For our own sanity and the sanity of those around us, we do very ‘let’s take it as it comes’ parenting in our house. Our son isn’t even 2 yet, so I won’t know anything about Potty Training (I don’t know why I capitalized that) until the time comes when we start. Then once he is Potty Trained, I will most likely forget how I did it and will have nothing useful to pass on to anyone. This is why I’m blogging to begin with…my memory, both short and long term, is essentially shot.
So when I read my (delightful, beautiful) friend Leigh’s really stressful blog post about protecting her four year old from predators, I thought, ‘Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze…what a downer. If I have to teach my son all this, he will never want to leave the house, in fact, I don’t even want to leave the house. Thank goodness I don’t really have to think about any of that yet.’
Two days later, our babysitter filled me in on what happened at PS 87, a public school on the Upper West Side.
A teacher’s aid, who held this position for quite some time, was accused of molesting an 8 year old boy in the school. You can read the full story here from the New York Times. Naturally, this is a tragedy regardless of where it happens. Like many others, I was obsessed with the details of the Penn State sex abuse scandal, but I also looked at it as something that happens ‘somewhere else.’ Of course most of us know anything can happen to anyone anywhere, but it seems I still have the foggy sense that it will happen somewhere else, to someone else. But PS 87 is down the street from where I’ve lived for the last 8 years. I know a few children who attend this school and their parents.
So, with my tail between my legs I went back to Leigh’s blog and made a point to prepare now, not when I think it’s time. To some, these pointers may seem like old news. But for some new parents who spent their own childhoods unsupervised while they ran from friend’s house to friend’s house until dinner time, this may not just be a refresher course, but actually new information.
I’ll start with some of Leigh’s ‘stranger danger’ pointers first (you can read her full post here).
~Get into the habit of saying “I have to ask my Mom/Dad/Sitter…” If you get into the habit of asking, you won’t find yourself in the position where you take things or go with strangers. If your answer to any offer is always, “I have to ask”, you’ll discourage most of those kinds of potentially dangerous situations.
~If there’s no one there to ask, then the answer is always NO. “No. I can’t come see your dog in the car. No. I can’t take that candy. No. I can’t go to your house. No. I don’t want to be your special friend.”
~Stay by your grown up. If you get lost, go to a mother with kids or the sales person at the cash register. Apparently security guards are no longer safe. Too many predators dress up like them to lull children into a false sense of security.
~I’ve taught you that if, God forbid, someone picks you up or tries to take you anywhere you scream at the top of your lungs “I don’t know you! I don’t know you!” over and over again. You can also say, “Help! Police!” All too often we see parents picking up screaming, thrashing kids, feel sorry for the parents and ignore the situation. If something is happening you want people to KNOW it’s happening. Don’t let them tune you out.
~When I was young they taught us if a man attacked us to scream “Fire!” instead of “Help!” or “Rape!”, because people want to see a fire but they don’t want to get involved in an attack. I also learned that if someone tries to get you into a car or van using a weapon, FIGHT and RUN, because getting stabbed or shot is better than what will happen if you get in that vehicle.
Ok. Those are very important tactics to drill and re-drill into children, definitely an expansion of what I learned as a kid which was simply, ‘don’t take candy from strangers.’
Moving into the territory of sexual predators however, the statistics get a little startling. The website TopTenREVIEWS, lists the following stats:
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the U.S.:
- - Two-thirds (67 percent) of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.
- - One of every seven victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies was under age 6.
- - The year in a male’s life when he is most likely to be the victim of a sexual assault is age 4; a female’s greatest risk is at age 14.
- Nearly half (49 percent) of the offenders of victims under age 6 were family members.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the typical sex offender molests an average of 117 children, although most offenses are never reported.
According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, in the US:
- - 80 percent of convicted adult rapists admit to molesting children.
- - 80 to 95 percent of sex offenders assault people they know.
- - Less than 30 percent of sex crimes are reported.
- - Young victims who know or are related to the offender are least likely to report the crime.
It is estimated that in America there are 60 million childhood sexual abuse survivors.
These statistics are overwhelming to me. It is so important to teach children how to look out for predators and it starts with teaching them how to stand up for themselves, even to authority figures. Leigh’s pointers on this topic are mentioned below:
~Our co-op members recently heard a speaker on predators. According to the speaker, the number one fear of Predators is getting caught, and the children that are taught to ask their caregivers before doing anything, the ones that are well educated on their body parts, that take ownership of themselves, the ones that aren’t afraid to tell their parents anything, are the least appealing victims.
~We’ve taught you, much to my horror with society, that you are the “boss of your body”. That no one should touch you but you. Sometimes doctors and parents have to help you but you’re in charge and you say what you’re comfortable with.
~Sadly, you also have to be careful of people you know. More often than not abusers aren’t strangers. Never do anything you’re not comfortable with. Listen to your gut. If the situation seems funny or wrong. Trust that it is. You’d rather be embarrassed than hurt. Be rude if you have to be. Your safety is more important than what someone might think of you.
The website Parents For Megan’s Law and The Crime Victims Center takes that last tactic to the next level. Parents For Megan’s Law is a local and national helpline for victims of any sexual abuse. It’s serious business. It’s worth taking a moment to sit down and read their prevention guidelines from time to time, even if you feel well versed on the topic. I found some of their red flags, tricks and tips quite surprising.
For example, I learned I need to practice what I preach.
