I recently attended a meeting with a community group to discuss their policies for babysitting. The group offered drop-off babysitting as a service to parents attending their programming, and I was talking to the leadership about some safety concerns with their process for hiring babysitters, as well as solutions I thought the community could implement. While everyone in attendance clearly wanted what was best for their community, my decade working with survivors of sexual violence and sufferers of other trauma ensured that I was not surprised to hear the responses: “We cannot protect our kids from everything.” “Do you stop your kids from crossing the street?”
I understand the motivation underlying this sentiment. The world is a scary place where tough and terrible things happen, and (while we might wish otherwise) we cannot protect our children from everything. However, this inevitable truth doesn’t mean that we should send them out into the world with an empty toolkit. Of course we don’t stop our kids from crossing the street. But first we teach them to look both ways.
Other dangers, including the dangers of sexual abuse, are no different. We can give our children the tools, skills, and knowledge to mitigate the risk.
We can also teach ourselves, as parents, to look both ways. It can begin by educating ourselves on the facts of childhood sexual abuse, which can allow us to look for red flags in places we inherently trust:
- It is estimated that one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they are 18 Townsend, C., & Rheingold, A.A., (2013). Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: studies. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D2L.org.
- 93% of sexual abuse victims know their abuser United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment Survey, 2016 (2018).
- Abusers often develop special relationships with the children they plan to abuse through a process called “grooming.” Abusers get close to their victims, gaining the trust of the victim and, often, the victim’s family. When the abuser eventually initiates sexual contact, the victim often experiences deep confusion and the community often rallies around the “trusted” abuser.
Educating yourself is an important step towards helping keep our children safe. Many schools, camps, and other organizations have hired trainers for their staff and experts to implement safety policies and procedures, but the crucial role that parents play is often left unaddressed. In future posts I will address this role and provide some tips for parents!