Before reaching their eighteenth birthdays, one in every five girls and one in every seven boys in the United States are sexually abused. Most are abused by family members, friends, neighbors, and others who they know (Sax 24-25). In 1994, the federal government passed litigation titled The Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act that set in motion the creation of a Sex Offender Registry in each state (DiNubile 110). Since 1994, changes have been made to this bill with the passing of “Megan’s Law” in 1996 and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006 (“National Conference of State Legislatures,” par. 10-14). Opponents of the registry believe that providing the personal information of registered sex offenders to the public lulls them into the belief that they are safe from potential threats of sexual abuse (Freeman-Longo 117). Ignorance is the reason behind these beliefs. The best way to get the public to use the Sex Offender Registry appropriately and keep their children safe is to educate them about child sexual abuse: who potential abusers are and how to keep their children from being hurt. As parents and community members, one of the most important things we can do is maintain peace and safety within our families and neighborhoods.
The Problem of Child Sexual Abuse
Chances are, you or someone you love has been a victim of child sexual abuse. Commonly held beliefs tell us to teach our children about “stranger danger,” and what to do if someone you don’t know approaches you or tries to entice you into doing something you shouldn’t. Reality, however, is that our children face threats from the people they know, trust, and respect. Using the Sex Offender Registry is important and provides us with the names, photographs and addresses of convicted sex offenders in our neighborhoods. This information is helpful, making us aware of potential threats to our children. If your next door neighbor, for example, is a registered sex offender, you will not allow your children to spend time in their home or around your neighbor unsupervised. This reaction to the knowledge you gained by checking the registry could quite possibly save your child from being hurt. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not enough.
According to one study done by psychiatrist Gene Abel in the 1980s, child sexual abusers have only a three percent chance of getting caught (Sax 24). The Justice Department tells us that up to 96% of child sexual abusers are people our children know (Sax 25). Based on these statistics, it is even more likely that the person to abuse your child will (a) be someone you as a parent know and trust, (b) be someone your child spends a lot of time with, (c) be someone you would never suspect to be sexually abusive, and (d) have no prior convictions.
With these scary facts, how do we keep our children safe? There are a few things we can do, but the most important and far-reaching solution is to educate the general public about child sexual abuse. If they know what it is and when it can occur, then they can take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening. If we do not educate our family members, friends, and neighbors, then child sexual abuse will continue to happen. If we do not educate our children, then they will be confused and not know what to do if they are ever faced with an abusive situation.
Education Prevents Abuse from Occurring
The best way to educate the people around us is simple: talk. If you are reading this proposal, you already know how prevalent child sexual abuse is and where the threat is likely to come from. Tell your best friend. Tell your babysitter. Tell your neighbor, the people you go to church with, your child’s teacher and parents of your child’s friends and classmates. The more we talk, the more information we spread, the more likely it is that those we come into contact with will be better prepared to prevent abuse from happening to their children.
Our communities provide a number of resources to educate others. Many Departments of Corrections have printable pamphlets on their Sex Offender Registry websites that can be passed around. This pamphlet is formatted to be easily printable on one sheet, and the department asks that we take advantage of it and pass it to our civic groups, community organizations, boys and girls clubs and classrooms (“Department of Corrections, Community Awareness Fliers,” par. 1). The flier is titled “Questions About Sex Offenders in Our Communities.” While this flier refers specifically to registered sex offenders, it is good information to have.
Prevent Child Abuse USA have local groups dedicated to prevention and awareness. These groups offer classes and presentations for free, in both English and Spanish. These programs are designed to be taught in schools, families, community groups or church groups (“Prevent Child Abuse, Prevention Programs,” par. 1).
The internet provides a wealth of information. Blogs, prevention and awareness websites, news articles, YouTube videos, and a hundred other resources are available twenty four hours a day. Take thirty minutes and read a prevention article, take five and watch a YouTube video. You will be amazed at what you learn and how you can apply your knowledge to keep your children safe. Thirty minutes is worth keeping your child from a lifetime of unhappiness as a victim of child abuse. While you’re at it, take an extra five minutes and email the information to your coworkers, family and friends, and post it on your blog or Facebook page. This will provide education and awareness to countless people.
