With a heightened awareness of Hollywood’s revelations around the sexual abuse culture and the “casting couch,” the timing of learning more about personal safety – sexual abuse prevention of kids – could not be more apropos. I remember reading about Corey Feldman’s testimony of paedophilia in Hollywood and thinking, “why has nothing been done about this?!” McKayla Maroney is also showing tremendous courage in revealing that child sexual abuse exists outside of Hollywood within the world of gymnastics too! Many have also heard about the abuses within Penn State and the Catholic church – a long trail of tears continues to impact our nation amidst the silence – but not anymore! Today, many brave souls are giving voice to the horrors of abuse.
The Problem: A Sensitive Topic
The sensitive topic of child sexual abuse is heartbreaking. Investing some time in understanding the nature and pervasiveness of this incomprehensible problem can be worthwhile compared to a lifetime of recovery from the pain of it. Child sexual abuse can be defined as any contact or interaction (visual, verbal, or psychological) between a child/adolescent and an adult [or two juveniles] when the child/adolescent is being used [one exerts power over another with force, coercion, or persuasion] for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or any other person” (Allender, The Wounded Heart). Awareness is paramount. At least 2 out of every 10 girls and 1 out of every 10 boys are estimated to be sexually abused (physical contact abuse) by the end of their 13th birthday (childmolestationprevention.org). Arguably, it has become the most prevalent health problem facing children and calls us to preventative action. Current statistics about child sexual abuse are alarming (D2L.org):
Only about a third of child victims of physical sexual abuse are identified and even fewer are reported. Of these, 40% tell a close friend rather than a grown-up or authority, which does not always result in a report.
Approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused (“physical contact abuse”) before their 18th birthday. Or, 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser.
Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults happen to children ages 17 and under and only about 38% will disclose the abuse.
Most sexual abuse of children happens in a residence of the victim or perpetrator (84% for under 12 years and 71% for ages 12 to 17).
Sexual assaults on children most likely happen at 8:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and between 3:00-4:00 p.m. For ages 12 to 17, there is a peak in the late evening hours.
About 1 in 7 incidents perpetrated by juveniles happen on school days in the afterschool hours between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with a peak from 3:00-4:00 p.m. (D2L.org).
Going on the Offensive: Understanding the Abuser
As trusted grown-ups, we have the opportunity and responsibility to be proactive and talk to the child before any damage is done. Professionals and the courts can only talk to the youth after they have already been sexually abused or have abused another child. Arming yourself with facts about an abuser, such as learning about a predator and perpetrator, can help identify warning signs since both can be child sexual abusers. A predator is a person that “hunts” for victims and ruthlessly exploits them and a perpetrator is a person who commits a crime. A child molester is anyone who sexually touches a child. More specifically, the paedophile (16 years and older) molests around 88% of children and will test positive for a sexual interest in children (paedophilia) and some may have sexually touched a child or may be in the early stages and have no victims yet (childmolestationprevention.org). Understanding the tactics of a child molester or paedophile can give clarity to grown-ups for discerning questionable encounters and when to take action. Current statistics show (D2L.org):
• About 30% are sexually abused by family members; 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
• Situational abusers tend to act at times of stress and begin abusing later than pedophilic abusers. They have fewer victims (often family) and a general preference for adult partners.
• Pedophilic abusers often start abusing at an early age and often have a large number of victims (often not family members).
• About 70% of child sex abusers have one to nine victims, while 20% have 10 to 40 victims.
• About 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children. The abuse by older children peak in early adolescence (ages 12 to 14) and are more likely to abuse in groups and at school, as well as have more male victims and younger victims.
• The younger the child victim, the more likely the sexual abuser is a juvenile. About 1 of 8 abusers is younger than 12 and about 7% are female.
• Grooming is when an abuser gradually draws a victim into a sexual relationship with special attention, outings, gifts, isolating the child, filling the child’s unmet needs or roles in the family, treating the child as older, crossing physical boundaries, and using secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain control (D2L.org).
The Solution: A Common-Sense Approach
How would you like to have peace of mind when your child is out of your sight? You can have more peace knowing that you empowered a child with boundaries and personal safety skills because your family has a plan for any questionable encounters! Our new motto can become “I am not afraid of the storms for I am learning how to sail my ship” for grown-ups and children alike as we are empowered with personal safety knowledge, rather than blindsided from believing myths about abusers (Alcott, Little Women, chpt. 44). A Personal Safety Plan can serve as a practical solution to combat child sexual abuse and empower kids for not if, but when, they may face a questionable encounter. Whether you care about kids as a parent, school, church or youth organization, creating a Personal Safety Plan is vital to protecting kids so we can move from a defensive stance from the shock of it all into an offensive game plan!
First, use child-friendly language about boundaries and body safety along with role-playing safe vs. unsafe scenarios, which can form the framework for designing a Personal Safety Plan. Begin with teaching basic body awareness such as hygiene. Then, explain boundaries with unique safety concepts like Internet, stranger and people safety. Next, introduce the concept of personal safety or prevention awareness of safe boundaries for private parts. Second, role-play and rehearse identification of questionable encounters that an abuser may use to harm a child by focusing on positive life skills such as privacy, guarding your eyes and ears, threats, bribes and safe secrets. Third, you are ready to develop your own one-page Personal Safety Plan, which can include a family “code word” for danger, a check -in rule, instructions for dialling 911, and a simple list of five safe caregivers and trusted adults. It’s noteworthy to mention the importance of emphasizing to the child that - if anyone ever tries an unsafe touch, then that person is no longer safe or trustworthy! It’s okay to tell someone else on the safe list and keep telling someone until it stops.
A One-Stop-Shop Toolkit: Say “NO!” and TELL! books for girls or boys
I taught personal safety to over 1000 kids in Michigan Public Schools and was inspired to write a contemporary children’s books called Say “NO!” and TELL! A Creative View of Personal Safety to empower grown-ups and kids alike through this read aloud with role-play experiences and open-ended questions so you can tailor the content to your family values. The books are full of practical tools including a story to introduce body safety, eight research-based scenarios (I studied the abusers’ tactics and turned them into eight positive life skills for kids), a quiz, a Personal Safety Family Plan, a removable section for grown-ups with statistics and solutions as well as resources about how to get help. Gratefully, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, church leaders, and counsellors all over the nation are currently reading the Say “NO!” and TELL! books with kids to help prevent child sexual abuse while preserving the innocence by balancing wisdom with naivety (does not cover reproduction). You can download a complimentary Personal Safety Family Plan at my website by visiting www.WeStandGuard.com as well as order both books – one for girls (Maisie Monarch) and one for boys (Daxton Dolphin), plus discounts for bulk orders!
What is your part in leaving the legacy of a moral society for our children and the next generation? What is your next step?
Kimberly Perry is an elementary school educator with over 15 years of experience working with children across the country and a Master’s of Arts in Teaching. After teaching Personal Safety to over 1000 elementary students, she was inspired to write the Say “NO!” and TELL! book series.