These days, #saveourchildren is trending. Finally, there is a proper conversation about sexual assault, especially when it comes to our children. As the buzz grows, so do the rumors and misconceptions.
According to some estimates, 500,000 children annually become the victim of sexual abuse. When you consider that these issues tend to be underreported, we are talking about a very real threat. I’m not saying all of this to scare you into locking your kids up but to get some real conversations going about what we, as parents and adults, can do to make a difference and truly save our children.
What is a sexual predator?
Protecting your child from sexual violence starts with identifying those who would commit such acts. So, what is a sexual predator? This is defined as someone who seeks to sexually exploit someone, specifically in a predatory and/or abusive manner.
Another term you’ll hear in this conversation is a sex offender. What is the difference between a sexual offender and a sexual predator? In the former case, we have someone who has been convicted of sexual crimes. Both are dangerous to society as a whole but especially so to one of the most vulnerable groups-our children.
How to spot a sexual predator
Spotting the warning signs before child predators go too far is essential. Abuse like this stays with the victims for life. A key part of the process of sexually exploiting children is grooming.
Grooming involves the adult gaining the child’s trust in order to achieve what they want. Here are some of the signs of grooming by child sexual predators:
- They are often extra attentive: Spending extra time with the targeted child on a regular basis is a good indicator. Showering a child with compliments and gifts (sometimes expensive ones) are further signs of extra attentiveness designed to gain a minor’s trust and gratitude and create an attachment.
- They frequently cross boundaries: Even after your child has set boundaries or said no, this adult will persist anyways, maybe even poke fun at your child for attempting to set a boundary, kind of gaslighting them.
- They are too big on physical contact: An adult who’s too comfortable being extra physical with a child can be a red flag. Tickling, hugging, kissing, and wrestling a lot are a few examples. Further cause for possible alarm is the adult continuing the physical contact even when the child protests.
- They’re always in places with dense child populations: This person will always seek to be around kids. Schools, playgrounds, and play spaces with a large number of kids are a few examples.
- They have few age-appropriate friends: If their friends consist mostly of underage people and hardly any of their peers, this is also a red flag and usually a sign of grooming.
- They foster dependency: Becoming the child’s confidant and closest friend establishes a deep relationship that’s key to grooming.
- They create an air of secrecy: Someone telling your child to keep secrets is a major red flag. Sowing seeds of distrust between the support system and the child makes it easier to target the minor. Maintaining an open, honest, and inclusive environment for communication can help combat this issue.
If these signs manifest, it’s always beneficial to restate boundaries with the adults in your kid’s life and keep a close watch. At the very least, you’ve modeled setting boundaries and made you and your child more comfortable.
Where are sexual predators located?
There are many misconceptions on this matter. Most people assume that sexual predators operate outside the home when, in fact, over 90% of perpetrators are someone the child knows and trusts. We aren’t always looking for strangers in the neighborhood.
Another common misconception in the conversation about children as victims is that sexual predators can only be men. The majority of sexual abuse is indeed committed by men (married men, in fact) regardless of whether the victim is male or female. Unfortunately, there’s a troubling amount of underreporting among male victims because of society’s conditioning.
Though not as much as men, women can be perpetrators, too. On a personal note, the female sexual predator stories I’ve heard from males sexually abused by their childhood babysitters, aunts, or family friends are too many to count.
Limiting who or where predators and offenders can be is truly unsafe for our children. It’s important to acknowledge the facts of this issue to approach it correctly. If you’re looking for offenders in your area, there are online portals for that. You can find one here.
Teaching children about sexual predators
Education is the greatest and most powerful tool in this fight. There is a lot of misinformation and flat-out lack of information among adults, which leaves children uneducated, too. We can’t stop a problem we can’t even recognize.
The next question would be what you should educate your child about. Here are the top three areas to cover:
1. Educate your children about their bodies
They should know the correct name of their body parts. Age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education is also important.
2. Educate children about consent
A huge part of this fight involves knowledge about consent. Teach your children what it is and what it looks like. It’s something so simple, yet many adults don’t even understand it. We should look at why consent is important with their peers and how to spot an adult who may be trying to violate the rules of consent.
3. Teach your children who their safe adults are
Vetting safe, go-to adults that your children can ask questions and report to if they’re feeling uncomfortable is important. A solid support system extending beyond the parents helps create a safety net that can deter sexual predators.
After teaching these things, practice them in everyday life. Act them out together but also look for real-life opportunities to use them. When grandma wants a hug, but your child doesn’t want it, let them say no. That’s setting a boundary and allowing them to have control of their body, which makes an impact.
What to do if you come across a sexual predator
So, you’ve spotted some red flags or suspect that your child has been abused. What now? The first step is to sever any contact between your child and this person and report to your local social services and police departments.
The next step is to schedule therapy for the child to help them navigate the traumatic experience and begin to heal from it. Not only does the child need therapy, but it’s always best for parents to have therapy as well. It will help them cope with the incident and give them the skills needed at home to aid their child when necessary.
This is never a fun topic to discuss and can be quite a trigger. However, it’s reality and something deserving of more education and conversation. Sexual abuse of children is a widespread issue, a pandemic of its own.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused. As parents, it’s critical to educate ourselves and learn to spot red flags in the adults around us. Making sure we vet people and set boundaries is a good regular practice.