The recent discovery that three girls had been abducted many years ago and then held captive by a man has sent shockwaves through our communities, and particularly affected parents. There is nothing more horrifying than thinking about the possibility of your child being abducted and sexually abused.
Not too long ago I wrote a blog about how common sexual abuse is, and who the predators tend to be, by utilizing credible research and statistics. If you are a parent, you NEED to read this blog carefully: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/effective-parent-responses-to-the-recent-child-sexual-molestation-of-three-tucson-girls/
The horrible reality is that children are most often abused by someone they know who gained their trust. Ariel Castro was a bus driver and he offered these girls rides. Can’t you trust a driver to give you a ride? Predators “groom” the child to trust them over time. For example, Ariel Castro was a bus driver and likely was skilled in the art of gaining a child’s trust. Time and time again we hear stories of a teacher or a coach, trusted by the community, turning out to be a sexual predator. So as parents, it is hard not to feel paranoid whenever your child is around other adults.
There are many practical steps you can take to maximize your child’s safety. First, you should read my previous blog to educate your child about the strategies that sexual predators use. Because predators can be so creative and subtle, at every one of your child’s developmental stages, you need to talk with them about the various ways a predator might try to gain their trust.
Another key thing you need to do is make sure that you are the source of your child’s education regarding sexuality. Often predators prey on their young victims by exploiting that child’s interest in things sexually related. Children are very sexual beings and you need to make sure that they feel like they can come to you with questions. If they don’t, they are likely going on the Internet and getting answers that are not only wrong but often exploitative. Most children these days are getting a secret sexual education from the Internet. How closely are you monitoring your child’s Internet usage? If you are not vigilantly monitoring this you are sadly naïve. For example, you should have all of your child’s passwords all of their social media, and randomly be checking in on the healthiness of their correspondence. Sound over-the-top? Try talking to the parent of a child who has been sexually abused by someone who “groomed” them through internet correspondence and then get back to me on that one.
One of the most important things you need to do is make your child aware that even people they know and currently trust could – hypothetically – at some point try to do something inappropriate. Specifically, refer to my earlier blog regarding instructions on ways you can educate your child about appropriate touching versus inappropriate touching. You also need to review with them the wide variety of ways a person might try to abduct them and what they should do if someone grabs them, even someone they might know.
A key point to make is that a person who has influence in one area (athletic coach) might trying use that influence the get them to do things. Talk with your child about how athletic coaches should only have limited influence over their decisions, and should NEVER be allowed to touch them in certain areas of their body. Clarify influences in one area should not transfer to others kinds of trust.
I know that all parents struggle with the careful balance you walk between wanting your child to enjoy a sense of safety and security, yet also wanting them to be watchful enough so they are prepared to deal with the real threat at a moment’s notice. One way parents can talk with their children about the likelihood of being abducted is to talk about how likely it is. They could use an analogy such as talking about how the frequency of it is rare, but because it is such a potentially life-threatening experience they need to always be on the lookout for “danger signs”. Again, I refer to danger signs in my previous blog.
At the same time, parents should make their child aware that sexual abuse is relatively common, as I talk about in my prior blog: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/effective-parent-responses-to-the-recent-child-sexual-molestation-of-three-tucson-girls
The best way to keep your child safe is not to rely on the “one talk model” with them, but to consistently be discussing the ways an adult might take advantage of their trust. Using everyday scenarios is a good way to keep them acutely aware of how sneaky predators can be. I am a believer that every child before they enter puberty should undergo some sort of self-defense training. This is especially important for girls, who need to understand how they can use their physicality to escape danger or fend off an attack.
Unfortunately, a large part of the job of parenting is worrying. But instead of wringing your hands whenever horrific news headlines hit the airwaves, focus on what practical steps you can take to maximize the safety of your children. If you do that, the chances that they will be harmed are decreased significantly. My previous blog discussed statistics regarding who types of people tend to be abusers. Unfortunately, they live in our communities. Remain vigilant about knowing what adults your child has relationships with, and talking with them about what kind of influence that adult should have versus should NOT have.