The most important information parents and children need when going to school is how to protect children from sexual abuse perpetrators. Every year throughout the world several hundred children are sexually abused (sexually assaulted) by teachers, bus drivers, janitors, or other adults associated with your child’s school experience. To adequately prepare your child for school you need to prepare your child to protect him/herself from cunning sexual abuse perpetrators.
How can children protect themselves?
First and foremost we need to accept the fact that sexual abuse perpetrators may seem very average and ordinary to the world. In spite of all the reports of sexual abuse by pillars of the community-teachers, clergy, coaches, we still want to cling to the belief that a sexual abuse perpetrator is the disheveled man with a scraggly beard and wearing a dirty trench coat. We find it very difficult to believe the people we like, admire, trust and work with would do such a heinous thing.
The frightening truth about sexual abuse perpetrators is that within their belief system they do not hold beliefs reflecting society’s moral and ethical values. Sexual abuse perpetrators frequently pass lie detector tests because their moral and ethical values do not reflect the standards on which the test is based. They feel no inner conflict with what they have done, therefore in their belief system they are not lying when they state, “Never ever. I could never harm a child or anyone. It’s not in my heart. That is not who I am.” Most perpetrators go to great lengths to present themselves as exemplary people; the teacher, who frequently stays after school to help a child having academic difficulties or the gym teacher/coach, who takes special interest in a budding athlete.
I am not suggesting that everyone who does these things is a sexual abuse perpetrator. Insidiously, perpetrators demonstrate the right, moral, and exemplary behavior to develop credibility and establish proof of their love of children, thus thwarting any suspicion of wrong doing; and to have access to lure the innocent, trusting child. Perpetrators frequently take jobs which afford easy access to children-child care workers, teachers, coaches, etc.
Second, we need to know the definition of sexual abuse.
“Traditionally, incest [sexual abuse] was defined as: sexual intercourse between two persons too closely related to marry legally–sex between siblings, first cousins, the seduction by fathers of their daughters. This dysfunctional blood relationship, however, does not describe what children are experiencing. We need to look beyond the blood bond and include the emotional bond between the victim and his or her perpetrator.
The new definition relies less on the blood bond between the victim and the perpetrator and more on the experience of the child. Incest is both sexual abuse and an abuse of power. It is violence that does not require force. Another is using the victim, treating them in a way that they do not want or in a way that is not appropriate by a person with whom a different relationship is required. It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the child; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the child’s expense. If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for her age or the relationship, it is abuse. Incest [sexual abuse] can occur through words, sounds, or even exposure of the child to sights or acts that are sexual but do not involve her. If she is forced to see what she does not want to see, for instance, by an exhibitionist, it is abuse. If a child is forced into an experience that is sexual in content or overtone that is abuse. As long as the child is induced into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the perpetrator’s age, size, status, or relationship, the act is abusive. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated.” -E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors
Third, a child needs to have specific information, tools and techniques to know what to do. Self-protection offers a direct and effective way for children to help themselves. Who, other than the child, is in a better position to protect him/herself? Perpetrators say they can sense a child to victimize. They can tell by the child’s demeanor, body language, and facial expression. They sense the fear, the helplessness, the passivity. They chose a child who is easily intimidated or controlled so hopefully the child won’t tell. Secrecy, needless-to-say, is paramount for the perpetrator. Whenever a person is traumatized, he or she resorts to familiar behavior; for girls this behavior is usually passivity, while boys usually ‘tough it out;–thinking if they are strong and unemotional, no harm can occur. Sexual crimes against children can only be committed if the perpetrator finds someone who will hopefully keep the secret. No child needs to fall prey to these cunning predators.
There is no foolproof method of preventing perpetrators from abusing a child. They are cunning predators, who have perfected their predatory skills to get what they want. Therefore, you need to heed and investigate any warning signals. Warning signals might be:
- an aversion to a teacher.
- sudden outbursts of anger and there is no apparent reason known for such anger.
- any unusual or unexplained behavior change.
- not wanting to go to school on a particular day of the week-the day gym or music class is held for instance.
- not wanting to ride the bus or be around a particular person.
- the gym teacher says your child is athletically ‘gifted’ and he or she wants to develop your child’s athletic abilities if your child practiced one-on-one after school.
- a teacher gives your child a gift. A gift is sometimes an overture to win your trust and groom your child for seduction.
What to do:
- Teach your child Good/Appropriate Touch.
- Teach your child Appropriate Body Boundaries
- Foster Self-Esteem and Good Body Image
- Teach your child “Tell Mommy and Daddy Everything-No Secrets.
- Allow your child to command respect regarding dislikes and touch with family members, friends or authority figures.
- Talk with and listen to your child until you are satisfied the aversion is unrelated to improper behavior by the teacher.
- Make a habit of coming to school unannounced during the one-on-one practices or other times to become ‘known’ as an attentive parent.
- Be present at games and practice. If you can’t be there, ask another parent to be the ‘stand-in’ parent. Tell the coach who is ‘standing-in.’
- Trust and honor your child’s intuitive reactions. If your child feels uncomfortable with someone, respect their intuitive sense.
- Teach your child to avoid going into a teacher’s office alone-many children unwittingly go into a teacher’s office at the teacher’s request to help carry books or equipment-with the door closed and alone with the teacher, the child is abused.
Article by Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, MSW, CSW, CCH, CRT