While society at large has a hard time accepting that they may know, like or even love someone capable of committing sexual abuse (for example: Jerry Sandusky or Bill Cosby), the idea that we are raising the future generation of sexual offenders is something many would prefer to deny. The reality is, those that commit sexual abuse are not usually the scraggly looking strangers that we imagine, but rather everyday kinds of people from every demographic, including children.
As much as 40% of child sexual abuse is estimated to be perpetrated by minors, yet much of abuse prevention focuses on keeping kids safe from other adults. But if we ignore the risk posed by siblings, cousins, friends/friend's siblings etc - we're missing a serious portion of offenders.
While parents may not be intending to raise sexual offenders - either as minors or adults, the question we are asking today: what are we doing to prevent our children from abusing other people?
From the research that has been completed onunderstanding abusers, there are certain characteristics and thought patterns that abusers often follow, and we, as caring parents can and should discourage in our own children.
Obviously, no parent is responsible for the behaviors of their grown children, but as their protectors, mentors, and cheerleaders we should, at the very least, take responsibility to do everything we can to raise people that will contribute in a way that will touch our hearts, not turn our stomachs.
1. Failing to Promote Responsible and Healthy Sexual Behaviors
1. To not touch or engage another child in sexual interaction. Just because younger children may not understand, it doesn't make it any less wrong. It is every good person's (adult or minor) job to protect and defend those younger and more vulnerable. Children should likewise know that touching themselves in a sexual way is acceptable, healthy, and normal - as long as it's in privacy.
2. How sexual arousal works and that just because someone 'turns you on' it doesn't mean it's their responsibility to 'take care of it.' Ever heard of Pink's song, You and Your Hand? We may not be able to choose how our body reacts to stimulation, but we do have a choice in what do to about it.
3. Consent. The lack of a 'no' does not mean yes. Consent means asking and receiving a confident yes. It means two people sharing in a give and take. And stopping the moment things change. Some naturally self-absorbed young adults fail to realize this and may commit rape without fully realizing it. It also means understanding age of consent. If you don't know for absolute certain how old someone is - don't have sex with them.
Which leads into...
4. Don't have sex with someone you're not in a committed relationship with. Don't do it - not just because sex is so much more than a physical response in our bodies, but because sex is intimate, it's personal, and it can't be undone. Don't want to risk being accused of date rape when you didn't? Then don't have sex on a date - have sex in a relationship. Now, we're not talking to adults here - we're talking to children. What two consenting adults do is their business, but when it comes to children we prefer to create a more black and white understanding of the issues regarding consent to protect their developing brains from making incorrect interpretations of any sort of intimate situation they may find themselves in.
Which brings us to,
5. Being in a committed relationship does not mean that you are ever owed sex. Ever. Period.
2. Child-Centered Parenting
These parents often fail to instill necessary character traits like responsibility, compassion, charity, and respect. These children end up wanting everything, failing to respect anything or anyone, refusing to take responsibility for themselves and often have parents that continue to enable them well into adulthood.
The mother of one offender - an adult man who preyed upon the 8th grade friend of his daughter, told the victim's mother (a mama bear supporter) that her son may have been 51% responsible for his actions but the victim (13 years old when the abuse began) was 49% at fault.
If Tammy Wynette sangStand By Your Man, this woman sang the follow up, Stand By Your Sex Offender Son.
3. Not Addressing Inappropriate or Problem Behavior
Middle school or high school students with free, unsupervised access to the internet are not only vulnerable to online predators, they're also more likely to be exposed to pornography that is becoming increasingly violent, especially for women in pornography - that are often slapped, choked, and penetrated by numerous men. Porn actresses have been coming out and shedding light on the physical pain that they endure making these films. Studies have show that a person's sexual preferences are developed as children - exposure to material that dehumanizes the act of sex cannot be viewed as positive, and should not be taken lightly.
Negative comments degrading the opposite sex should also not be brushed off or accepted as a natural part of growing up. It's unacceptable and needs to be addressed. If you're a mom and your husband or other male figure speaks this way about women, you have a bigger battle to fight.
Often, parents reach out to us because their child has been sexually abused by another, usually older child. There may not be enough physical evidence to press charges, and the abusive child's parents refuse to seek treatment/therapy for their child. In some cases, the victim's parents learn that this is not the first time that the abusive child has done this, and realize it's most likely not going to be the last.
If you suspect your child may have a problem, it is absolutely best to support that child and get them help so they can learn to redirect and control their behavior. No child wants to grow up to be a sexual offender, but many adults who have developed these tendencies are much more likely to continue.
4. Low Self-Esteem & Anger Issues
Will there always be sexual predators? Most likely yes. But we'd rather be parents that had a child commit such an offense despite our hard work, than possibly due to a lack of our attention and guidance.
For more on sexual behaviors in children, The American Academy of Pediatrics Evaluation of Sexual Behaviors in Children offers more information on this subject.
In the end the best defense is a proactive approach, rather than waiting to react to abuse.