Recent events have prompted parents, educators, and childcare providers to reevaluate how to properly teach children about personal safety which, in this context, is how to ward off tactics used by child predators to isolate and victimize a child. Any person in charge of a child’s wellbeing should review how to discuss preventing an incident as well as how to proceed if there is suspicion of child victimization.
It is important to understand potential signs an adult may exhibit that indicate sexual predator behavior. Predators are likely to be someone in constant contact with the child such as a coach, mentor, or family member; 90 percent of children are abused by someone they know, love or trust.1 Because an adult close to the family is able to create trust with parents and the child, they have greater access to the child. There is also more opportunity for isolation which can begin the process of “grooming” to create a trust in which the child is less likely to share “secrets” and to create a reward system of attention and presents. The predator relies on isolation, access, a trust bond, and a reward system to keep any unusual activity with the child undisclosed.2 The most important signal to be aware of is an adult who wants to spend an unusual amount of time with your child, gives excess favors of babysitting, rides, or time spent together.
Learning how to speak to children about predators can be uncomfortable. Keep information age appropriate and change it for each new experience they may have, such as joining a team or starting a preschool. First, remain open to using the correct names of anatomy including genitals.3 This helps create an open dialogue about the body and about the privacy of certain body parts. Discuss that a caregiver, health care provider, even a parent should ask permission before accessing a child’s genital area to establish a child’s comfort and empowerment of physical body boundaries and ownership. Discourage using words such as ‘secrets’ with adults and establish the idea that a family does not keep secrets. Use the word ‘surprise’ to discuss any information the child wants to temporarily keep to themselves.4 Empowering children to say “no” to access without guilt or shame and keeping an open dialogue in the home are prime ways to prevent or gain early intervention into predatory incidents.
Lastly, if a predatory act or victimization is suspected, a professional should be contacted immediately. The parent should stop all questioning of the child and contact a therapist or the authorities. If a child is questioned excessively about an incident, they may feel guilt, shame, or doubt their details of the encounter. Further, constant questioning may compromise the child’s long-term health and prosecution.
Identification of a sexual predator within a small community can be deeply triggering, traumatizing, and agonizing. However, it is also an opportunity to review all the ways to empower children about their own personal safety and create an ongoing open dialogue.
Shannon Sinsheimer, ND, is a state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness, and pre-conception health and can be reached at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert (760) 568.2598.