ADULT CONVERSATION WARNING
If you are under the age of 18, please make sure you have a parent’s permission before you continue. This article is for adults–specifically parents and servants.
Earlier this week, I went to a seminar put on by my daughter’s school. Before anyone teaches or volunteers in a Catholic school in this diocese, they must go through a program called Protecting God’s Children to learn how to prevent child abuse and the warning signs to look for.
The topic of this program is difficult, depressing, and nauseating. I’m being completely honest here. As a mother, there is so much sorrow and rage that comes up around this topic. And more than anything there is fear–utter terror. How can I protect my children from all the horrible things in this world?
I am already looking into how we can bring this program to the parents of our small congregation so they can also be informed. It’s such a taboo and, admittedly, disturbing topic. But it’s critically important.
Children who are abused end up suffering from low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, unbearable guilt, a sense of uncleanness, and a fear of it happening again (and again). It’s a vital responsibility we bear to do everything in our knowledge and power to prevent such atrocities from happening under our care. We are accountable before God.
And in the meantime, I would like to share a little bit here and send you to some resources for further study.
WHO ABUSES CHILDREN?
One of the things that really startled me about seminar content was the myths they revealed about the type of person who is a child sexual predator.
1. You cannot tell who is an abuser and who isn’t just by looking.
2. An abuser can come from any race, ethnicity, and social class.
3. Both men and women can be abusers.
4. An abuser is usually NOT a stranger. It’s usually someone well known to the family who has weaseled their way into the hearts and trust of the parents and the kids before committing these horrible acts.
5. Most abusers are heterosexual–not gay. Many are married.
6. Children CAN be abused by other children.
TEACHING CHILDREN THE REAL NAMES OF PRIVATE BODY PARTS
One of the things I could never wrap my head around before this seminar was why I needed to teach my children the real names of their private parts. I am actually looking for excuses to not even write them here, so I can bypass this. I certainly don’t want to be flagged by Google, I’m telling myself. Why are the cute names we use as a family not good enough?
Our seminar facilitator explained that you need to give your child the vocabulary to express themselves fully especially around this topic. If your son doesn’t know that it’s called a penis, how can he speak to you frankly and tell you that Uncle So-and-So showed him his or asked to see it? And if you are always tip-toeing around the topic, how can your child feel confident to come speak to you with all simplicity about it? There are more reasons here.
Knowledge is power. Give your child the power over his or her private parts. Teach him or her to respect their body and know how to use it and understand that it should be under his or her control ONLY.
A child should feel confident coming to you and telling you that something terrible happened to him or her. There are many reasons why they would not.
1. They don’t understand they were a victim. If they don’t understand that this is an evil and criminal act, how will they know to go to someone and tell them? If they don’t have the vocabulary to face such a threat head on, they won’t know to come tell you. We must educate kids about good touches and bad touches, good things to look at and bad things to avoid looking at.
2. They fear you will accuse them of lying. Children do not lie about these things. It’s incredibly difficult for them to come forward. Please please believe your child (or a child under your care). You are their advocate and protector.
3. They feel complicit and guilty. One of the worst things about this video was listening and watching a sexual predator describe how he tricks kids into being guilty and complicit in his perverted act. They are so very manipulative, and children are incredibly innocent and gullible. Please understand that it is NOT the victim’s fault when they are tricked or manipulated into being abused. Children can be trapped and helpless before this terrible evil. It is NOT the child’s fault. This cannot be emphasized enough.
4. They fear you will overreact. Always respond very calmly and even toned in front of the child. Don’t cry, don’t shout, don’t lose your temper. Keep your emotions in check. Be the grown-up. Any reaction you give can further damage the child and your relationship with each other. A simple, quiet “Thank you for telling me,” and perhaps some gentle follow up questions. Then, when you leave the room and you are in your own private space, you can do whatever it is that you need to do (like maybe punching through a wall). Put the child first.
There is so much more to be said. I am shocked how much information was given to us in just a couple of hours. I haven’t even touched here on what policies should be put in place within your church or your home to prevent these acts. And I didn’t bring up the Internet–which can be an excellent portal to abuse if kids don’t have the right knowledge and tools to protect themselves.
Please take the time to educate yourself further. It’s vital that we know our enemy and his tricks, so we can shield ourselves and teach our children to defend themselves from abuse.
May God protect us all and have mercy on us.
Excellent and in depth series of articles from Parenting magazine:
Practical advice for parents from the company that put together Protecting God’s Children:
There’s a great section here on different Internet safety issues.