“Don’t ever tell. It will be our secret.”
“No one would believe you.”
“If you tell, your parents will hate you. They’ll know it was your fault.”
“Don’t you want to be my special friend anymore?”
“You don’t want me to go to jail, do you?”
“I’ll kill your parents if you tell.”
AFTER using children to satisfy perverted lusts, after robbing them of their security and their sense of innocence, child molesters still want something else from their victims—SILENCE. To secure that silence, they use shame, secrecy, even outright terror. Children are thus robbed of their best weapon against abuse—the will to tell, to speak up and ask an adult for protection.
Tragically, adult society often unwittingly collaborates with child abusers. How so? By refusing to be aware of this danger, by fostering a hush-hush attitude about it, by believing oft-repeated myths. Ignorance, misinformation, and silence give safe haven to abusers, not their victims.
For example, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded recently that it was a “general conspiracy of silence” that allowed gross child abuse to persist among the Catholic clergy for decades. Time magazine, in reporting on the widespread plague of incest, also cited a “conspiracy of silence” as a factor that “only helps perpetuate the tragedy” in families.
However, Time noted that this conspiracy is crumbling at last. Why? In a word, education. It is as Asiaweek magazine put it: “All experts agree that the best defence against child abuse is public awareness.” To defend their children, parents must understand the realities of the threat. Don’t be left in the dark by misconceptions that protect child abusers and not children.—See box below.
Educate Your Child!
Wise King Solomon told his son that knowledge, wisdom, and thinking ability could protect him “from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things.” (Proverbs 2:10-12) Isn’t that just what children need? The FBI pamphlet Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis says this under the heading “The Ideal Victim”: “For most children sex is a taboo subject about which they receive little accurate information, especially from their parents.” Don’t let your children be “ideal victims.” Educate them about sex.* For example, no child should reach puberty unaware of how the body will change during this time. Ignorance will make them confused, ashamed—and vulnerable.
A woman we’ll call Janet was sexually abused as a child, and years later her own two children were sexually abused. She recalls: “The way we were brought up, we never talked about sex. So I grew up embarrassed about it. It was shameful. And when I had kids, it was the same. I could talk to other people’s kids but not to my own. I think that’s unhealthy because children are vulnerable if you don’t talk to them about these things.”
Abuse prevention can be taught early. When you teach children to name such body parts as the vagina, the breasts, the anus, the penis, tell them that these places are good, they are special—but they are private. “Other people are not allowed to handle them—not even Mommy or Daddy—and not even a doctor unless Mommy or Daddy is there or has said it is OK.”* Ideally, such statements should come from both parents or each adult guardian.
In The Safe Child Book, Sherryll Kraizer notes that while children should feel free to ignore, scream at, or run from an abuser, many children who are abused explain later that they didn’t want to seem rude. Children thus need to know that some grown-ups do bad things and that not even a child has to obey anyone who tells him or her to do something wrong. At such times a child has a perfect right to say no, just as did Daniel and his companions to the Babylonian adults who wanted them to eat unclean food.—Daniel 1:4, 8; 3:16-18.
One widely recommended teaching tool is the “What if . . . ?” game. You might, for example, ask: “What if your teacher told you to hit another child? What would you do?” Or: “What if (Mommy, Daddy, a minister, a policeman) told you to jump off a tall building?” The child’s answer may be inadequate or simply wrong, but don’t correct harshly. The game need not include shock or scare tactics; in fact, experts recommend that it be played in a gentle, loving, even playful manner.
Next, teach children to fend off displays of affection that are inappropriate or that make them feel uncomfortable. Ask, for example, “What if a friend of Mommy and Daddy wanted to kiss you in a way that made you feel funny?”* It is often best to encourage the child to act out what he or she would do, making it a “Let’s pretend” game.
In the same way, children can learn to resist other tactics of abusers. For example, you might ask: “What if someone says, ‘You know, you’re my favorite. Don’t you want to be my friend?’” When the child learns to resist such ploys, discuss others. You might ask: “If someone says, ‘You don’t want to hurt my feelings, do you?’ What will you say?” Show the child how to say no through words and clear, firm body language. Remember, abusers often test how children respond to subtle advances. So a child must be taught to resist firmly and say, “I’m telling on you.”
Be Thorough in Your Training
Do not limit such training to a onetime talk. Children need much repetition. Use your own judgment in determining just how explicit the training should be. But be thorough.
Be sure, for example, to forestall any attempt by an abuser to create a secret pact. Children should know that it is never all right for an adult to ask them to keep a secret from either parent. Reassure them that it is always proper for them to tell—even if they had promised not to. (Compare Numbers 30:12, 16.) Some abusers blackmail the child if they know that the child has disobeyed some family rule. “I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me” is the message. So children should know that they will never get in trouble for telling—even under these circumstances. It is safe to tell.
Your training should also be threat-resistant. Some abusers have killed small animals in front of a child and threatened to do the same to the child’s parents. Others have warned their victim that they will abuse younger siblings. So teach children that they should always tell on an abuser, no matter what scary threats are made.
In this regard the Bible can be a helpful teaching tool. Because it so vividly stresses Jehovah’s almighty power, it can take the bite out of abusers’ threats. Children need to know that no matter what threats are made, Jehovah is able to help his people. (Daniel 3:8-30) Even when bad people hurt those Jehovah loves, he can always undo the damage afterward and make things better again. (Job, chapters 1, 2; 42:10-17; Isaiah 65:17) Assure them that Jehovah sees everything, including the people who do bad things and the good people who do their best to resist them.—Compare Hebrews 4:13.
Cautious as Serpents
It is the rare pedophile who uses physical force to molest a child. They generally prefer to befriend children first. Jesus’ advice to be “cautious as serpents” is thus appropriate. (Matthew 10:16) Close supervision by loving parents is one of the best safeguards against abuse. Some molesters look for a child alone in a public place and strike up a conversation to spark the child’s curiosity. (“Do you like motorcycles?” “Come see the puppies out in my truck.”) True, you cannot be with your children at all times. And child-care experts recognize that children need some freedom to move around. But wise parents are cautious about granting children too much freedom prematurely.
Make sure you get to know well any adults or older youths who are close to your children, using extra caution when deciding who should care for your children in your absence. Be wary of baby-sitters who make your children feel funny or ill at ease. Likewise, beware of teenagers who seem to have an excessive interest in younger children and have no friends their own age. Thoroughly check out day-care facilities and schools. Tour the entire premises and interview the staff, observing carefully how they interact with children. Ask if they mind if you drop in to check on your children at unexpected times; if this is not allowed, look elsewhere.—See Awake! of December 8, 1987, pages 3-11.
The sad truth is, however, that not even the best of parents can control everything that happens to their children.—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
If parents work together, there is one thing they can control: the home environment. And since the home is where most child abuse occurs, that will be the focus of the next article.
Of course, parents must bathe and change very little children, and at such times parents wash the private parts. But teach your children to bathe themselves early on; some child-care experts recommend that they learn to wash their own private parts by the age of three if possible.
Some experts caution that if you force your child to kiss or hug every person who asks for such displays of affection, you may undermine this training. Thus, some parents teach children to make polite excuses or substitutions when unwanted demands are made of them.