As an educator and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am often asked by parents and grandparents, “What can we do to protect our children?” The answer is simple: Talk to them. Arm them with the tools they need to avoid the traps predators set. Don’t be so intimidated by the topic that you avoid it and leave your children or grandchildren unprotected. You are your grandchild’s first line of defense against abuse.
Sexual predators lead children through a calculated grooming process. They ask children to withhold harmless information to see whether they can be trusted to keep more damning secrets. They provide attention and privileges that seem so beneficial, they win the favor of children and parents alike. They target good children, eager to please, who come from every ZIP code.
The fact is, childhood sexual abuse cuts across every demographic, all ethnic lines and income levels. For six years, from age 11 to 17, I was sexually assaulted, daily, as a child of privilege behind the gates of an exclusive, protected community. My abuser was my nanny, my substitute parent, a person with unlimited access to me, while my parents were largely absent.
Fortunately, you can arm children with protective strategies without having a conversation that is explicitly sexual or scary. The greatest protection for children is an open and honest relationship with key adults in their lives where they feel empowered to go to them with anything. Equally important, is letting children know that their bodies are their own and they don’t have to allow touches they don’t want.
Recently, I was teaching abuse prevention strategies to a kindergarten class, and I asked them whether they have the right to tell an adult that they don’t want a hug or a kiss. I watched their intent little faces pondering the question, cautiously nodding yes and no and looking confused.
While it may be embarrassing when a child doesn’t want to give a hug to a visiting aunt, it’s dangerous to send the message that adults have the right to force children to render physical forms of affection against their will. Or that children need to endure behaviors that make them uncomfortable in order to be polite.
Children need to be told that safe secrets are those that eventually are told and that bring smiles to everyone’s faces, such as planning a surprise party. Any other secrets are unsafe and they shouldn’t be asked to keep them.
It’s tempting to allow adults who take a special interest in our children to take them places without us, especially if they offer opportunities to our children that we can’t. But, we must keep up our guard on behalf of our children. Researchers with the Center for Behavioral Intervention say the odds are high that we all know one or two child molesters and don’t even realize it, a fact supported by an FBI estimate that there is a sex offender living in every square mile of the USA. Sadly, they are a part of our daily lives, and they seek out situations where they will have contact with children.
All children deserve to be empowered to listen to the little voice inside them that says, “Something here is not quite right.” When that voice speaks, they have to speak, and a trusted adult must be ready to listen.
To begin the discussion with your grandchild today, click here to utilize our Safer, Smarter Kids interactive toolkit that will help you facilitate this vital conversation with your grandchild in a fun and safe way.