This starts at home by instilling boundaries and leading by example. I don’t have any boundaries, I’m from the mid-west, I think it’s boundary free there. My husband and I are helpful and kind, we think the best of people automatically and are shocked when they disappoint us. This means if a stranger reaches out to touch the baby’s head in the grocery store and he doesn’t like it, I make an excuse for the baby. ‘He’s tired,’ or ‘he’s shy,’ I say. I never say, ‘oh please don’t touch his head, he doesn’t like that.’ By doing this I’m teaching my son that being polite is more important than the ‘yucky’ feeling he has that tells him to say, ‘please don’t touch me.’
This is dangerous territory.
Setting boundaries with the people in your children’s lives is also very important. Parents have to be clear that a baseball coach teaches you how to play baseball. He doesn’t pick you up and drop you off at practice, even if he’s the greatest guy in town. That would blur the boundaries for your child which could confuse them when it comes time to set their own boundaries. Parents For Megan’s Law sites in-depth examples of boundary setting. In fact, I think what they say is so important, I’ve placed their site on my blogroll. Take the time to read it thoroughly, it really fleshes out this basic list of preventative measures from TopTenREVIEWS below.
Trust Your Instincts
If a relationship between an adult and a child seems unusual or not quite right, it is worth investigating. Some common signs of abuse include:
- An adult spends time with a child in unique or isolated situations.
- The child withdraws from other friends and spends their time with one adult.
- The child receives unexplained gifts.
Teach Children That Secrets Are Bad
An open line of communication between children and parents is paramount. Children should feel as if they could share anything with their parents. Children should understand that there should never be secrets kept from parents.
Teach That Saying ”No” Is OK
We teach our children to respect authority and to do as they are told. However, kids should also understand that it is okay to say ”no” if they feel uncomfortable, regardless of whom they are confronting. It is helpful to practice this technique in different scenarios.
Role-play and Use ”What If” Scenarios
One of the best ways to teach children to say no is to role-play. You can pretend to be the perpetrator in different situations and ask your children for help finding a kitten or offer them a toy if they will come with you. Remind children that not all offenders are strangers. The perpetrator is more likely to be someone they know.
In addition, you can create ”what if” scenarios. Ask your children how they would react if they were in a dangerous situation. Also, ask why they would react that way.
Remember Your Teenagers
We often think of young children as targets of sexual assault, however, teens can also be victims of sexual abuse and shouldn’t be forgotten. For more information on talking to your teens read ”Protecting Teens from Sexual Abuse.”
Use Stories in the Media as Teaching Tools
Your children may have questions about stories of abuse from the media. Their questions should be addressed directly at a level they can understand. This is a good opportunity to ask, ”What could you have done to prevent this situation?”
Talk to Your Children About the Internet
The Internet can be an invaluable resource for information and educational material, but it can also be dangerous. Warn your children that they should never give out personal information online or meet someone in person that they met online. For more information on Internet safety and children, read ”Protecting Your Kids in the Real Virtual World.”
On that note, staying safe on the internet is a constantly evolving challenge for adults and children alike. Check out some tips from the FBI here.
In closing, I thought it was important to include this paragraph from Parents for Megan’s Law in its entirety.
KNOW WHAT SEXUAL PREDATORS COUNT ONAs a society we vehemently condemn child molesters but when someone we know in the community is accused, individuals take sides often refusing to believe that “a pillar of the community” could commit this type of a crime. The true seducer type pedophile is extremely good at what he does. He puts himself in a position in his community where he has easy access to children. He will often work hard (sometimes for years) to gain the trust of parents while at the same time be sexually abusing their child. If an allegation is made against this person by another child, it is often too emotionally difficult for families who trusted and allowed the accused into their home to believe that he could commit such an act against a child. The betrayal is too great and many families will not only deny the possibility, but will blame and defame the child making the allegation. This is what the offender counts on. Families tricked by cunning predators could not have possibly imagined the degree of betrayal possible and the extent that a predator would go to, to get at a child.
Jerry Sandusky, the Assistant Football coach embroiled in Penn State’s recent sex scandal, started a center for boys from troubled homes. These boys didn’t have any support from parents or care givers and were therefore easy targets. Mr. Sandusky chose all of his alleged victims from this center. He also made sure he was viewed as ‘a pillar of society, with a heart of gold.’ People interviewed about the scandal used these terms to describe him over and over again.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Atkins, accused of sexually molesting the boy at PS87, was accused of inappropriate behavior with another student before. He showered the boy with gifts, lurked around the playground where he played and offered to babysit him. Because there was no sexual component to the relationship there were no means to formally discipline him. The principal of that school simply had a discussion with the man about the accusations rather than putting any sort of note in his file.
Our law goes with the premise of innocent until proven guilty, and that’s a good thing. But since we can’t legally punish a sexual perpetrator until they have already committed a sexual offense, it is up to parents, educators, community leaders, family members AND children to be educated in the finer points of recognizing a sexual predator. Of course there is a fine line between trusting our own ‘yucky feelings’ and going on a witch hunt, but I’ll leave you with this story of a friend of ours.
She got into the elevator in her building and someone she didn’t recognize, who looked a little worse for wear got in as well. Her instincts told her she should get out and take the stairs, but she didn’t want to insult the man. When the doors closed, he took a rock out of his pocket hit her repeatedly over the head with it and robbed her. She was luckily only left with a concussion and a deep regret for not trusting herself.