It's so overwhelming that people often feel that it's beyond their control.
So, we took some time to break down what we know and what we can do to prevent abuse.
We Know Who The Abusers ARe
To roughly break it down, abuse is most often perpetrated by:
Family members (immediate or extended) 30-40% of the time.
Non-family people in a position of trust 50-60% of the time.
Less than 10% of abuse is estimated to be perpetrated by a stranger.
So, if we want to focus on protecting our children, it would be reasonable to exercise 90% of our energy on the very people we know - starting with the people who spend the most time with our children. Worry less about what an abuse "looks like" (because we can really never know) and pay more attention to who has 1:1 time with our children.
Predators Target With Purpose
1. Families in Need
For example: a single parent looking for a partner, needs the income of a roommate, and especially someone that is willing to let them babysit their children or serve the role as another parental figure and spend time with their child.
A family under crisis - a parent that is ill or incapacitated in some way and would appreciate outside help from a nanny, friend, or family member.
2. Children That Are Naive or Insecure
Predators look for and examine the parent-child dynamic, the more present and interested the parent is in their child, the less likely they will be to try to insert themselves and establish a close relationship with that child. They know that children that do not feel affirmed at home are more likely to accept it from somewhere else, and be more willing to submit to abuse in exchange for the emotional support they crave. If they know the parents/ child are educated in body safety they know it will be harder to perpetrate abuse and maintain secrecy.
3. Trusting Communities
The "not in our town" attitude toward sexual abuse of children is not only false - it essentially enables abusers. People are less likely to be educated, less likely to be concerned about the threat of abuse, and most likely are not educating their children. Abusers can thrive in such an environment because their victims realize they won't be believed - especially if the abuser holds a position of high authority - be it religious, public service, or as a socialite.
4. Special Needs Children
It is estimated that the vast majority of children with special needs will experience sexual abuse - often multiple times. Abuse prevention for such children isn't just a good 'idea' it most be a priority in any situation where they are are alone with anyone - be it family, caregiver or in a school/recreational situation.
Abusers Groom in Public
If you see something and your instinct kicks in that something isn't right - listen. Increase supervision, talk to others about your concern in an open-minded manner, and if necessary - speak to the person that concerns you and seek clarification for their behavior or simply let them know it makes you uncomfortable. It doesn't have to be threatening or accusatory, but abusers do not want to be caught. If they feel a responsible adult is suspicious of them - they will most likely back off.
Solution: Be smart about who we trust with our children and be vigilant for anyone eager to gain our trust or those that fail to respect boundaries or are close with our children.
Understand The Opportunity Offender
Opportunity offenders are not necessarily seeking to 'create' a situation for abuse, but rather, acknowledge an opportunity and take it.
It could be a family member or babysitter that find a young, naive child in their care as a target. (FYI much child pornography is produced by family members and people trusted caring for that child, and due to the availability of camera phones, it is much easier to create and distribute images of abuse.)
Opportunity abusers are more likely to offend when they're under stress (lost job, failing relationship, illness etc) or under the influence of drugs/alcohol. Their moral compass is not as strong as others and they are more likely to submit to temptation when under duress.
Such offenders may not have a history of abuse, but are being trusted with a child and take advantage of that trust.
Solution: never let our guard down. As Ronald Reagan once said, "trust but verify." Minimize opportunity for 1:1 situations with children and find ways to 'check in', be open to signs of abuse/symptoms of abuse in children - no matter how long we've known the person.
Survivors Have Told Us A lot
1. I didn't know it was wrong when it was happening.
Solution:Talk to our children - early - about private parts - what they are called, why we keep them private, and what is appropriate/inappropriate behavior.
2. I was too ashamed because I felt it was my fault.
I was afraid no one would believe me.
Solution: Again - talk to our children, often, that abuse is never their fault. The pleasurable feeling of sexual stimulation can confuse children and make them feel (or they're told) that they must have 'wanted' the abuse and therefore 'equally guilty'. It may not be comfortable for us - but we have to explain that sexual touching is pleasurable - but that such relationships require responsible, healthy behaviors - children cannot consent to such a relationship.
Furthermore, we must also be open to hearing a disclosure of abuse where the accused is someone we know, respect, and possibly love. No one, we repeat, no one can be allowed a free pass with our children and be excused from consideration that they could potentially abuse a child. The more open our minds are - the more open children will be to tell someone.
3. I was told to keep a secret. I was threatened. I was blackmailed. It happened so many times I felt like it was too late.
Solution: Do the best we can to assure that people will try to trick children into keeping quiet. It is our job to protect them and there is never a reason to not tell if they're being abused. And that it is never too late.
4. Many survivors disclosed to a friend before an adult.
Solution: Talk to our children that if a peer discloses abuse they need to tell us, or a mandated reporter - like a teacher, guidance counselor, or doctor.
It's Our Job To Stop Raising Abusers
Solution: Make it a priority to educate and promote non-abusive behaviors in our children. Compassion, respect, empathy, morality - those aren't just nice words, and they're not innate qualities that we're all born with. Our children learn from us - from what we say, and what we don't say. If we're not talking about consent, healthy sexual behaviors, the laws in general - we're not doing our best to stop the cycle of abuse.
Which is why, when a popular teen is accused of rape, the parents defend their child's straight A grades, how they're captain of the 'team' and are 'well-liked' by their peers - but none of those accomplishments have anything to do with raising children that understand respectful, responsible sexual behaviors.
So yes, we can prevent abuse, by first changing how we think about prevention. Secondly, by taking action when we acknowledge a risk exists. And finally, by taking responsibility for stopping the next generation of offenders.
Granted, there are no guarantees - except that if we keep ignoring it, we're going to keep having the same outcome - and that's unacceptable.
Please visit the rest of our website to learn more, or visit our online store and check out the printed materials we have available for distribution.