August 1, 2012
By Tracey L. Chavous, CHHC
Health and Wellness Writer
Over the past several years, the media has highlighted many scandalously high-profile child molestation cases. Priests with laundry list-like indictments in long-term abuse cases have sent shockwaves around the world, leaving many families holding their beloved children even closer and more protected than ever. The Jerry Sandusky case and the questionable levels of secrecy at Penn State have caused people all over the country to doubt the safety of their children. These types of perpetrators (friends, clergy, and coaches) use their positions of power to obtain access to the vulnerable psyches of young children, leaving an imprint of despair, confusion, and anger.
How can you tell if something is just not right with your child, and how do you discuss such a stressful topic with your child(ren)? Research shows that looking and listening for changes in your children’s typical behavior can provide opportunities for discussion as well as opportunities to practice this conversation. You may notice a difference in your child’s eating habits, sudden mood changes, or that he or she suddenly has money, toys, and gifts for no reason. KidPower founder and Executive Director Irene Van der Zande shares four steps to help protect children from terrible wrongdoing.
1) Act with the child in mind:
Take personal responsibility if you see or know if someone harming a child. Go straight to the police and follow up regularly to ensure the proper steps are being taken for the immediate protection and safety of the child and his or her family.
2) Know and be aware of who your children are with:
Check the references and backgrounds of the people involved in your children’s life. Ask questions and set boundaries if an adult spends extended time alone with one of your children. Trust your intuition if you feel that something may not be right.
3) Actively listen to your children and teach them not to keep unsafe secrets:
Teach your children that, even if they really like the person who may have said or done something inappropriate, it is not ok to keep harmful secrets from you. Do not get upset at your children for sharing something that troubles you; instead, reassure them that what they are sharing and what may have happened is not their fault. Listen without lecturing.
4) Empower your children’s safety by practicing skills:
Just as you would practice for a fire or weather emergency, practicing what to do in these types of circumstances can help prevent abuse. Role-play for situations like interrupting an adult for a safety emergency or persisting until an adult who will listen is found. Kidpower provides detailed support with newsletters, age-appropriate comics, and workshops that empower children and parents.
There are a reported 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America. If you need help on how to begin a courageous conversation about sexual abuse, try visiting one of the sites listed below or talking to your doctor about obtaining professional support with this process. Kids deserve safe and positive environments.
- The FBI’s comprehensive site that allows you to locate and track sexual offenders near you.
- A non-profit site that teaches about bullying prevention, child abuse prevention, violence prevention, stranger awareness, and personal safety education for children, teens, and adults.
- Stop It Now! prevents the sexual abuse of children by mobilizing adults, families, and communities to take action to protect children before they are harmed.
- Darkness to Light raises awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse by helping to educate adults about prevention.
- Bishop Accountability allows you to look up specific churches and priests that may be under investigation for abuse.
- A children’s advocacy center can guide you. To find a center near you, contact the National Children’s Alliance by visiting their website or calling 1-800-239-9950. The opportunity to convict a child molester may depend on evidence from an examination.