What you need to know to help safeguard your child
The mere mention of child molestation strikes us with fear. Our first response is likely to be one of denial: this could never happen in my family – I don’t have to be concerned about this in my community. We have been using denial, as individuals and as a society, to escape the truth, at great expense to our children.
When faced with a medical epidemic in this country the Centers for Disease Control will take immediate steps to educate the public against the spread of the disease. An epidemic of child molestation is spreading across America yet few people are aware that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be molested before age 18. And molestation is never a one-time incident for the victim. Children do not get over molestation as they do a virus. We are a country populated by millions of adult victims who continue to bear the emotional scars of childhood sexual abuse, and the casualties of this generation of children increases daily.
We would do well to draw upon the wisdom of the English statesman, Disraeli, who once told Queen Victoria, “The one with the most knowledge has the greatest advantage.” There is no better place to apply this logic than in the protection of our children – no better place to begin than correct the myths which contribute to our false sense of security until someone we love is affected.
- Molestation occurs in all income and racial groups, from infancy through adulthood.
- The majority of molesters are known by their victims.
- You may never know that your child is a victim.
- Children are not likely to lie about sexual abuse.
- Children do not outgrow the traumatic effects of molestation.
Molestation occurs when an adult or person significantly older than a child engages in sexual activity with a minor. The abuse can be over an extended period of time, or a one time incident, and includes touching, fondling, kissing in a sexual manner, oral sex, masturbation, digital or penile penetration of rectum or vagina.
The 1992 rape survey conducted by the National Victim Center reported that 29% of all rapes occurred when the victim was less than eleven years old, another 32% occurred between the ages of 11 and 17.
CHILD MOLESTERS – WHO ARE THEY?
It is not enough to warn a child to stay away from strangers. The majority of children are molested by those they know and trust – but may not be known by other family members. We also have a lesser known but growing category of molesters: children who perpetrate sexual crimes upon children younger than themselves.
- The U.S. Department of Justice reported four million child molesters reside in this country.
- Almost half of all sex offenders are under 18.
- Ten years ago we had twenty-two rehabilitation programs for juvenile sex offenders – we now have 755.
- New York rape arrests of thirteen year old males increased 200% between 1986 and 1988.
- 57% of child molesters were molested themselves as children.
- A typical molester will abuse between 30 to 60 children before they are arrested – as many as 380 during their lifetime.
The current threat and what lies ahead of us as a nation is staggering. We owe it to our children to remember that the next generation of molesters is coming out of this generation, and to act accordingly.
CHARACTERISTICS OF MOLESTERS
- Can have adult sex partners, but children are primary sex object.
- Have lifestyles which give them easy access to children.
- Target specific gender, age, hair and eye color.
- Use threats to manipulate and control victims – or bribe them with gifts, love or promises to lure victims into their confidence before victimization takes place.
- May commit first offense when in teens.
- Continue behavior even after conviction and treatment.
- Are mostly males, but females also molest.
- May video or photograph sexual activity with children to exchange with other molesters and/or shame child into not telling anyone of the abuse.
- Some molesters network with pornographers and their pictures are used for commercial child pornography. Pictures are also traded with others interested in sex with children and become part of the cottage child pornography industry.
ATTITUDE OF MOLESTERS
- Have no trouble legitimizing their actions, but may demonstrate remorse if arrested although they actually see nothing wrong with what they have done.
- Have no thought for the emotional/physical impact on a child.
- Blame the child for wearing inappropriate clothes, acting in a certain way, or say that because the child did not resist they consented.
Molesters gain access to children through volunteer and professional occupations as well as their own neighborhoods. They are skilled at developing relationships with children, often supplying needs which are not being met at home. Children are easily seduced into believing that it is okay for adults to have sex with children – it is a good way to learn about sex – and it is normal for adults to show affection this way.
All forms of pornography (magazines, videos, comic books, trading cards and computer porn) are widely used to condition the victim and legitimize the sexual behavior.
An abductor preys upon children who:
- take shortcuts to school
- look depressed
- are loners
- appear unkempt, neglected or unsupervised
- frequent video arcades
Abductors often use uniforms and badges of authority to convince a child to go with them, using statements such as “your parents have been in an accident and you are wanted at the hospital.”
The most often used traps include asking for help in finding a lost puppy, carrying books and groceries, or asking for directions. Young children are lured by money, toys, candy, or promises of puppies and kittens, older children by money, drugs, alcohol and promises of movie careers.
Molesters take advantage of the fact that children are taught to look up to authority figures and respect and obey adults. A child is not prepared when a relative, neighbor or other acquaintance makes sexual advances. The best way to deal with the problem is before it occurs.
We can alert our children to danger without frightening them. Explain that most adults are dedicated to their protection and welfare, but there are some people who are not. Telling a child to look both ways when crossing the street does not create a fear of cars – it prevents serious injury. As parents we are obligated to give our children survival skills in all areas of life.
