Often times people will respond with the fear-driven, "TRUST NO ONE". But that's not very realistic or healthy. What is love without trust? Family, friendship, mentoring are all important in the life of a growing child, and with each individual relationship trust is necessary.
So if trust is what enables sexual abuse - how do we continue to trust and protect our children? We need to change the way we think about trust.
Trust is Earned.
So, whether it's a highly-recommended nanny through an expensive referral service, an elite youth program, a doctor or therapist with a degree from an ivy-league school, or a mentor that has received award after award for their community service and dedication - we still have a right to have our trust earned. Anyone that expects us to simply trust them because 'xyz' has essentially denied our right to do our job as protectors of our children. No one, and we mean no one cares more about our kids than us - and if someone is arguing otherwise - they are either fooling themselves or they're possibly trying to fool us.
We have a right to spend the time and energy to get to know the people we are trusting with our children - especially when it will involve time alone. We have a right to transparency - to see this person interact with our child, interrupt on occasion, and supervise remotely. Many art & sport facilities, therapists, and child care centers provide remote visual access so parents can see their children.
We have a right to know our children are safe. It is not our job to simply give our trust - it is their job to earn our trust and more importantly - prove it. Have they been educated in trained to prevent child sexual abuse? Do they have protocol for minimizing risk and reporting suspected or known abuse? These are questions that should be answered, and to meet our satisfaction. Any youth-serving program that takes their responsibility seriously needs to address the risk of child sexual abuse.
Trust, But Verify. - Ronald Reagan
Take, for example, a grandparent that wants to spend a lot of time alone with our child or a sleepover at a cousin's house, a play date across the street, or a private tutor if our child has a particular talent or need for specialized support. It can be a lot of fun (or necessary) for the child, and possibly a needed break for us. But we also need to keep an eye open for how often these one on one encounters are happening, and occasionally participate and interrupt these situations.
We need to do the same for a babysitter (even if it's an older sibling), a coach, a music lesson etc. Anyone that we are leaving alone with our child, we need to occasionally check in and see what is going on during their time together.
What we'll most likely see is our child building a loving relationship, or practicing their talent and gaining confidence in their abilities. And what we're also doing is showing that we are present.
Even if it's a play date with a friend, we need to make our presence known and unpredictable. By minimizing opportunity, we can deter and detect possible abuse.
If we interrupt a situation and something sparks our instinct - perhaps someone looks surprised or anxious about our arrival - it may indicate that more supervision is required. Reading body language is important, and when we are vigilant for the possibility of sexual abuse we become more in tune with the behaviors of others and what is being communicated through what is not being said.
And yes, we can also deter abuse by talking about it. Many see sexual offenders are 'predators' - pedophiles that seek out situations to sexually abuse children, but the reality is that many offenders are not considered pedophiles. These people do not seek opportunities to abuse, but rather, find themselves in a situation with a child and, due to weak morals and possibly stress, depression, low self esteem or other mental issue use the child for sexual purposes. In one study, 70% of offenders had a range of 1-9 victims. (Finkelhor, D., Ormrod,R., Chaffin, M. (2009) Office of Justice Programs)
We also need to talk to our children about body safety - whether they're seven or seventeen- they're still children and still vulnerable. We talk to them about their rights, the rules of body safety, and that it's always right to tell - not necessarily because we think they'll be able to keep themselves safe - but so if anything ever should happen, they at least know it's wrong and that it's OK to tell. If a child does manage to avoid a possibly dangerous situation we should feel very fortunate. But no child should be given the responsibility of keeping themselves safe from sexual abuse - and it would be dangerous for any parent to believe their child could.
Are they excited to see this person?
Are they telling us they don't want to go?
Do they seem excited when they come back?
Are they open to sharing details of how their time was spent?
If a child exhibits a change in behavior - we don't need to assume it's caused by abuse, butat the very least, consider it. Even professionals in the field of child development fail to recognize sexual abuse (and possible even diagnose PTSD as ADHD).
Remember, when a child can't talk about something- they're behavior often speaks for them.
Using Our Instinct.
And lets be clear - it may be our responsibility to keep our kids safe, but it is not our fault, nor our child's fault if someone deceives us and violates our trust. We do not 'invite' abuse. People falsely believe that sexual abuse only happens in neglectful families - but the reality is that sexual abuse happens very often in good, loving families because good people believe and try to see the good in others. To be a good person is, arguable, to allow oneself to be vulnerable. But the blame belongs on the abusers and those that willingly enable and protect their crimes. Our naivete is their power, we're just here to help you keep your child's safety in your control.