The Metro Voice’s recent articles (see links below) on child molestation provide detailed descriptions of how pedophiles and child molesters think and act as described by members of law enforcement. Here is a list of practical things that can be helpful in protecting children from sexual abuse.
- Monitor all your child’s electronic devices – With many children having a smart phone as young as middle school — and even elementary school for some — it is critical that you have regular access to their phone. We recommend not allowing minor children to maintain password protection to which you, as a parent do not have access. While your child may protest that, if you make it a condition of them being able to have a phone, they should understand. No parental access and monitoring, no phone. Consider retrieving your child’s phone at night before they go to bed so they are not tempted to use it late at night in bed and lose needed sleep. Monitor their call log and text messages for any calls or texts out of the ordinary outside their circles of family and friends. Also monitor their school and personal laptops, tablets or any device on which they are sending and receiving messages. On smart phones and such devices, regularly monitor their private messaging, including Facebook Messenger, Instagram, SnapChat and any other social media they use. Note apps on all their devices through which they send or receive messages and monitor those as well. Regularly review their browsing history. If your child’s phone is on your account, you can also set up parental controls that limit browsing access on their phone. Most importantly, synch their phone to your phone and account so that if their phone is lost or they are not responding or missing, you can, hopefully, locate their phone and them. While these practical tips may appear intrusive to some, your child’s safety and protection from sexual abuse and other dangers while they are a minor until 18 should be every parent’s highest priority.
- Build trust and have age appropriate communication with your child – Parents sometimes consider the possibility of sexual abuse or abduction of their child so uncomfortable, they avoid the topic and discussing it with their child. From a young age, it is very important to have age appropriate and regular discussion with your children on boundaries. Those talks should include who can appropriately touch them and how and if they are touched inappropriately to tell you as a parent. Building trust with your child and keeping the lines of communication throughout their childhood is important. If a young child is reluctant to point on their body where they were touched or tell you, it can be effective to have them use a doll or stuffed animal to point to where they were touched. This is often used for children testifying in court before accused offenders.
- Child abuse hotline – If you observe signs of or hear credible allegations of child sexual abuse, contact a child abuse hotline (see below) and/or contact your local police immediately. You can call 911 or a non-emergency number for the police. Keep that number on your phone and accessible. If you make such a call without malice or knowingly making a false claim, you are generally protected from liability. Be aware that if you file a police report knowing that such a report is malicious or false, you can be held criminally liable for making a false report. For situations in which that is not a concern, we encourage you to act if a child’s safety and well-being is at risk, whether your child or someone else’s.
- Locate registered sex offenders in your area – Local Sheriff’s departments maintain a database of registered sex offenders in your area. You can access that information from them, or there are online services that provide fee-based information and updates. You may be shocked and alarmed by how many registered sex offenders are living nearby.
- Think twice about sleepovers – Many child experts and Christian leaders, such as Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, advise against allowing your children to participate in sleepovers. Unless a parent is present, there are so many variables and unknowns — who will be present, the unknown background of parents and siblings in the host home and others present. If you do allow your children to go to sleepovers, coach them on being careful. Train them to not allow other children or adults to touch them inappropriately. Ask them to tell you if they are touched inappropriately at the time by calling you if they can, or by telling an adult present and letting you know as soon as possible or afterwards.
- Act immediately if you suspect your child has been abused – If you suspect your child may have been molested or abused, it is critical that you immediately report it to a child abuse hotline and/or the police. If you suspect or see physical evidence of sexual abuse, it is critical that you take them to an ER right away so physical evidence can be identified and preserved by experts for legal evidence and documentation. Many hospitals such as Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City have a Scan Clinic with medical experts trained in detecting signs of abuse that may not be readily observable, as well as social workers present and law enforcement officers on call. The main number for Children’s Mercy Hospital is (816) 234-3000 and the Scan Clinic number is (816) 234-2434. If you suspect that the abuse was perpetrated by a spouse or ex-spouse or other family member, act first for your child by taking them to the ER to provide for their care and protection before you make any contact with the suspected offender.
- Utilize online background tools for those your child is around – Missouri Courts provide Case.net, a free online tool with which you can search backgrounds on those with whom which your children are spending time. Missouri Case.net can be accessed at www.courts.mo.gov/casenet/ Johnson County, Kansas also provide a free services at http:jococourts.org Other counties in Kansas provide a records search for $1.50 per name at kansas.gov/countyCourts/search/records?execution=e2s1. You do not need to disclose to your child or those with whom they spend time that you are doing such background checks for their protection. In most cases, such a background check will alleviate any concerns. In some cases you may find reasons for pause and reconsider allowing your child to spend time alone you with others in question.
- Confirm with your church criminal background checks – Churches and those in positions of authority and care for your children should all be subject to criminal background checks. If they are not, consider keeping your children in the service with you instead of attending a children’s ministry or Sunday school. If you church will not or cannot confirm such a practice, you might consider other churches that do for the protection of your children.