INSTRUCT YOUR CHILDREN TO:
- Always check with parents or person in charge before going anywhere, even with someone they know, to state where they are going, who is going with them, and exactly when they will return.
- Always check with parents before accepting any type of a gift: money, candy, toys.
- Use the buddy system when they are going places or playing outside. Stress safety in numbers.
- Say no to anyone who tries to touch them any place a bathing suit would cover – get away from that person – and tell you if anyone violates this rule. Be sure they understand that no one should expose or touch their private parts, ask them to do the same, or force them to handle body wastes.
- Report any incidents of anyone asking to take their pictures.
- Never open the door when they are home alone. Make sure they have a neighbor’s phone number in case someone tries to get inside the house.
EXPLAIN THE FOLLOWING SAFETY MEASURES
- When separated from parents in a public place a child should find a cashier, security guard or manager and ask for help in finding their parents.
- No matter what anyone tells them, children do not have to keep secrets if anyone touches them in a way that is not okay, or if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable by what they say or do. People who want children to keep secrets from their parents are not safe to be with.
- Explain that adults should ask other adults for help – not children – and if asked by someone in a car for directions they should keep walking and never approach the car. If the driver gets out of the car they should be prepared to scream and run.
- Show your children how to call 911 and make periodic checks to see if they remember their address and telephone number.
- If approached by a policeman, children have the right to call the Police Department to verify that person’s credentials, and any legitimate officer will honor this request.
- Instruct your children to tell you if they see anything that frightens or disturbs them. Younger children are often introduced to pornographic material by older children and later act it out on children younger than themselves.
A January, 1986 poll of Women’s Day readers indicated that nearly one-half said they felt their children had been harmed by exposure to pornography.
SAFETY TIPS FOR PARENTS
- Network with your child’s friends and their parents to safeguard all children in your community.
- Insist that all slumber parties be well chaperoned.
- Never leave children unattended, especially in a car.
- Notice when a stranger pays attention to your child and find out why. Question the motives of adults or older children who want to spend time alone with your children.
- Do not let your child spend time in an unsupervised home, and know who their friends are.
- If your child prefers to spend a lot of time at a neighbor’s home, find out why.
- Play “what if” games: “what if a stranger offers you a ride home or asks you to help find a lost puppy?” A Portland, Oregon news reporter tested children in a park by asking to help him find his lost puppy. Had he been a child molester, he could have abducted over 80% of the children because that many were willing to go with him.
- Screen baby-sitters and other care givers carefully – both male and female.
- Be alert to unexplained toys or money. Find out who gave them to your child and why.
Develop and maintain open communication with your children so you can talk about any subject comfortably.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS MOLESTED
- You do not want to further alarm the child. Stay calm. Your reaction and attitude will play a key role in your child’s healing.
- Call the police or sheriff’s office immediately. The one who molested your child has probably molested before and will molest again.
- Never confront the molester yourself.
- Respect the child’s privacy. Find a private place and listen to their story. Encourage your child to talk about what happened. Record name, dates, times, and locations so you don’t have to rely on your memory when passing on information to the authorities. This will spare excessive questioning which can make a child feel that the adult does not believe him or her.
- Share the information only with those who need to hear about it. Sexually exploited children are extremely vulnerable to comments from relatives and friends.
- If some time has lapsed since the abuse, don’t ask “why didn’t you tell me before?” Molesters are experts at manipulation. Children are often threatened not to tell anyone and need assurance. Affirm that you are going to protect them.
- This is not the time to scold, no matter how often the child has been warned about strangers or told not to go anywhere without permission. Never express anger or punish a child – even if they have disobeyed your orders by being at a location they have been warned about.
- Continue to affirm the child and explain that they have done nothing wrong. Children easily assume the guilt and responsibility for what happened. They can be easily enticed or tricked and later blame themselves because they feel they should have been stronger or smarter.
- Get immediate medical attention. Sexual abuse must be documented if charges are to be pressed. Sexually exploited children often have physical injuries, and more children are getting sexually transmitted diseases today than were affected by the polio epidemic of the late 40′s and early 50′s.
- Get counseling/therapy for the child. Children are not emotionally equipped to deal with the trauma of sexual abuse. Get the best professional help available. Look for a professional who is experienced in cases of molestation. Don’t try to handle your feelings alone. All family members need attention when one member is victimized.
- Do not vent your anger or other feelings in front of your child who may feel at fault for upsetting you and regret reporting the abuse.
- Children seldom lie about acts of sexual exploitation because of the shame and guilt associated with it. Take what they say seriously.
- Don’t be surprised – or upset – if your child reports to someone outside the family. Children become very concerned about a parent’s reaction.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Never forget that the child is a victim – the molester is a criminal.
CHOOSING A DAYCARE CENTER
One of your best resources when looking for daycare is through the recommendation of friends and neighbors who can speak from first hand experience. Lists are also available from your local department of social services and local schools and community resource centers. Call your local police and social services departments to determine if any reports have been filed against the specific facility you are considering.
