How to Protect Your Child from Sexual Predators
One of the things that frightens parents most is sexual predators, and rightly so. According to the National Sexual Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys under the age of 18 fall victim to a sex assault carried out by an adult.
What makes this threat even more severe is the fact that 85% of the cases involve a predator who the child knows and trusts – a neighbor, a friend of the family, a teacher, a coach and even a relative.
In addition, a sexual assault often starts as something innocent with no cause for alarm. It can be, for example, a friendly interaction between a child and a neighbor that slowly deteriorates into something sexual with an abusive nature. And even then, the victim may not fully realize he is being abused, especially if he is not feeling immediate pain or if there is no physical contact (The attacker may convince the child to expose himself).
Lastly, children tend not to share their experience with their parents because they are confused, ashamed, feel responsible or manipulated by the attacker (sometimes through threats) not to talk about it. This is why sexual assaults may last years until the child grows up and fully understands the terrible situation he has been into.
A Few Basic Steps Parents Can Take to Minimize the Risk
Luckily, there are some things every parent can do to keep his child out of harm’s way.
Carrying out frequent background checks
Many sexual predators have a history of prior offenses (they can’t help it). A simple background check will reveal this history. First and foremost, all U.S. states maintain an official online registry that obligates all adults convicted of serious sex crimes to register as sex offenders. These registries are open to the public and enable to trace an offender by name or address.
Second, you can perform an arrest search at the sheriff office. Some of the sheriffs operate an online inmate search that reveals names of people incarcerated in the county including their offenses. Third, there are reliable private background check tools on the Internet, for example, the one you can find here. Most of these tools give accurate results as they are updated on a regular basis.
Create a safe environment for your child
Your child should not be left with an adult alone, and if the situation requires it (a private talk with the teacher), make sure the institution observes an open door policy according to which the door is left open.
Do not allow your babysitter to bring friends. You might have checked her background, but you surely didn’t check her friends.
Be involved in your child’s life
The more you get involved in your child’s everyday activities, the less likely he will be assaulted. Parental involvement deters sexual predators as they understand the chances that they will be caught are much higher.
Practically speaking, do your best to volunteer in class activities and attend school and sports events your child takes part in. Let the stuff know you. You will also be able to observe closely your child’s interaction with his coach, teacher, the priest and identify any suspicious behavior that may raise a red flag.
Always know where your child is. With today’s technology it has become much easier to trace children whenever they are thanks to cellular phone and portable JPS trackers (some of these devices even have an SOS button).
Most importantly, talk to your child
The key to keeping our children safe is raising awareness to the threat of sexual exploitation. That doesn’t mean you have to scare your child or make him paranoid. But he should know to watch out for people who try to abuse him.
What exactly you should tell to your child and how to do it depends on his age. When it comes to toddlers and young children, it is important to explain the meaning of private areas stressing that these areas should not be touched by anyone apart from parents or the doctor. Do not be afraid to use words such ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. After all, these are part of our body.
Older children (6 and up) should be taught that they are in control of their body and they have the right to mark their own boundaries. For example, it is up to your kid to decide whether he wants to be kissed by his aunt or not.
Equally important, your child must know that he can talk with you about anything. You must stress time and again that he will always find support and will not be criticized no matter what. Doing this, you will deprive sexual predators of their main weapon – instilling shame and guilt.
In case your child tells you something that may raise suspicion that he has fallen victim to a sex assault, you must keep calm (as hard as it may sound). Overreaction from your part may scare your child and make him shut down. Be supportive telling your child how great it is that he chose to share his experiences with you and you know that it was not easy. Reassure him about your love and stress that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that it is not his fault. Only after you have done that, can you delve into the actual details of what happened. Your child will be much more cooperative knowing that he has your support.
A final word
Sadly, sexual assault carried out against children will continue to be a part of our lives. However, as mentioned above, there are measures you can take to minimize the threat to your loved ones.