The United States based non-profit organisation Lauren Kids, which works to prevent and raise awareness about the sexual abuse of children, is on a mission to change the perceptions of people across the world about who could be predators.
In a recent interview with The Barbados Advocate, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lauren’s Kids, Lauren Book, herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, indicated that too often children and adults both feel that a sexual predator is a stranger, but she explained that in almost all cases the predator is known by the victim.
We ask the kids to close their eyes and picture what a stranger looks like, and we ask if it is a man or a woman and in almost all cases it is a man with messy hair, a big pointy nose, angry eyes, a mad face, with a gun, a knife or a sword and they say I’m going to hurt you, I’m going to kill you, I’m going to hurt your family, and this is who children think are going to hurt them.
But the sad reality is 90 per cent of the time children are abused by someone they know, love and trust and so they need to look for behaviours that make them feel unsafe and uncomfortable. You cannot tell if someone is good or bad by how they look on the outside. You have to go by how you feel about a situation, decide if it is safe or unsafe and how to act,” she explained.
It is for this reason Book said, that she formed Lauren Kids and told her story of abuse that lasted for six years at the hand of her female nanny. With that in mind, Book said her case is proof that both men and women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse and believes that parents must be observant of who they allow around their children.
“When I was growing up I believed it was the guy behind the building who was drinking a bunch of alcohol that you would avoid, but it could be the cricket coach for example, and while we don’t want to put everyone out there on a witch hunt, you need to be aware.
Whenever I am able to share my story with a group of kids, quite frankly when I share my story anywhere, not an opportunity goes by that somebody does not come up after and say’ I’ve never told anybody but I was sexually abused by my father, I was sexually abused by my uncle; it happened to me when I was five, it happened to me when I was ten’,” she added.
Equally important, she said, is that there is adequate counselling and support made available for the survivors of sexual abuse to better help them cope with the aftermath of the abuse.
Her comments came as she noted that in the United States one in three girls, and one in five boys before the age of 18, will be sexually abused and statistics have shown that in the Caribbean 47 per cent of girls and 31 per cent of boys reported that their first sexual encounter was forced by a family member.
“That is why we advocate having a trusted triangle – three or more adults that you can talk to about anything, whether it is a fight with a friend, a bad dream or a touch that makes them feel not quite right and we teach them to use their “I mean business voice”. We are giving them concrete, black and white steps they can take to prevent it, if I had had that information I wouldn’t have been abused for six years, I would have screamed stop that’s not safe in my mean business voice, and I would’ve gone to someone in my trusted triangle before it got out of hand,” she added.