The holidays are nearly upon us, and while many of us are either dreading or looking forwarded to family get-togethers, most are not aware of the opportunity for the children in their family to experience sexual abuse – or face someone who has abused them in the past.
Children will most definitely be abused over this coming Thanksgiving holiday, and too many survivors will have to face their abusers – surrounded by family that doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
Sexual abuse is the “what” – so here is the who, where, when, and why.
Family members (immediate or extended, minor or adult) make up an estimated 50-60% of sexual offenders of children. With 1;4 girls and 1:6 boys estimated to be sexually abused, children are more likely to be assaulted by a family member than hit by a car, kidnapped, drown or choke (all things most parents worry about.) Some may feel that being around family is a “safety net” for their children, but sadly, the exact opposite is true for too many children – and abusers take advantage of this trust.
Furthermore, ,many parents are still of the “respect your elders and give them a hug/kiss” mentality that enables abusers to perpetrate and silences children that feel they don’t have a say in how they’re body is treated.
When it comes to family – we have to accept the risk is real.
People often believe that sexual abuse is perpetrated in situations where the victim and abuser are isolated – far away from others. But the reality is that it often takes place within the home of the child or abuser, and it is not unlikely for others to be within the vicinity – even the next room. Just because your child is in the same house as you, does not mean that their safety is guaranteed.
A busy family gathering is actually a perfect opportunity for abuse to take place. Especially if family is visiting from out of town and children are sharing rooms with a relative or sleeping out in the living room where it is easier for someone to gain access to them. But even during the gathering itself, people are busy socializing, watching football etc. It doesn’t take much to separate a child from the crowd or take advantage of a situation where the perpetrator is alone with the child, without anyone wondering where they are.
Sexual abusers are often thought of a “dirty old men” or predatory pedophiles that snatch children off the street. Most people don’t realize that most offenders are ‘normal’ likable people, and that there are amultitude of motivating factors that lead people to sexually abuse children.
Most good people have a difficult time accepting that someone they know, like, trust, and often love – is capable of sexual abuse. We may feel it is a ‘betrayal’ to question the intentions of someone we know and respect – especially family. But the reality is, children are being abused by the hundreds of thousands and adults are not educated enough and not taking proper protective actions to reduce the risk and opportunity for abuse.
So many survivors, and loving parents of survivors wish they knew what they know now about the reality of child sexual abuse. And their greatest wish is for more parents and caring adults to be educated so that future children do not have to fall to the same fate that they did.
If we can accept that the people that we know & trust are the ones most likely to abuse our children, we can take steps to prevent that abuse from occurring in the first place.
What can we do?
1. Talk to our children about their rights, and respect their right to not engage with unwanted physical contact. If your children are older and there will be younger children visiting, you may want to talk about how even young children deserve respect .
2. Even better – talk to your children ahead of time and ask if there are any family members that make them feel uncomfortable.
3. Create a secret “code word” – a word or phrase they can say to you (ex. I need my medicine) – in front of others, that lets you know they need your help without drawing attention to themselves .
4. Talk to family about the reality of sexual abuse – not only to educate them, but also to put potential abusers on guard. Offenders may want to abuse children, but they also don’t want to get caught. When people know you are educated and not afraid to talk about it – they are more likely to be deterred.
5. Check on your children from time to time and if you can, encourage other adults to do the same.
6. Establish open door only policies for bedrooms etc.
7. Know the warning signs of abuse – and take note if you see any red flags from guests.
8. And finally, talk to your children about how they enjoyed the company after guests have departed. Notice their mood. Even children educated in body safety should not be expected to protect themselves from abuse, and its important for adults to be realistic about that and prepared to receiving a disclosure.