Monday, December 10, 2012

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Honest Shit Every Parent Needs to Know

In my recent post about fixing mismatched sex drives between partners where one wants more sex and the other wants less sex, I mentioned that sexual abuse is one of the factors that can influence our libido. My friend Zap commented that she's never surprised when friends confide about childhood sexual abuse with her. 

Indeed, the numbers are quite startling. Based on reported cases (many incidents go unreported), 20% of girls and 5%-15% of boys are sexually abused as children. The overall number is somewhere around 10%. Remember, those are reported cases. While nearly impossible to determine, it's estimated that only about 10-15% of cases are reported.

As parents, it's impossible to protect your children from every possible danger. However, there are some basic steps you can take to help prevent your children from becoming victims of sexual abuse. I have the good fortune of having a good friend in law enforcement that specialized in investigating childhood sexual crimes. Our conversations were both informative and scary as Hell. The vast majority of the public has no idea how to protect their children from sexual abuse. Here are a few tips:

The first thing you can do is talk to your kids. Start by giving them correct anatomical names for their body parts. Yes, they will talk about their penises and vaginas in public on occasion. Yes it will be embarrassing. Suck it up and teach them accurate information.

Also teach your kids that's it's inappropriate for anyone to touch their genitalia. If someone does, instruct them to tell you even if threatened. It's important they feel comfortable confiding in you.

You can also take steps to avoid placing your kids in positions where they may be abused. The first step is understanding the two types of abusers- crimes committed by pedophiles and crimes of opportunity. 

Pedophiles are people that are sexually aroused by children. This is the classic perpetrator we think of when we think of child abuse... the cheesy mustache, the windowless van, etc. Pedophiles are likely going to engage in fairly predictable behavior, like befriending your kids, giving them gifts, or engaging in systematic behaviors that allow them to be alone with your kids (think Jerry Sandusky).

Crimes of opportunity are committed by people that are aren't necessarily aroused by children, but are placed in a position where they may impulsively molest a child. This is the group that often evades parental radar- the close family friend, the relative, the local teenager (33% of perps are minors themselves),etc. This group is nearly impossible for most people to predict because they may not have overt behaviors. They're just normal people that are put in a situation where they cannot resist a temptation (and we're terrible at resisting temptations). In all likelihood, they're trusted by the parents. The parents allow their kids to be alone with this group because there's no reason to believe the kids are in danger.

Together, both of these groups make up around 85%-95% of all cases of sexual abuse. The key- these are people you know and you won't always recognize them as a potential abuser. Only about 5-15% of child sexual abuse cases are committed by strangers.Clearly stranger danger ISN'T the greatest danger.

So... what are some warning signs? Here are a few predictors that should raise red flags:
  • Males. Yup. That's a big one. Males commit around 90% of all child sexual abuse cases.
  • Anyone that voluntarily wants to spend time with your kids. Kids are annoying. Adults generally don't like being around other people's kids... especially if they're male. 
  • Adolescent males. If they've hit puberty, they're possible perpetrators of a crime of opportunity.
  • Unusual attention paid to kids. This is pretty much the same as #2... be weary of anyone that talks to kids more than adults.
  • Victims of sexual abuse: These numbers vary widely, but anywhere from 40-80% of perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse were once abused themselves. Again, the 'male" rule applies.
  • People that hold very conservative sexual views that encourage suppression of sexuality. Repression of sexual desires will be manifested in some way, and sexually abusing children is common.
Some situations to avoid:
  • Don't let your kids be alone with strangers (the most obvious step even seemingly oblivious parents usually follow).
  • Don't let your kids be alone around male teenagers and always ask if male teens will be in a household where your kids may be staying. This is especially true if the teen comes from a home with strict conservative sexual values.
  • Don't let your kids be alone with anyone that seems to want to befriend them or gives them gifts.
  •  Be suspicious of anyone that befriends YOU, then seems to pay a lot of attention to your kids. single moms, this rule REALLY applies to you.
  • Don't let your kids be alone with male relatives or friends regardless of their age, especially if the adults recommended the "alone time."
  • Don't let your kids be alone with people that are drinking or using other drugs that lower inhibitions... especially males.
The major take-away: Don't automatically trust people. I realize most people want to see the inherent good in others, but that adolescent cousin, friendly uncle, or helpful neighbor are greater threats than a stranger lurking in the bushes.

Most of you probably read that list and laughed at the absurdity of the recommendations. There's a pretty good chance the parents of children who have been sexually abused also would have laughed at this list, too. There's also a pretty good chance the adults that were sexually abused as children that read this will wish their parents would have read a similar list and taken it seriously.

If you think it is completely unrealistic, I'd like to once again point out out that ten percent of kids are abused. It's up to you to do everything in your power to make sure your kids aren't part of that statistic. 

I'm not usually the kind of person that uses scare tactics to motivate people to act, but I have FAR too many friends that were abused as kids to not care. If you're a parent and choose to disregard my advice, please seek other sources to educate yourself.

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3 comments:

  1. I'm one of those that wished my parents had read something like this.

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  2. I investigated these cases for almost a decade. Jason is spot on. The average age of a victim is getting lower and lower and is around 6 years old. The average age of the offender is also getting lower and is around 12 years old.

    Also, teenage girls are a growing demographic of offenders. Exposure to sexual material is considered my many in the field as the cause for such incline in numbers and expansion of demographics.

    The key to avoid getting paranoid or isolating your children in a bubble is to give them names for their privates parts, seize any learning moment you can to reinforce about telling a safe adult if anybody touches (or asks to touch) them, and then avoid the high risk situations (males).

    Even relatives and friends you love. Most abusers didn't give the parents the "icky feeling," because they aren't "icky" people.

    Great post Jason!

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  3. Funny, this came up one the sidebar as I posted my last comment on People Who Are Terrible In Bed. Sexual abuse really does harm and the damage last for a long time afterwards. It can be unpopular, but I have found that writing about forgiving abusers and opening mental health resources to pedophiles has been a great emotional and spiritual help to me. I have little anger against abusers; I see them as badly damaged souls who are unable to resist a devil on their shoulder, and who then become victims of a tortured, twisted psyche. Forgiveness in life is difficult to achieve (and I am certainly no "expert" at it), however it is healing. I am no expert on forgiveness by any means, however I am learning and growing. I am building up hope for a better sexual life. It is discouraging to look back on the life I've squandered, unable to reconcile specific issues, and furthermore, to be really honest, the road ahead doesn't seem as bright and shiny as the roads of many others. But it is what it is, and you look to the bright side as much as you can.
    :-)

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