I established this website to provide parents with child development resources. The sexual abuse at Penn State that sparked headlines like “Penn State Scandal” made me realize how little parents, or the public for that matter, actually know about child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, something this huge and outrageous has to occur to get public attention to this issue. While the world is talking about this, I want to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about child sexual abuse and how to protect your children, because clearly the people we trust with our children are not necessarily going to protect them.
With such an important topic, I decided to go to an expert in this area for help with this post. Dr. Anna Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard and is the author of the Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. Dr. Salter agreed to write the following guest post about child sexual abuse. At the end of her post I have included additional resources for parents. A number of organizations have created fact sheets about child sexual abuse and ways to help protect children. The post below by Dr. Salter and the websites listed provide essential information that every parent should know.
Key Facts about Child Sexual Abuse:
Child sexual abuse is something that every parent needs to be concerned about. According to studies, somewhere between 20 and 30% of girls are sexually abused as children and 9 to 16% of boys. Abusers are almost never strangers. They are typically family friends or acquaintances, for example, youth group leaders, teachers, pediatricians, children’s choir directors, camp counselors, coaches and others whose vocation or avocation gives them access to kids. No profession that works with kids is safe from the infiltration of child sex offenders. Parents need to understand that these men, and occasionally women, look and act like everyone else. The successful ones are almost always personable, even charming. What makes them successful is their likeability. They act very different in public than they do when alone with children. They often do extensive “good works” and many have excellent reputations in the community.
About Sex Offenders:
I interview such men for educational films that I make on how sex offenders fool people. Every offender I have ever interviewed of this type was caught one or more times before the time that it went to authorities. Kids often disclose; adults walk in on it. But over and over offenders have relayed to me how parents did not believe the disclosures because they trusted the offender so much. Even when someone walks in on it, they typically confront the offender – who promises to never do it again – and extract a promise that the offender will “get help.” They then do not report it to authorities. This typically happens multiple times before someone finally reports it to police. Every offender I have ever talked to who had this happen takes this as permission to continue to abuse. They view it as proof they are invincible, that they can talk their way out of anything, that it really wasn’t that big a deal or someone would have gone to police. It isn’t just that it doesn’t stop them; it actually gives them permission to continue and emboldens them. What happened at Penn State doesn’t surprise me. It just saddens me.
Dr. Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard University and obtained a Masters Degree in Child Study from Tufts. She was a Teaching Fellow at both Universities. Dr. Salter has lived in Madison Wisconsin since 1996 and consults half time to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In addition, she lectures and consults on sex offenders and victims throughout the United States and abroad. She has keynoted conferences on sexual abuse in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and England. In all, she has conducted trainings in 49 states and 10 countries. Dr. Salter also evaluates sex offenders for civil commitment proceedings and other purposes.
Resources (all links go directly to the website/fact sheet).
American Humane Association. Stop Child Abuse. Fact Sheet includes the following section on protecting children:
“Protect your children. Teach your children what appropriate sexual behavior is and when to say “no” if someone tries to touch sexual parts of their bodies or touch them in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, observe your children when they interact with others to see if they are hesitant or particularly uncomfortable around certain adults. It is critical to provide adequate supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you deem safe.”
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fact Sheet: Child Sexual Abuse states the following recommendation:
“Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:
- Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away
- Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, Always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do
- Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system”
National Center for the Victims of Crime. Child Sexual Abuse. Website focuses on definitions of sexual abuse, symptoms of abuse, how to report it, and how to cope if it has happened.
American Psychological Association.Understanding Sexual Abuse: Education, Prevention, and Recovery. Page 6 has the following tips for protecting children from sexual abuse:
“What is Child Sexual Abuse?
- The typical advice “Don’t Talk to Strangers” doesn’t apply in this case. Most sexual perpetrators are known to their victims.
- Do not instruct children to give relatives hugs and kisses. Let them express affection on their own terms.
- Teach your children basic sexual education. Teach them that no one should touch the “private” parts of their body. A health professional can also help to communicate sex education to children if parents are uncomfortable doing so.
- Develop strong communication skills with your children. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Explain the importance of reporting abuse to you or another trusted adult.
- Teach your children that sexual advances from adults are wrong and against the law. Give them the confidence to assert themselves against any adult who attempts to abuse them.
- Make an effort to know children’s friends and their families.
- Instruct your child to never get into a car with anyone without your permission.
- Teach your children that their bodies are their own. That it is OK to say they do not want a hug or that certain kinds of contact make them uncomfortable.
- It is important to remember that physical force is often not necessary to engage a child in sexual activity. Children are trusting and dependent and will often do what is asked of them to gain approval and love.”
Bivona Child Advocacy Center. If you Suspect a Child is Being Abused. Excellent tips for how to talk to your child if you think they have been abused.
Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. By Anna Salter (2003) New York: Basic Books Amazon Link
My Body Belongs to Me. By Jill Starishevsky