Have you seen the “reports” on predators using secret symbols to let each other know when a child is ready for sex trafficking? Not only is this hysteria at its finest, it’s also downright disturbing that anyone would feel the need to fuel the fears based in fiction that many parents have. If only it were as simple as not buying a toy or item of clothing to keep our children safe from predators. It isn’t. If it were, believe me, that would be a pretty easy task in comparison to the reality of stopping child sexual abuse in the real world.
Nearly one in four children will be sexually abused before reaching his or her 18th birthday, so really, educating ourselves with fact over fiction is imperative. Over 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser. That means that LESS than ten percent of the time is a child molested by a stranger. An overwhelming 30% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by a member of their own family. Think strangers and certain symbols on a toy are the biggest threat to your children? Think again.
While it certainly makes for a compelling news story, the fact is, putting a symbol on an item intended for a child’s use to somehow “mark” that child as a potential victim is ridiculous. All children are potential victims and telling people we can somehow protect our kids by buying or not buying certain items is irresponsible. How about we educate on the actual facts and leave the paranoia for science fiction films?
80% of child sexual abuse happens in isolated, one on one situations. Making sure that every interaction with the children in our lives is observable and interrupt-able goes a long way in protecting our children. We can set a good example to children and to other adults and by making sure we set the precedent for safety by not doing things that make children unsure of what the rules should be. It means if we don’t want them to do something with a predator, then we shouldn’t ask them to do it with us. It means not putting ourselves in one on one isolated situations with children in our charge. It means making sure every situation can be observed and interrupted by another adult.
Create an open dialogue with your children about what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and the importance of trusting one’s instincts. Talking about sexual abuse is not a one-time event; it is an open, ongoing discussion that you and your children feel comfortable with. Give your children the permission they need to talk to you by talking freely and unashamedly about protecting their bodies.
Children need to know the proper terms for body parts. Perpetrators often use “silly” names for private parts as part of the “grooming” process. Make sure your child knows the difference between a secret (something to be hidden) and a surprise (something to be revealed). Tell your child it is okay to say “no” if someone makes them uncomfortable in any way.
Learn the facts. Talk about it. Keep lines of communication open with your children and with other adults. Certainly, that will go a lot further in the way of preventing abuse than avoiding a symbol on an article of clothing.
Editor, Ask Lala
Laura Fogarty writes “Ask Lala” for the Stop Abuse Campaign. She is a mother, an advocate and the author of two children’s abuse prevention books: I’M THE BOSS OF ME! and WE ARE JUST ALIKE!