While many parents and caregivers may address “stranger danger” with their child, children are most often harmed by a loved one, caregiver, family member, or friend. More than 90 percent of children that experience abuse does so at the hands of someone they know and trust.
Create Safer Environments
Before allowing children to participate in an activity with an organization, ask the organization the following questions:
- Are all of the activities/programs open to observation by parents?
- Are your staff/volunteers trained in child abuse prevention and reporting?
- Do you check personal and professional references?
- Do you perform criminal background checks?
- What is your policy regarding isolated, one on one interactions?
Before allowing your child to go to a friend’s house or stay over for sleepovers, consider the following questions:
- How well do I know this family?
- What kind of adult supervision will be there and who else will be present?
- What is their household like?
- Can I talk with this parent about my concerns and needs?
- Will my rules be enforced?
- What safety and comfort contingencies can I put in place?
- What check-in points can I implement (i.e. phone calls or texts at certain times)?
Supervision of children is key. Keep in mind that 1/3 of reported sexual offenses against children are committed by other juveniles, often with other children present. Children should not be left unsupervised for extended periods of time, especially if there is an age or power disparity between them.
The internet is another environment where you will need to work proactively to keep your child safe. To learn more about internet safety, visit our internet safety page.
Learn Common Offender Behavior
The sexual predator is undoubtedly the most manipulative and cunning of all criminals. They come from all walks of life, demographics, and occupations. They come as trusted friends, family, and co-workers. They are welcomed them into homes, introduced to children, and invited into families’ lives. Many people, professionals included, underestimate the pathology of these sexual perpetrators, thus allowing offenders to continue offending.
Perpetrators of sex crimes only allow people to see what they want them to see. They are intelligent, clever, and find vulnerabilities in victims.
Children who are more vulnerable:
- Weak or absent ongoing connection to a trusted safe adult
- Low self-esteem
- Feels emotionally isolated or neglected
- Little to no accurate information offered to them about what constitutes healthy touching or safe sexual feelings/behaviors
- Expected to fill the emotional or intimate needs of adults
Concerning Behavior in Adults:
- Provides unwarranted gifts, trips, affection, and excessive attention to a specific child or group of children
- Seeks isolated access to children
- Gets along with children better than adults
- Offers special privileges or leniency to a particular child
- Asks a child to keep secrets from parents about what they do when alone with one another
- Engages the child in activities that are not age-appropriate
- Encourages “play” that involves excessive or inappropriate bodily contact
How Offenders Access their Victims:
- Most perpetrators use non-force approaches
- They will entice children with gifts, attention, affection, activities or special relationships
- They may entrap them with a sense of obligation, guilt or fear
- They can be patient and skillful at grooming children and their families over a period of time
- If a child or parent becomes wary, they may discontinue their courting or may take steps to reassure the family
- Most do not act impulsively but will wait patiently for safe opportunities
- They may begin testing boundaries with an arm around a child’s shoulder, special compliments to check his or her response, and then proceed in small increments of touching or verbalizing over time. This is referred to as “grooming”.
- Secrecy is the offender’s major tool in securing and exploiting their victims.
Talk to Your Children about Body Safety
Teach your children about their bodies, including the correct names for their body parts.
Help them understand personal and private boundaries. Explain private areas as those covered by a bathing suit that no one has the right to look at or touch without their permission. Use examples.
Talk about touches:
- Good touches (i.e. hugs, high fives, etc.).
- Hurtful touches (i.e. bites, slaps, kicks, etc.).
- Uncomfortable or confusing touches (these could be sexual in nature or anything that makes a child uncomfortable or confused. If this happens, they need to know they should talk to you or a trusted adult – identify who these trusted adults are).
Ask if anyone has ever said or done something that has made them feel uncomfortable.
Explain that they have your permission to say “no” to an unwanted touch. They have the right to refuse a hug or to sit in someone’s lap.
Help them create their own personal boundaries (i.e. they could offer a high five instead of a hug good-bye if they are more comfortable with that).
Talk to Your Children about Healthy, Age-Appropriate Relationships
Help them practice disengaging from individuals who make them uncomfortable. Teach younger children to say, “No, stop” to someone who violates their boundaries. As your child gets older, the pressures to engage in behavior that makes them uncomfortable only increases. Therefore, you should discuss how to remove themselves from those situations be it at school, work, activities, or online.
Teach children that if they have a concern about the behavior of another person, they can go tell an adult they trust.
Explain the difference between secrets and surprises. Secrets can lead to trouble, and we don’t keep secrets from one another.
Talk to your children about healthy relationships, including the topics of sex and pornography. Their first exposure to these topics should be from their primary caregivers, not on the playground. We recommend having these conversations with your child by the time they are the age of eight years old. Reassure them that they won’t get in trouble for asking questions.
Be a safe place for your child to share information or ask questions about things that make them feel uncomfortable.
Ask open-ended questions about your child’s activities. Don’t just ask if they behaved or had a good time at a party, school, or an activity. Find out who they interacted with and if they felt safe while they were there.
Listen to your child if they say they are uncomfortable or don’t want to be around a certain person. Find out why by asking open-ended questions.
Pay attention to changes in behavior or attitude. This may be the only way they express that something is wrong. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of abuse on our What is Child Abuse page.
To help you get the conversation started, try reading with your child. Here is our suggested reading list: