Guide to Protecting Your Child Against Predators

Jan 30, 2014

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There is no infallible guide to protecting our children; even children of the most diligent parents can become victims of sexual abuse. Take preventative measures by learning warning signs, establishing boundaries, and taking steps to build security.

Sexual abuse can mean many things, including emotional abuse, exposure, voyeurism, verbal pressure for sex, inappropriate contact, and child pornography. The statistics available on child abuse are staggering: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys become victims before the age of 18, with 90% knowing their abuser. Children are most vulnerable between the ages of 7 and 13, and those who experience sexual abuse as a child are 13 times more likely to experience rape during their first year of college.

How then do we prevent the sexual abuse of children? Teach your child the kinds of things that are not okay. It’s not okay for adults to swear children to secrecy. It’s not okay to give out personal information. Children are allowed to say “No” to an adult – teach them when this is appropriate.

Talk to your children often to create a tone of openness. Teach your children about basic sexual education, and make sure your children understand their own bodies so they can embrace and protect them. If you are uncomfortable having “the talk,” a healthcare professional can assist you.

Don’t just teach your kids; take preventative measures yourself. Never leave young children alone in public areas. Make sure your children know where and when they will be picked up after school and extracurricular activities, and whom to expect to pick them up.  Children should know to keep doors locked when home alone, and have emergency phone numbers and their home address memorized. The importance of Internet safety should also be emphasized. A number of software programs are available to help parents decide what is appropriate for their children online.

Despite the best prevention, even the children of cautious parents can become victims. If you have concerns, trust your gut. It is normal for children to build relationships with teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends’ parents, but it is important to recognize when a lines are crossed. Be aware of excessive time any adult spends with your child. If you get a bad vibe from someone, monitor time spent with them and delicately ask your child questions about interactions with them.

Recognize warning signs from your child. Sudden changes in behavior such as mood swings, on-edge behavior, night terrors, a loss of appetite, inexplicable injuries, a refusal to go to certain activities or be alone with a certain person, unexplained gifts or toys, and the development of self/body-image issues may all be signs of sexual abuse.

In the terrible event something does happen, be prepared. Carry up-to-date photos that accurately depict your child’s appearance and have your child fingerprinted (many police departments will do this free of charge). If your child has been sexually abused, get help. Multiple therapy options are available to help with the long-term effects of abuse.