Are your children at risk to be sexually abused or molested? The answer is yes. All children are at risk. But I’m with them all the time (which is unlikely after a certain age). Unfortunately, they’re still at risk.
By now you’ve probably heard of the now infamous Dr. Nassar who molested hundreds of young gymnasts treated by him, unless you don’t watch/read the news (and who could blame you!). Sometimes he did it with the unknowing parents in the room at the time it occurred! If that doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, mad or sad, or evoke some kind of compassionate response, then what does?? Even the perverted doctor couldn’t stand to hear them retell what he himself had done to them. What a scumbag!
Those girls put on a brave face, but that was probably the hardest thing they ever did. They had to tell some of their darkest moments in front of strangers, but worse than that, in front of family. You could feel the emotional turmoil that one of the father’s felt when he tried to rush forward and attack the doctor in the courtroom.
I can only imagine how awful he must’ve felt that he hadn’t been able to protect his daughters from being abused. But it wasn’t his fault. It was no one’s fault but the sick doctor.
I was also a victim of childhood molestation (yes victim, but now a survivor). Before now, I’ve only told a handful of people. I am no longer ashamed to admit it. However, I don’t talk about it openly because, for me, there is still some embarrassment attached to it. You can tell me I shouldn’t feel that way, but I just do. I have never discussed it in depth with anyone, nor will I ever. The past is the past and I’ve dealt with it and made peace with it, but it took many years to do so.
Anyway, my goal isn’t to make you mistrustful of all adults around your kids, but rather to be aware of potential danger surrounding your kids. I’d like you to realize that your child is constantly at risk for sexual abuse to occur. Does this scare you? I hope so. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can better protect him/her. You need to be proactive now….not tomorrow, not when it happens to a friend’s kid or to a relative. Now.
So that brings me to Oprah Winfrey (huh?). Bear with me. Whether you love her or hate her (there seems to be no in-between), Oprah Winfrey has been a warrior in the fight against sexual abuse and raising awareness. She herself was molested and raped as a child, so it is near and dear to her heart. She was part of the reason I was able to overcome my own experience. I had never heard anyone be so honest before then about how it felt to be the victim. She talked about the feelings of guilt, as though she somehow seduced the adult. In fact, it was the other way around. It always is. I could relate. She single-handedly made me realize that it was not my fault. It was not my parent’s fault. It was the abuser’s fault, period. It was very freeing for me. I was able to start on my journey of self-recovery.
As the mother of a three year old, I am determined that this will not happen to my daughter. I know I can’t put her in a bubble and protect her from all dangers. But I can do my best and share what knowledge I think is important for other parents to do the same. Below I’ve outlined some things I feel all parents should know.
Be Aware of Potential Dangers
In 2010, Oprah did interviews with admitted child molesters and got some straight-forward answers. I’ve summed up the 4 things Oprah says you should know about child molesters, based on what she learned from them and from research:
1. Child molesters are usually not strangers. 90 percent of child molesters know their victims. Let that sink in. Those interviewed were either family friends or related to their victims. My abuser was a neighbor and family friend. He was a minor at the time, but certainly knew what he was doing.
2. Victims are usually specifically targeted by molesters. They tend to choose children who seem vulnerable and whose trust is easily gained. Trust is the main factor here and they groom these victims over time to gain trust.
3. Molesters often manipulate their victims into thinking what they are doing is enjoyable to the victim. But they also use intimidation and fear to keep them quiet. My abuser did this. He threatened that he would kill my parents if I told anyone. Sadly, if you tell that to a 4 year old and you’ll likely keep the child quiet.
4. Pay attention to who your kids are spending time with and what’s going on right in front of you. One of the men interviewed said, “If you’re at a party and you notice someone who spends more time with the children than the adults….it’s a red flag.” That doesn’t mean you have to mistrust everyone, some people just love kids. But it is important to keep an eye on your kids and always know who they’re with.
Teach kids to say No!
The men interviewed by Oprah indicated that the number one thing that stopped them in their tracks from pursuing a particular victim was being told no firmly and pushed away when they tried. To me, that is a pretty big deal! Apparently they misjudged the vulnerability of those kids. I realize this may not work in all situations, but it will likely help in many. As Oprah pointed out, molesters fear being caught. They often will not pursue a victim who they think they cannot keep quiet about the abuse.
This shows that it is important to talk to your children about this. Teach them that absolutely no one should touch them in certain places or in certain ways. And if anyone tries, they should immediately say no and try to exit the situation. Explain that even if someone threatens them, which they probably will, they should be brave and still say no because you will not let anything happen to them or anyone they love.
And most importantly, emphasize that they should tell you if someone tried and/or did something to them already. Let them know you will take care of the situation and you will not be upset with her/him about it. This important because some children fear they are the ones who did something wrong. They need to know that it is not their fault, no matter what.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
If you suspect sexual abuse, but aren’t sure, here are some signs to be aware of:
1. Behavioral: Shrinking away from physical contact, regressive behaviors such as thumb-sucking, hygiene practices such as refusing to bathe or else bathing excessively, inappropriate sexual behaviors for age, sleep disturbances
2. Physical: Bruising, swelling or pain in genital area or unexplained bruising anywhere, blood in undergarments or on sheets, unexplained broken bones (especially in infants and very young toddlers)
3. Verbal cues: Unexplained silence or suddenly being less talkative
Reporting Child Sexual Abuse
If a child tells you they have been sexually abused, take it seriously. Most children do not lie about this. You should report it immediately to local law enforcement. They will likely call child protective services as well. If you need some help or advice, trained volunteers at the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453) can walk you through the process. You can also check the laws in your state in the state law database for things such as statutes of limitations, where to report, etc.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore it. Do something.
If you’re an adult reading this and you’re still dealing with old wounds from childhood sexual abuse, please know that you are not alone. I hope that you realize that it was not your fault and you deserve to heal. Healing is different for everyone. I personally had to stop fighting myself internally over it. I quit reliving it, quit trying to remember things that I simply could not, and quit blaming myself. And then I had to forgive my abuser. I never confronted him about it, but in my heart I forgave and moved on. It wasn’t easy, but it released me from all the hurt. I hope that if you haven’t already, you find some peace and are able to release yourself from the burden you’ve been carrying around.