Trigger warning: childhood sexual abuse
You’re reading the series If You Only Knew: Awareness, Healing, Hope. We began with my personal story of childhood sexual abuse and my path to healing. If you missed it, you can find the posts for my story here. I’ve been so touched by the tremendous outpouring of love and support you’ve shown in response to my story. Your words are healing! Thank you.
My personal story colors each feeling and opinion I hold about the issue of childhood sexual abuse and the hope for healing from it. It shapes who I am, and it is from that place that I offer the following thoughts. Please note that I am not an expert in law or psychology. My suggestions do not guarantee your child’s safety, but I pray they empower you to keep your children safer.
Discussing childhood sexual abuse makes people uncomfortable, defensive, upset, confused, combative, offended, and even hurt. It is an emotionally charged issue, and it needs to be said that any discussion of it will be imperfect. Pretty much everyone involved will say the wrong thing at some point. It will trigger wounds in individuals who have experienced abuse.
But it is still crucial to have these discussions.
Because, on the whole, people just don’t know.
They don’t know how at-risk their children are.
They don’t know who is likely to abuse.
They don’t know what to look for as signs that children have been abused.
They don’t know what to do when they discover abuse.
They don’t know how to relate to adult survivors of abuse.
They don’t know how to heal from abuse.
Children are at risk, and survivors are hurting.
That can change.
It must change.
And it can.
If you only knew…you could be a hero.
How can you keep your children safer?
- There is no “safe” person.
- Abuse happens everywhere. Abusers do not necessarily “look” criminal. A close family member abused me. A man whose job it was to love and protect me violated and betrayed me. It is tragic that I am not the exception.
- Abuse happens in homes, in neighborhoods, on teams, in churches… by parents, step-parents, grandparents, uncles, friends, brothers, coaches, pastors, priests, baby-sitters, etc. Holding a position of authority over a child does not automatically equal safety for a child.
- Most often, abuse happens by someone a child knows, trusts, and even loves.
Note: We hear of men as perpetrators much more frequently than women perpetrators, but that doesn’t negate the possibility that women can sexually abuse children. There is little research to provide good information on this. Because I am writing from my experience, I refer mainly to male abusers here.
What does all this mean?
It means being very selective about baby-sitters. Gavin de Becker (an expert on the prediction and management of violence) details “how to choose a baby-sitter” in his book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane).
It means to think twice before dropping your child off anywhere, even with relatives.
- Who will be in this place with my child, and what is my comfort level with each of the persons present?
- Are there older brothers, boyfriends, or adult males here about whom I might need to be concerned?
- Who might my child be alone with in this scenario, and am I okay with that?
It means to consider not sending your child off alone in a public place. Even though most abuse occurs by someone known to a child, that is not always the case.
- I send my girls in twos to the restroom at church and in the church activity center. (They are 11 and 9.)
- I go with them to restrooms in stores and restaurants.
- I keep them in my sight in any public place, when possible. If I can’t see them, I make sure they have a buddy with them.
It means thinking hard before leaving your child in places with free (or paid) baby-sitting, such as gyms.
- Do I know who is coming and going in this place and who will have access to my child?
- Is my workout, shopping experience, etc. worth leaving my children with strangers?
It means thinking twice about events like sleepovers and overnight trips away from you.
Ask the same questions here. WHO has access to my child and how comfortable am I with that?
Start from an attitude of protection rather than automatic trust.
Nice, fun, friendly people do not equal safe people.
Family does not automatically equal safe.
I could give you a list of suggestions about empowering your child through things like: fostering a relationship with open communication, not forcing hugs, respecting their “no” and their other boundaries, and what to teach them to do when they feel threatened…but, in truth, I do not have a firm handle on that. It all makes sense to me, but I have no idea if it really works. (Good resources for this kind of information is the Rise and Shine Movement and their blog, Tamar’s Redemption.)
So, what I want you to know is this: you have tremendous power to make your kids safer simply by being aware.
Not starting from a place of automatic trust seems to fly in the face of Christian love and community. We want to feel safe and comfortable with our friends and loved ones, to “do life together.” But, being wise, being prudent, is not being uncharitable. It’s protecting your little ones.
How do you decide who cares for your children?
What steps do you take for their protection?