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How Can We Protect Our Kids from Sexual Abuse?

child-abuse

I am volunteering to work in the children’s program at our church. Before I could be with the children, I was asked to take an online course on Sexual Abuse Awareness. The course was given by Ministry Safe Institute. Gregory Love and Kimberly Norris of the law firm of Love and Norris presented the course through several short videos. These attorneys have represented sexual abuse victims for many years. The training is expensive, but very thorough, interesting and appropriate to be used by churches. If you are interested in purchasing it for your church, click here.

*** Trigger Warning *** If you, or someone close to you has been sexually abused, this blog might upset you.

Since most of us cannot afford this course, I will summarize it here.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. When a perpetrator engages with a child this way, they are committing a crime that can have lasting effects on the victim for years. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:

  • Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
  • Fondling
  • Intercourse
  • Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
  • Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
  • Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
  • Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
  • Sex trafficking
  • Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare*

How Widespread is Sexual Abuse?

  • 1 in 5 Americans have been sexually abused as children
  • 1 in 3 females will be sexually abused before she is 18
  • 1 in 6 males will be sexually abused before he is 18
  • 66% of abuse victims won’t talk about their abuse until they are adults, if ever.

Sexual abuse happens to everyone, rich, poor, educated or not, from every culture. Perpetrators are males 85% of the time, women 15% of the time. They can even be children offending other children.

How many sexual abuse perpetrators are there? No one knows. But one perpetrator can hurt many children. The course showed a video of a perpetrator who abused his first male victim at the age of 15. He claims to have raped 11 males and 1 female in his life, and estimates he has molested over 1000 children.

I know. Sick. As a society, we cannot ignore what is happening all around us. Tweet This

And we cannot rely on background checks to keep our kids safe because only 10% of perpetrators will ever be involved with the law. Abusers rely on our ignorance to do their harm. 90% of offenders are known and trusted by their victims.

How Do Sexual Child Abusers Choose their Victims?

Children in church are especially vulnerable because we have taught them to respect and obey adults. Tweet This

Sexual offenders usually have a gender and age preference. They will look for a child who is weaker than the other kids, a child on the fringe. Sometimes they have a single parent, are not well-liked by the other children, or have some type of disability. The offender will look for trusted time alone with the children he** has selected. He accomplishes this by volunteering or getting a job where he has access to children whose age and gender he prefers.

First, he grooms the child’s gatekeepers: her/his parents, teachers, church program leaders, neighbors. He makes himself appear to be a good guy, helpful, kind and trustworthy.

Next, he begins grooming the child. He is skilled at meeting the child’s needs. If a child is starved for attention, he gives special attention. If the child suffers from poverty and has few nice clothes, he will give her/him new shoes and clothes. He will make this child feel special.

How Do They Accomplish Their Goal?

Once they have gained the trust of the gatekeepers and the child, they are given permission to spend time alone with the child. They begin pushing back the child’s natural physical and emotional boundaries. They may begin touching them playfully, by giving wedgies, or wrestling with the child. They may become “accidentally nude” in front of the child. If they are coming out of the shower, they might let their towel slip “accidentally”. Soon, the child becomes used to seeing the person without clothes. He might show the child porn magazines, videos, movies or books.

The risk of sexual abuse is higher in areas where clothes come off (swimming), the bathroom or where a child will not be easily seen (like in the nooks and crannies of a home or facility).

How Does He Prevent Getting Caught?

Secrecy is woven into the entire grooming process. He might give a child gifts or special privileges. They he will tell the child, “Your mom wouldn’t like this.” Or, “I like you more than the other kids and I don’t want them to feel jealous.” Therefore, the child is already used to keeping secrets from his/her gatekeepers.

After the sexual abuse, the abuser uses shame and embarrassment to keep the child quiet. The child is made to feel responsible for “enticing” the adult. The child is made to feel like there must be something inherently wrong with her/him that caused the perpetrator to choose her/him.

If shame doesn’t work, he uses threats. “I will kill you, your pet or your little sister if you tell anyone.” “This would hurt your mother, put her over the edge if she knew.” “If you tell, it will hurt our team. Everyone will blame you.”

The #1 Reason kids don’t tell – because they don’t think anyone would believe them. Tweet This

After all, the child’s gatekeepers have been groomed. Also, the child is on the fringe, and will seem less believable than will that “great guy”.