In spite of everything you do, your child may still come into contact with an abuser. Unless we keep our children locked in our homes, it is impossible to keep them from all potential threats. The best way to combat this is teach them how to handle unwanted advances from an abuser. This information is available in books, on the internet, and from community groups like Prevent Child Abuse Utah. It is important that we teach this information to even the youngest of children, usually beginning about age two or three. Tailor your teaching to their level of understanding without scaring them (Sax 51-53). For example, if you have a 3-5 year old, teach them the names of their body parts and how to distinguish between “good” and “bad” touches. Teach them how to say no to unwanted “bad” touches, and how to approach a trusted grown-up for help. Tell them that these touches may come from someone they know and love, but that it is still wrong. As they get older they will understand more and the information you provide can go into more depth. The most important part of teaching your children how to handle these situations is to talk about it frequently—and role play. Give your child the chance to practice saying no. Frequently children who have been taught about abuse but have not been given the chance to practice responding to it will become tongue-tied and freeze. Just like learning a sport or singing a song, the ability to respond appropriately requires practice and continued discussions (Cooper and King 87-110).
When hiring a babysitter, double check references. Pay attention to warning signs, even if it is nothing other than an uncomfortable feeling. If your child is spending alone time with an adult, take precautions. Talk to this adult about where they will be going and suggest a public place. Don’t allow your children to be isolated with an adult or older child. Make sure you have the opportunity to drop in—and do so. Let this person spending time with your child know you understand what abuse is. While this is extremely forward, it may be the very action that will scare a potential abuser into leaving your child alone (“Darkness to Light, Step Two,” par. 4).
The Costs and Benefits of Sharing Information
What is the cost of passing information? Absolutely nothing. A discussion with your friend or sister does not cost any money, and only ten minutes of your time. Even internet or phone use potentially costs you nothing. Both are available for free at your local library, another great source of information. The benefits are astronomical. Protecting your child, keeping them safe from predators, truly is priceless. If you choose to look at it monetarily, you will be saving thousands of dollars in medical care and therapy, court costs, and possibly even funeral costs. While extremely rare, it is possible that death may be the result of your child being sexually assaulted. In sharing the information and educating those around you, you are providing them with the same benefits. There is no reason why we as a community shouldn’t take the initiative to educate those around us.
Education is the key to prevention. It is what raises awareness, from the personal, family, and community levels to even broader state, national, and worldwide levels. Without accurate information, none of us is equipped to protect our children and teach them how to protect themselves from potential threats. If each of us sets a goal to talk to five people, then those five talk to another five people, etc., just think how far-reaching our words may go. Think about how many children may be saved from the terrifying experience statistics say they will endure. Together we can reduce those statistics. Together we can share knowledge and prevent child sexual abuse.
Cooper, Gregory M. and Michael R. King. Predators: Who They Are and How to Stop Them. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007. Print.
Darkness to Light. “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children.” Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. Darkness to Light, N.d. Web. 5 July 2011.
DiNubile, Suzanne D. “Community Notification Laws Protect Children From Child Molesters.” Child Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003. 109-114. Print.
Freeman-Longo, Robert E. “Community Notification Laws are Unjust.” Child Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003. 115-121. Print.
National Conference for State Legislatures. NCSL Summary P.L. 109-248 (HR 4472) Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. National Conference for State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, March 2007. Web. 5 July 2011.
Sax, Robin. Predators and Child Molesters: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Keep Kids Safe. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009. Print.
If you would like more information regarding child sexual abuse prevention and awareness, please visit these sources:
Darkness To Light
Website dedicated to educating communities about preventing child sexual abuse.
National Children’s Alliance
Call the Children’s Advocacy Center nearest you for a referral to a local support group or therapist specializing in child sexual abuse. All calls are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
RAINN has an automated service that links callers to the nearest rape crisis center. All calls are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.