A YOUNG woman who was molested as a girl by her brother and her brother-in-law says: “I was afraid, so I did not tell anyone. For this reason, I would like to warn all parents: ‘Please teach your children not to let anyone in the family, or outside the family, put their hands on them in any wrong way. If anyone tries to, do not be afraid to tell on them.’” She adds: “It can happen to any child at any time!”
In this degenerating world, we must take definite steps to protect our children from sexual molestation. It is not wise to leave things to chance and just hope that nothing will happen.
The First Line of Defense
The first line of defense is to avoid situations that leave our children vulnerable. For example, parents are advised to be careful about using as baby-sitters young adults who seem to prefer being with children rather than with folks their own age. One clinical psychologist reports that two thirds of the molesters he is treating committed the offense while baby-sitting.
Dr. Suzanne M. Sgroi mentions two more situations that have led to trouble: Children doubling up (in beds or rooms) with adults or teenagers, and large family gatherings where the grown-ups get involved in enjoying themselves and just assume that the older children are taking care of the young ones.
The truth is, the more we can keep our children under our own supervision, the less opportunity molesters will have to get at them. Ann, a mother of three, goes to the extent of not allowing her youngest child, a 14-year-old boy, to wander around the shopping mall—or even to go into public rest rooms—alone. The boy probably finds this very restrictive, but his mother has her reasons. She was molested as a child.
However, parents cannot always keep such a close watch on their children. Working parents may have no choice but to use day-care facilities or to leave their children with relatives or baby-sitters. Children have to go to school, and parents cannot always be with them. Relatives and friends come to visit. And then there are the neighbors! How can we protect our children when they are so vulnerable? Really, there is only one way—
Talk to Your Child About the Danger
Psychologist Debrah Shulman said: “It’s foolish to pretend to children that dangers do not exist. Children are aware of their vulnerability and are naturally concerned about their own safety. It’s part of a parent’s job to give them the tools to deal with danger realistically. If presented honestly and positively such information will not threaten children, it will reassure them.” Yes, we have to talk to them about it.
This is easy to say but not so easy to do, especially since the greatest danger is from friends and relatives. We may already have warned our children against the stranger who wants to lure them into the woods or carry them away in a car. But how can we give them “the tools” to protect themselves from ones they know, respect, and even love?
Follow Their Instincts
Ann, the mother referred to previously, reports that she was only five years old when a male relative molested her. Nevertheless, she knew that he was doing something wrong, although she did not know how to stop him. And, unhappily, she could not talk to her parents about it. The lines of communication were not very good at that time.
Ann’s experience demonstrates that children usually have a natural sense of what is fit and proper. We have to reinforce this instinct, tell them that they should obey it even if an adult tells them differently. A simple and determined “No, I don’t want you to do that!” is often enough to deter a molester. Ann’s experience also shows the need for open lines of communication with our children.
Recently a husband and wife were discussing this problem between themselves. Becoming concerned, they asked their child if she had ever been molested. To their horror, the child said yes. An old and trusted friend of the family had repeatedly done so. The family had excellent communication with their children, so why had the child not said something before? Simply because she did not know how. Once the subject was mentioned, the child was more than willing to discuss it.
How Can We Tell Them?
First, we have to bring the subject up. One suggestion is that if ever a scandal is reported in the news, parents could use it as an opportunity to ask their children: “Did anyone ever do anything like that to you?” and then go on to tell them how to act if anyone tries to.
Parents who teach their children about the Bible can use parts of it as a starting point. They can use the story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, to explain the boundaries that exist in what one person may do to another. (Genesis 34:1-4) The story of Tamar and Amnon can be used to show that there are things that even close relatives are not permitted to do to each other. (2 Samuel 13:10-16) And we should make sure they understand that if something like that does happen to them, we want to know about it. We will not get angry with them if they tell us.
Mary was molested when she was a little girl, so she made very sure to put her three daughters on guard against molesters. How did she do it? As soon as they were old enough to understand, she told them: “If anyone touches you in the wrong place, tell me and I will not be angry.” How would they know where the wrong places are? Mary says that when they were about three years old she showed them. When she was bathing them or getting them ready for bed, she pointed out the parts of their body that other people should not touch. As they got a little older, she presented situations: “Nobody should touch you there, even if it is a schoolteacher or a policeman. Not even Mummy or Daddy should touch you there. And a doctor should only touch you there if Mummy or Daddy is with you!”
“If anyone touches you in the wrong place, tell me”
Did this work? Mary remembers one occasion when a relative was playing with her six-year-old daughter. The things the relative was doing started to make the little girl feel uncomfortable. What did she do? She just walked away from him. Mary is not sure whether the relative had bad intentions or not. But she is delighted that her daughter was able to walk away from the situation when it started to feel “not right,” or “strange.”
Hence, just as parents warn their children against going off with strangers, playing in a busy street, and putting their hands on electric wires, they should also tell them about avoiding molestation. They should explain the boundaries on their bodies that others—even their own parents—should not transgress. They should clearly state that if something does happen, they want to know about it. And they will not blame the children.
The “What if . . . ?” Game
Sometimes adults will use their greater experience and intelligence to deceive children into joining them in some inappropriate activity, and children may not spot the deception without help. So Linda Tschirhart Sanford, author of the book The Silent Children, suggests a tool that could be used to counter this in advance: the “What if . . . ?” game. From time to time, ask the children what they would do in certain situations: “What if the baby sitter said that you could stay up late watching television if you got in the bathtub with him and played games? What would you tell him?” “What if someone you knew took you for a ride and wanted to put his hands where he should not? What would you do?” “What would you do if an older friend touched you in a way you did not like, or wanted to undress you and play a secret game with you?”
In teaching the child how to answer, parents can show that there are occasions when they can say no to an adult. There are also occasions when they should reveal secrets. If they are trained to say things like “I will just go and ask Mummy first,” they will be able to discourage most potential molesters. If the child learns the right answers in the “What if . . . ?” game, it is gaining some good tools to protect itself. If it gives a wrong answer, well, go back over the question and suggest a different answer.
Give Them the Words
The following experience shows another problem that children face in the matter of molestation: A woman relates that she was abused as a child and tried to tell her mother about it. But she did not have the right words and could not explain what had happened. Her mother thought that someone was just trying to be affectionate and that the little girl had misunderstood the situation and blown it out of proportion.
Because of similar experiences, social workers encourage parents to tell their children the right names for parts of their bodies. Give them the vocabulary to express themselves in case the worst happens.
Tell children the right names for the parts of their body
Alert but Balanced
One of a parent’s worst nightmares is that their child might be sexually molested. However, we need to remember that most adults are not going to molest our children. Most of our relatives love them and would be as concerned as we are to protect them from abuse.
On the other hand, it can happen. And merely hoping that it will not happen is not enough. The Biblical proverb says: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself.” (Proverbs 22:3) Hence, it is wise to be cautious, especially in view of the times we live in. If we avoid, to the extent possible, putting our children in situations that leave them vulnerable, if we explain to them the boundaries that even adults are not to cross, and if we teach them how to react in case any adult should try to cross those boundaries, then we are doing a lot to protect our children from the molester.