How Can We Prevent This?

  • Watch for grooming behavior
  • Make sure our children always have adequate supervision
  • Understand boundaries, what is appropriate in both verbal and physical activities
  • Avoid inappropriate physical affection
  • Avoid one to one situations with a child in your church program – for your protection as well as the child’s
  • Avoid giving special privileges to one child from one adult – any special privileges should come from and to a group
  • No secrets – allow no secrecy. Keep everything out in the open.

What should you do if a child wants to tell you something but asks you to keep it a secret? Don’t promise this. Say, “Some things you might tell me, I can’t keep secret. If you or another child is being harmed, I will be forced to tell. I would like you to tell me anyway.”

Peer to Peer Sexual Abuse

Many children play “doctor” when they are exploring their sexuality. But this is not innocent child sex play. It involves an aggressive child and usually a weaker child who doesn’t want their attentions. Most child perpetrators are adolescents and are older than the victim. There is an imbalance of power, either physically, mentally or economically.

Usually children who sexually abuse have been abused themselves, or have witnessed it, via games, movies, or the internet. The acts are opportunistic. Since they can’t drive, they must find victims that are near them, neighbors, family members, etc.

Signs a child might be an abuser:

  • He uses physical contact to overpower another child
  • He persists even when the child objects
  • He regularly chooses to play with younger children, not those his own age.

Signs a child might be a victim:

  • The child doesn’t want to do an activity s/he used to enjoy
  • The child doesn’t want to be around the aggressive child
  • The child tells you s/he is being bullied.

How to Reduce the Risk of Peer-to-Peer Sexual Abuse?

Realize peer abuse is real and prevalent. Watch for warning signs, like bullying and imbalances of power. Teach kids they have the right to say no to peers and adults. Also, teach children how to hear “no” from others. In a church or daycare setting, communicate with other staff members. Tell them when something doesn’t seem right.

During “free time” or recreation, children’s workers should:

  • Walk around, not talk to each other
  • Examine nooks and crannies to see if someone is hiding there
  • Patrol bathrooms or changing areas.

Create a culture of communication within your staff and with your supervisor. If you see something that doesn’t feel right, share your concerns right away. This will help prevent grooming.

Impact on Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused

Shortly after they experience abuse, children will often have poor self-esteem. They will feel shame, guilt and have a loss of trust. They will suddenly stop enjoying a person or activity they used to enjoy. They may be angry, rebellious, begin cutting, bedwetting or skipping school.

In the long-term, victims often suffer from depression, have suicidal thoughts or acts, abuse substances (self-medicating), receive lower grades, become promiscuous, or have sexually keyed behavior.

Sometimes these victims will go onto molest other children. This is especially true for male victims who do not receive emotional help. Girls will sometimes turn to prostitution. It is estimated that 95% of female prostitutes were sexually abused as children.

What Can You Do If a Child Reports Sexual Abuse?

Don’t freak out. Listen and respond calmly. Be sensitive to vague or partial disclosure, they may tell you more later. Ask them, “Do you want to tell me anything else?” Don’t ask shaming questions, like “Why were you alone with him?” If you do, the child will likely clam up.

Every state has regulations about mandatory reporting. Report to your supervisor immediately and report to the police. It isn’t your job to prove whether it occurred or not. Let the police do the investigation. Don’t keep any secrets. Get it out in the open right away. Yes, you can protect the child, but don’t protect the abuser.

When I finished the training, I was given a quiz. The results were sent to my church supervisor. I had to pass the course before I was given permission to be with the children.

I highly recommend this training. I knew a lot about this subject, but was surprised how much I didn’t know. Even if we aren’t working specifically with children in church or at work, knowing the methods of sexual predators can help keep our kids and our neighbors’ kids safe.

Question: Have you personally experienced this or has a child ever reported to you that they were being abused? What happened?

In Mark 9:42, Jesus says,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones . . . to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”

Dear Lord,

Of all the evil in the world, this is one of the worst. Lord, please help us not turn a blind eye to the little ones who are being sexually abused. Help us protect the innocent please Lord. Amen

Many blessings to you all,

Caroline

*This definition of child sexual abuse was taken from RAINN’s website: https://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse

**Offenders can be male or female. I use a male offender as an example here because the majority of offenders are male.

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