It was finally a sunny day after days of rain. My children were so excited to run outside and play. I glanced out the window to see how things were going, when I realized the whole neighborhood was in our backyard. Not an unusual occurrence for us, but somehow this time all I could think about is that I was responsible for all 14 children. A statistic I had recently read came to mind. One in every ten children experience sexual abuse before their eighteenth birthday. At least one of these children in my backyard would face a lifetime of emotional and health problems, struggling through the healing process from such an experience. Could I possibly do anything to help prevent this from happening?
It is highly likely that you know a child who has been, or is being, abused. Children make up 66% of all sexual offenses reported to law enforcement. Ninety percent of child victims know and trust their abusers; 30% are abused by their own family members. Sadly, this means that it is also highly likely that you know a child abuser.
If we are concerned for the future of the family, we must also take steps to protect our children. We are not just responsible for our own children, but the hundreds we encounter at church, school, sports, and within our own neighborhoods. One child being hurt can cause a ripple effect for generations. One adult hurting a child leads to further degeneration of future families and societies. Sexually abused children are more likely to be sexually promiscuous, inflict harm on themselves, become pregnant as teens, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away, and exhibit violent and criminal behavior. In fact, trauma is often the root of what we label as bad behavior in children.
What can we do?
1)We need to learn the facts and then be observant. Eighty percent of child sexual abuse happens in one on one situations. So we must minimize the opportunity for the isolation of a child. This can be as simple as using the buddy system or opening closed doors.
2)We must also be aware of how an offender works. Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship, and maintains the secrecy of the act. Often, they pay special attention to the child, offering gifts and outings. They treat the child as if they were older and cross physical boundaries, standing too close or rubbing their shoulders. They use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain control and keep the child from talking. And they definitely try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong. Because of these manipulations, a child is often embarrassed to talk about what is happening to them. They feel ashamed and fearful, taking the blame on themselves.
3) We must talk to our children about their bodies and the abuse of them. With younger children, we can talk about what touching and behavior is okay, and what is not. Talking openly creates a bond with our children that makes them more open to telling us confidences as they mature. They will often shut down if we respond negatively or emotionally.
4) We need to recognize the signs of abuse in a child. They are identifiable. Children who have been abused usually have more physical problems, such as anxiety, stomach pain, and headaches. They often experience bedwetting, failing grades, act cruelly to animals, set fires, and are bullied or bully others. They could display sexual behavior and use language that is not appropriate for their age. Unexplained depression, anger, withdrawal, fear, hyperactivity, or even the antithesis, too perfect behavior, can be further warning signs.
5) When we notice the signs, we can encourage conversations with a child by being open and specific about behaviors that concern us. If a child has confided in you, listen and believe them. File a report with your local law enforcement or child services.
Being responsible for the welfare of others can be overwhelming and scary. The abuse of children, however, is not going away unless we all do our part. It’s a choice we must make, and a risk. Are my children worth it? Are yours? These are our children’s friends, our friends’ children, and our future families. Help them keep their innocence.
For more information and ways you can help, go to D2L.org