The Stewards of Children class teaches that there are 7 steps to protecting our kids.
Step 1: Learn the facts and understand the risks. Realities - not trust - should influence your decisions regarding children.
It is highly likely that you know a child that has been or is being abused.
- Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. In any classroom or neighborhood, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.
- 1 in 5 children are solicited while on the internet.
- Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.
- The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old.
- Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age 8.
- 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are under age 12.
- Most child victims never report the abuse.
- Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at a greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.
- 30-40% of children are abused by family members.
- As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts - abusers frequently try to form a trusting relationship with parents.
- Nearly 40% are abused by older or stronger children.
- People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy in order to gain access to children.
- Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as: sports leagues, faith centers, clubs and schools.
- In more than 90% of the sexual abuse cases, the child and the child's family know and trust the abuser.
- 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
- One study shows that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and 20% attempt suicide.
- Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders.
- More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape. The average age of the offenders is 27 years old. (In an abortion recovery group, my friend learned that 95% of women who have abortions were sexually abused as a child.)
- Approximately 40% of sex offenders report sexual abuse as children.
- Both males and females who were sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.
- Approximately 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1 and 9 victims; 20-25% have 10 to 40 victims.
- Serial child molesters may have as many as 400 victims in their lifetime.
Step 2: Minimize opportunity. If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you'll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.
More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations. Reduce the risk. Protect children.
- Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims an their families, enjoy family activities, earning trust, and gaining time along with children.
- Think carefully about safety of any one-adult/one-child situations. Choose group activities when possible.
- Think carefully about the safety situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
- Set an example by personally avoiding one-adult/one-child situations with children other than your own.
- Monitor children's internet use. Offenders use the internet to lure children into physical contact.
- Create and lobby for policies reducing or eliminating one-adult/one-child situations in all youth-serving organizations such as faith groups, sports teams, and school clubs. These policies should ensure that all activities can be interrupted and observed.
- Talk with program administrators about the supervision of older youth who have responsibility for the care of children.
- Insist on screenings that include criminal background checks, personal interviews, and professional recommendations for all adults who serve children. Avoid programs that do not use ALL of methods.
- Insist that youth-serving organizations train their staff and volunteers to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
- Ensure that youth-serving organizations have policies for dealing with suspicious situations and reports of abuse.
- Drop in unexpectedly when the child is alone with an adult, even trusted family members.
- Make sure outings are observable, if not by you, then by others
- Ask the adult about the specifics of the planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice the adult's ability to be specific.
- Talk with the child when he or she returns. Notice the child's mood and whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
- Find a way to tell the adults who care for your children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse. Be that direct!
Step 3: Talk about it. Children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.
Understand why children are afraid to "tell".
- The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
- The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong.
- The abuser sometimes threatens the child or a family member.
- Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
- Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
- Some children are too young to understand.
- Many abusers tell children the abuse is "okay" or a "game".
- Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
- Children may tell "parts" of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
- Children will often "shut down" and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
- Teach your children about their bodies, about what abuse is, and, when age-appropriate, about sex. Teach them words that help them discuss sex comfortably with you.
- Model caring for your own body, and teach children how to care for theirs.
- Teach children that is it "against the rules" for adults to act in a sexual way with them and use examples. Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
- Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member or older youth.
- Teach children not to give out their email address, home address, or phone number while using the internet.
- Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
- Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
Talk to other adults about child sexual abuse. One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. And even then, most failed to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend or family member.
- Support and mutual learning occur when you share with another adult.
- You raise the consciousness of your community and influence their choices about child safety.
- You may be offering support and information to an adult whose child is experiencing abuse, and may not know what to do.
- You put potential abusers on notice that you are paying attention.
Step 4: Stay Alert. Don't expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs are often there but you've got to spot them.
Learn the signs:
- Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes or swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical problems associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
- Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from "too perfect" behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
- Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
- Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.
Step 5: Make a Plan. Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react.
If a child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help becuase you've mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same. Your reactions have a powerful influence on vulnerable children.
When you react to disclosure with anger or disbelief, the response is often:
- The child shuts down.
- The child changes her/her story in the face of your anger and disbelief, when, infact abuse is actually occurring.
- The child changes the account around you questions so future tellings appear to be "coached". This can be very harmful if the case goes to court.
- The child feels even guiltier.
Think through your response before you suspect abuse. You'll be able to respond ina more suportive manner.
- Believe the child and make sure the child knows it.
- Thank the child for telling you and praise the child's courage.
- Encourage the child to talk but do not ask leading questions about details. Asking about details can alter the child's memory of events. If you must ask questions to keep the child talking, ask open-endd ones like "what happened next?"
- Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child abuse sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child's healing and to any criminal prosecution.
- Assure the child that it's your responsibility to protect him/her and that you'll do all that you can.
- Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse, both inside and outside the immediate family.
- Don't panic. Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.
- All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. Some states require that anyone with suspcions report it. Information at each states requirements is available at the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.
- If you are a professional who works with children (teacher, nurse, etc) there are special procedures and reporting requirements you must follow. Your employer should provide mandated reporting training.
You may be faced with a situation where you suspect abuse but don't have any proof. Suspicions are scary, but trust your instincts. Have the courage to report the suspected abuse.
What if I'm not sure? Where do I go?
- Child Abuse Helplines have staff specifically trained to deal with questions regarding suspected child abuse. Call Darkness to Light's helpline, 1-866-FOR-LIGHT to be routed to resources in your community, or call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
- Children's Advocacy Centers coordinate all the professionals (legal, social services, medical) involved in an a case. If you're unsure about whether to make an official report or just need suport, contact a children's advocacy center. The staff will help you evaluate your suspicions and your next steps. To find a center near you, contact the National Children's Alliance or 1-800-239-9950. Sunflower House is the advocacy center for Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas.
- Local Community Agencies, such as local hotlines, United Way offices, or rape crisis centers can often be helpful.
- Talk to the child's parents (as long as they are not the abusers) and provide educational materials. If the parents seem indifferent or unlikely to take action, call one of the recommended sources.
Step 7: Get Involved.Volunteer and financially support organizations taht fight the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
What can I do to help children in my community.
Donate your time and resources to support organization such as these:
- Prevention programs
- Children's advocacy centers
- Crisis information and referral services
- Rape crisis centers
- Ask that schools and organization in your community have child sexual abuse prevention policies, and help with their creation. As other adults to do the same.
- Bring Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children prevention program to your community.
- Support legislation that protects children. Visit Darkness to Light for legilative information.
- Demand that the government put more resources into protecting children from sexual abuse and into responding to reports of sexual abuse.
- Call and write your members of congress.
- Write letters to your newspaper.
This information has come directly out of the 7 steps booklet that is handed out at the Stewards of Children class. The information alone is very helpful, but is far more powerful when combined with group discussion and video testimonials that you will experience at a Stewards of Children class. Do not allow this to be all you do to educate yourself - get into a class as soon as you can.