Protecting Children from Predators
We must take a stand against child sexual abuse. Secrecy, denial, and silence are not acceptable actions.
There are an estimated 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America. Where there are children, there are predators. At school. In homes. In cyberspace.
Four hundred fifty-nine is the number of teachers/school employees arrested across America last year for sexual assault of children. Four hundred fifty-nine is more than one arrest per day.
Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation of school-related child sexual assault investigations. Last year, 26 teachers/school employees were arrested for sexual assault of children. What’s worse, we know these numbers are underestimated. Most children sexually abused by a teacher do not come forward until they are adults.
But kids are not safe at home either. Thirty to 40 percent of children are abused by family members and as many as 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts.
Predators can be found anywhere children gather.
- More than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment.
- Chat rooms offer the advantage of immediate communication around the world and provide the predator with an anonymous means of recruiting children into sexually illicit relationships.
- Approximately 89 percent of sexual solicitations of youth were made in chat rooms or through instant messaging.
- 69 percent of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers and don’t tell a parent.
- 22 percent of teenage girls say they posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves online.
- Only one-third of households with Internet access are protecting their children with filtering or blocking software.
In 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors, the perpetrator used the victim’s social networking site to gain personal information about the victim. Although only 18 percent of youth use chat rooms, the majority of Internet-initiated sex crimes against children are initiated in chat rooms. (Journal of Adolescent Health 47, 2010)
The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse …
Sexual abuse robs children of their innocence and their childhood. The abuse creates feelings of shame, guilt, and loss of trust and can potentially result in acts of self-abusive behavior.
A child can be so traumatized by the abuse that years pass before they are able to verbalize what took place. The average age of disclosure is not until age 42. More than 30 percent of victims never disclose to anyone.
The effects of carrying the burden of sexual abuse often result in eating disorders, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem, PTSD symptoms, and substance abuse problems.
How to Protect Your Child …
Talk openly. It is never too soon to teach your child about appropriate sexual behavior. Begin the conversation starting at age 2. This may sound young, but children under the age of 12 are most susceptible to sexual assault at the age of 4.
Use everyday conversations to have age-appropriate conversations with your child about their body, sex, and healthy boundaries. Teach them about their bodies and what parts others should not touch.
Teach your child that it is against the rules for adults to act in a sexual manner with them. Use examples.
Observe your child when they interact with others; notice if they are uncomfortable around certain adults. Teach your child to not give out personal information while using the Internet.
Have the conversation now; don’t wait.
If a child discloses to you any kind of sexual abuse, please believe the child. Studies show that fewer than 2 percent of child sexual abuse allegations are false. Children need to know there is a trusted adult who will believe, support, and help them.
They need to know that you—the one they chose to tell—will stand up for them.
Children need to be reassured that what occurred to them is not their fault. Offer the child support to help decrease the shame and guilt they feel.
Thank a child for telling you. Disclosure takes tremendous courage.
Contact your local police department or seek out a child advocacy center in your area experienced and skilled at interviewing families who report child sexual abuse. Visit the National Children’s Alliance (www.nationalchildrensalliance.org) for a list of centers.
It’s possible for children to heal from sexual abuse, especially with the help of caring adults. Play therapy, sand-tray therapy, and art therapy are common modalities therapists use to help children heal. Take your child to a mental health professional who is experienced in working with child sexual abuse survivors.
If you are reading this and you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, please know your story matters and that you matter. It is never too late to find your voice, to seek help, and to heal.BW
Kristen Pfautz Woolley, R.N., B.S.N., L.S.W., is a survivor of child sexual abuse and the founder of Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center located in York, Pa. She is passionate about prevention, education, and advocacy of survivors’ rights. Woolley is a trained Darkness to Light Facilitator. www.turningpointyork.org