Did you know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by age 18? No, that’s not an exaggeration. If anything, it’s an underestimate and I hope it scares you at least a little. I hope it motivates you to think seriously about how you can protect the children in your life. If it does, then read on. In my 12 years of providing therapy to abused children, I learned to recognize the tricks abusers use to lure children into their world. As much as I wish I didn’t know these things, I realize they provide valuable clues to how we can protect kids.
Here are 3 of the most common tricks and most important tips:
1. Trick: Perpetrators target vulnerable children. These are kids who aren’t getting the attention they need, don’t feel loved or accepted, just feel different in some way or feel they can’t talk to their parents.
Tip: Make sure your kids (grandkids, students…) know you love and accept them. A warm, supportive relationship with a parent (or other significant adult) reduces the risk of abuse. Spend time with your kids. Tell and show them you love them every day.
2. Trick: Abusers choose kids they think won’t tell.
These are kids who are isolated, especially quiet, or live in very critical homes.
Tip: Make sure kids know it’s safe to talk to you. Do this by giving kids your full attention, listening carefully to them, and not rushing to punish or criticize. It’s important to establish this foundation early so kids know they can come to you with any kind of problem, including abuse.
3. Trick: Abusers groom children and their families.
Abusers work to establish a relationship and gain the trust of parents and children. They often start with fairly innocent behaviors such as tickling, progress to mildly abusive behaviors, and escalate to serious abuse.
Tip: Educate your kids. Talk openly with your kids about bodies and touch. Teach them that no one but a doctor is allowed to touch parts of their bodies covered by a swimsuit. It is hard for small kids to understand but they need to know that if anyone does this, it is ok for them to tell the person to stop. You can even teach older children that it’s ok for them to hit, kick, scream, or whatever, to keep themselves safe. Explain to kids that you want them to tell you if something like this happens and that they will never be in trouble.
These are just a few tips to get you thinking about how to protect the kids you love from sexual abuse. If you want to learn more, go to DCAC.org, cactx.org or childhelp.org If you suspect a child you know is being abused, call 1 800 252 5400. If you or your child has been abused, there is help available. Reach out to Trauma Support Services of North Texas, your local children’s advocacy center or local rape crisis center. To contact me, go to my website wynneshawcounseling.com.