- Don’t ever leave your children unattended or alone anywhere – In this day and age, most parents would not consider letting their children go anywhere alone unattended, even venturing far from their home. The risk of abduction by predators and traffickers is just too great. Never leave your child unattended or alone in any public place where a spouse or another adult caregiver cannot see them. That includes restaurants, stores, malls, movie theatres, sports and entertainment venues, convenience stores and gas stations, etc. If your child needs to go the bathroom in a public place, consider going with them at any childhood age at which they don’t need your assistance and wait outside the bathroom door until they come out. Never leave young or even older children alone in your vehicle while you are inside somewhere. Convenience is never worth putting your children at risk. Remember, sexual predators, pedophiles and child molesters frequent places where children are present. Do not underestimate how bold they may in attempting to lure, abduct or molest your child.
- Teach your child self-defense and to evade danger – If your child is inappropriately touched or someone tries to abduct or molest them, prepare them throughout childhood by teaching them to scream and run if they can to get away from their attacker. If they are not with you at the time, teach them to seek out a responsible adult to find protection and safety. For older children, especially girls, consider arming them with mace or pepper spray. Military grade versions are available and some include discreet and attractive carrying cases. Law enforcement and personal protection trainers teach victims of attackers to maintain a safe space and tell an attacker loudly and firmly to “get back” or “back off.” If an assailant keeps approaching, spraying them with mace or pepper spray making the sign of a cross, spraying vertically from the crown of the head to chest and horizontally from shoulder to shoulder across the face is an effective tactic. Most commercial grades of pepper spray or mace have a range of at least 4 to 8 feet and some, including military grade, can have a range of 15 to 25 feet. It is critical to train an older child capable of handing pepper spray or mace to not allow an attacker within reach to disable your child. They should spray them if they refuse to stop approaching before they can get to your child. Pepper spray can completely immobilize an attacker for up to 45 minutes, allowing time for law enforcement to arrive. Be sure your child knows that once they have deployed pepper spray or mace and immobilized an attacker to get away, seek help and call 911 immediately or ask someone else to call 911. Some parents prefer stun devices that release an electrical charge to temporary immobilize an attacker. The problem with these can be if an assailant can get close enough for your child to use a stun device, the attacker may be able to take the device from your child and immobilize them. Teaching and training your child to maintain a safe space around them is the best tactic and first line of defense for personal safety. Experts recommend the “21-feet” rule. That much distance is important for your child to maintain. If approached and a stranger refuses verbal commands to “stop” or “back off,” it can give your child enough time and space to deploy pepper spray or mace, if needed. Repeated training and simulation, whether conducted by you as a parent or a personal protection professional is important. When attacked, many children freeze in fear and are unable to call out for help and warn an assailant to “stop” or “back off.” That is why repeated teaching and simulated training is so important.
- Consider self-defense and personal protection training for your child – Consider age appropriate self-defense and abduction evasion training for your child. Because many child victims freeze in fear and are unable to call out for help if attacked, training them through simulations can be helpful. Most assailants of children will be caught by surprise and off guard if your child fights back. Many predators who encounter unexpected physical resistance from a child and their calls for help will retreat from the situation. Train your child what to do if they have to run and where to go and to immediately call 911 if they have a phone or ask someone nearby to call 911. If an abduction is attempted in a residential area or where there are businesses open, train them to look for a house with cars out and lights on where someone is home or a business that is open. QuikTrips provide a Safe Place program through which children, teens or adults in danger can go and be sheltered in a safe room until law enforcement arrives. Frequenting convenience stores with your children where there is more than one attendant provides an added layer of safety for children in danger.
- Don’t think it can never happen to your child – Experts agree that 1 in 5 girls will suffer sexual abuse during childhood and the number is 1 in 6 for boys. Research shows that 65 to 70% of sexual abuse cases go unreported. From the time your child is born until adulthood, they remain vulnerable. You can’t be too careful and attentive in protecting children. Vigilance begins with the right mindset. Remember that most sexual assaults on children are perpetrated by relatives, friends and neighbors. Be cautious about any adult − from coaches to spiritual leaders and child care workers to any authority figures who show an inordinate amount of interest in your child. Any adult not in the family ever wanting to pick up your child to spend time alone should be a red flag, even if it appears innocent. Most sex offenders appear that way, like governing authorities describe them, “like the guy next door.”Above all, trust your gut and seek God’s wisdom through prayer. Some parents describe themselves as overly-protective. In today’s world with so many dangers for our children, you can’t be too careful.
For those who have been sexually exploited, molested or assaulted, confidential help is available at the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or online at rainn.org. Missouri’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline is (800) 392-3738. The Kansas Child Abuse hotline is (800) 922-5330.
–By Metro Voice Staff