyn and a 46 year old man from our church. The damage of the abuse and its aftermath was horrifying. Overnight our model daughter became a depressed, rebellious, suicide-threatening, eating-disordered teen.
I would give most anything to have averted that pain in her life. I can’t go back and do that, but I can share with you what I have learned. Take three minutes to read this list and you will have the keys to preventing this from happening to your child. Do you know other parents who need this information?
The Top 10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Sexual Predators
10. Recognizing a sexual predator is difficult. They are secretive, devious, and shrewd. Many are able to go on abusing a child or a series of children for years without being caught. Because they come from all economic, social, age, racial, ethnic, and religious groups, they cannot be identified by a particular stereotype or profile.
9. We expect strangers to pose the most risk. Actually 90% of child and youth victims know their perpetrator. Abusers are usually not strangers, but rather relatives (30%) or nonfamily authority figures (60%) such as neighbors, family friends, babysitters, clergy members, teachers or coaches. “Stranger danger” training is important, but will not protect our children from most abusers.
8. Most sexual predators "groom" their victims over a period of time. Grooming is a very tricky psychological process by which the predator gains the child or adolescent’s trust while systematically moving the boundaries of the relationship toward the sexual.
7. Adults around the victim are groomed too. The predator uses public displays of trustworthy and kid-friendly behaviors to insure that NO ONE would believe that he/she would ever hurt a child. That is why, according to law enforcement officials, the predator’s suspicious behaviors are often ignored by the supervisory adults.
6. Sexual abuse of a child is not limited to physical sexual contact such as fondling or intercourse. Even if it’s visual, verbal, pornographic, emotional, or by phone or internet, any sexual contact between any adult (or older teen) and child or adolescent is abuse. And therefore, damaging.
5. Sexual abuse traumatizes adolescents as well as young children. Today’s youth culture is so oversexualized that, in popular thought, developing teens’ sexual relationships (even abusive ones) are considered rites of passage. The truth is that sexual abuse has long term effects that are devastating. These include promiscuity, substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, cutting, and rebellion.
4. Kids and adolescents feel powerless to stop abusive behavior. They are usually under strong threat not to tell, and will often protect an abuser because he/she is a "trusted" adult.
3. Sexual abuse is never the fault of the child or adolescent. Often they are blamed with questions from us such as "Why did you let him do that?" or "Why did you not tell me this was happening?" Victims’ worst fears are realized when subtle accusations of responsibility are levied against them.
2. Children are not able to handle sexual abuse on their own. We can teach children and adolescents to say "no," but this is not enough. Children are especially vulnerable; we cannot expect them to fully understand what’s being done to them and to reason as an adult. Adults have the responsibility to prevent and recognize sexually abusive behavior.
1. Child sexual abuse is very common. Today 1 in 3 or 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by age 18. One study reports that 500,000 children and adolescents are sexually abused every year. These staggering numbers indicate that our stereotypical views of the "perpetrator lurking in the park" must be expanded to the real dangers of perpetrators within our sphere of relationships.
The battle rages, and our children's minds, hearts, and souls are hanging in the balance. Understanding the dynamics of abuse will enable us to protect our children more effectively. Sexual abuse is but one tool of destruction. As parents we must be better prepared to lead our children in difficult times.
Update: I invite you view the trailer of our book, Unmask the Predators: The Battle to Protect Your Child and to buy a copy here. Join our coalition of concerned parents by subscribing to my blog, Frontlinemoms.com. There is no cost to join, and you will receive updates by email to keep abreast of this critical issue. Or follow me on Facebook.