Choose a licensed daycare center where:
- Parents are free to come and go without calling first.
- No areas are off limits to parents.
- Bathrooms do not contain areas where children can be isolated (two thirds of all daycare sexual abuse takes place during visits to the bathroom).
- There is adequate supervision during naps.
- Criminal checks are made on all employees who will be interacting with children – including volunteers or teacher’s aides.
- Safety measures are taken to prohibit the release of your child to anyone without your written authorization.
Once you decide on a facility and your child is old enough to respond, ask what happened during the day. Communication is the key to safety.
INDICATORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
Not all of the following indicators will mean your child has been victimized – some can be part of normal development or signs of stress. The greater the number of signs, and the more sudden, severe and frequent they are, the more reason you have for concern. Physical evidence in genital and rectal areas must be taken seriously and treated immediately.
In Preschool Children:
- displaying inappropriate sexual activity or showing an unusual interest in sexual matters
- mood swings, withdrawal, depression
- bed wetting, nightmares, fear of going to bed
- pain, itching, bleeding, discharge, or rawness in private areas
- regressive behavior: baby talk, sudden clinging behavior
- sudden unexplained aggressiveness or rebellion
- inserts objects into genitals or rectum – acts out sexual behavior on dolls or stuffed toys
- sudden fear of specific things, people, places, etc.
Elementary School Age Children:
may display same signs as preschool children as well as the following:
- stomach aches, headaches, and other psychosomatic ailments
- unusual knowledge and interest in sex beyond developmental level
- sudden drops in grades, difficulty concentrating
# serious depression
- inability to trust others
- self-destructive behaviors: alcohol and/or drug use, eating disorders
- promiscuity and self inflicted injuries
- pseudo maturity
- serious confusion regarding sexual identity
- aversion toward opposite sex
- sexual interest in younger children
Remember, victims are intimidated by their abusers and are more likely to deny the abuse than disclose it. They will be more willing to talk if an atmosphere of trust and open communication has already been established in the home. Contact a professional who is trained in assessing child sexual abuse if you have any doubts.
THE ROLE OF PORNOGRAPHY IN MOLESTATION
We have more evidence to link pornography to sexual crimes against children than we do cigarette smoking to cancer. The Surgeon General’s Report on Pornography and Public Health (1986) and the Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (1986) attest to the harms of pornography – as do numerous other studies by experts in the field. We have more outlets for hard core pornography than we do McDonald restaurants, and our 12 to 17 year old boys are among the biggest consumers.
Dr. Frederick Wortham, a psychiatrist who treats troubled children who have done terrible things, tells us that a child’s mind is like a bank – what goes into it comes back ten years later with interest. We see this illustrated in the results of a Kansas City survey of high school students which revealed that 60% of the boys thought it was all right to rape a girl if they thought they were going to marry her.
We are reaping the harvest sown by pornography’s consistent theme that reduces children and women to sexual toys – subservient to those able to control them. It bears repeating that 29% of victims of rape are less than 11 years old, another 32% between 11 and 17, and rape has risen 523% since 1960.
The following are just two of the cases which further demonstrate how pornography is poisoning the minds of our youth: A 10 year old boy raped and sodomized four younger children in an apartment complex. When asked by police where he got such an idea, the boy showed them his parent’s pornography. One 16 year old boy was forced to seek counseling for an addiction to dial-a-porn. He came to his mother in tears, asking why she never warned him about the effects of pornography.
Protecting Children from a Modern
Since many children today spend time on the electronic superhighway “surfing the net,” it is not surprising that child molesters go there to look for victims.
“Chat rooms,” have become the “playgrounds” of the 90′s. A molester engages a child in a chatroom by posing on-line as a child himself. Once an on-line relationship is established the molester will often suggest a conversation in a “private room,” ie. a chat room for only two. Then language becomes sexually explicit, pornography can be transmitted electronically, and the relationship becomes abusive.
Safeguarding Your Children:
- Learn about computers so you can monitor your child’s use.
- Spend quality time with your children, thereby preventing them from depending on computer technology for recreation, communication, and companionship.
- Keep the computer in a public area of the house.
- Don’t EVER allow a child to give out personal information on-line, not real name, address or phone number.
- Don’t allow a child to meet someone face-to-face they have met on-line.
- Remember that people on-line may not be who they seem, a “12-year-old-girl” may actually be a 40 year old man.
- Though they are not fool proof, consider purchasing and installing a pornography blocking software package such as CYBERsitter, SurfWatch, Cyber Patrol, Rated-PG or Net Nanny.
- Periodically check the Web sites your children are visiting and look at files they are storing.
- “You can no more leave your children alone to travel the information superhighway than you can leave them in Times Square in New York.”
Len Munsil, Exec. Dir., National Family Legal Foundation
Each of us must decide whether we are going to be part of the problem (by ignoring the issue) or part of the solution. The lives of our children and their offspring depend on what we, as individuals are prepared to do about the epidemic of molestation.