The stigma that surrounds the word predator leads us to believe that this person is easily recognizable – the guy who hangs out by the school in a van asking kids if they like puppies or candy – oh and BTW, he’s in a trench coat, right? Not so much.
Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). This means that this person who preys on children is usually already a part of the child’s life. Think coaches, teachers, baby-sitters, and other persons in positions of authority over the child are more likely than strangers to commit sexual crimes against children.
I know it is scary… no TERRIFYING… to think about; that the person you are trusting your child with could be a potential predator. But, this is your opportunity to educate yourself about the practice of predators so that you can recognize their tactics and better protect your own children.
Predators use a technique called “grooming” to gain the trust of children. This can happen fairly quickly or over a long period of time. They are typically good at what they do, and can even come off as charismatic to adults. The grooming process can happen online or in “real life.” Though these days, online is our real life.
So, what can you do to help protect your children?
Talk to them.
- For younger kids, teach them the correct names of their body parts. Avoid encouraging them to “hug” friends or family members unless they initiate it. I know that parent guilt can kick in and, “Go hug your Aunt Sally goodbye,” can easily fly off the tongue, but the truth is your child should be able to avoid touching/hugging at their own discretion.
- For school age children, create an opportunity to have an open conversation about the adults in their life. Is the reason they don’t like their teacher because they gave extra homework or is it because the teacher insists that the child sits on their lap and gives them a hug before leaving the classroom? Is the coach of their baseball team offering to bring them home, alone, from practice with a pitstop for a snack?
- For tweens and teens, monitor their online activity and get to know their “friends.” If you have a family computer, keep it in the main living room of your house where the most activity is. Create guidelines in your home about internet use. Sign up and get familiar with Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow or friend them, and educate yourself about the privacy techniques they may or may not be using. Have an open conversation with them about the risks of chatting/sending pictures with someone they’ve never met. Ask questions. Yes, you may get attitude or eye rolling, but letting your child know that you care and are concerned about their online life is worth the conversation.
If you’re like me, you’d like a hand out or graphic chart that will tell you exactly how to navigate this topic and protect your children. But the truth is that just by reading this article, you’ve already begun taking the first step.
Do your research, ask your kids questions and assess their needs, and make yourself available to open and honest conversations as often as possible. Pass this article along to family and friends and let’s do our part to make our community aware and keep our children safer.
Lieb, R., Quinsey, V., and Berliner, L., “Sexual Predators and Social Policy,” in M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and Justice (University of Chicago, 1998): 43-114.