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Over the past few weeks my social media has been swarmed with talk about “Pedophile Advocacy” and “lowering the stigma of pedophilia.” So, I felt inclined to write this. This issue is close to my heart, because before I took in stay at home mom life, I worked in social services, specifically with families and children. Working in the field, I saw a lot, especially in regards to child sexual abuse. All I have to say, is we need to be talking about this issue to our children, in our families, in our churches, and in our communities. Here you will find reasons why we need to be talking about this, ways you can start talking with your children today, and resources to help you in your journey.
Why We Need To Start These Conversations Now
You may be thinking, well my child is so young. We can wait to have these talks. But actually, here’s some reasons to start these conversations now:
1. Sexual abuse is common
Sexual abuse is alarmingly common. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. This statistic should put parents on alert to protect their children and be aware of dangerous circumstances.
2. Churches are prime hunting grounds for sexual predators
In 2008, Christianity Today reported 23 new articles each day with sources revealing sexual abuse allegations arising in Protestant churches in the United States.  This needs to be a wake-up call. This is an issue in the Church. Lack of policies and a tendency to be trusting as a community sets up church bodies to be an open door to predators. Though we need to offer grace, mercy, and acceptance to all. We should not neglect to teach our children about “tricky people,” and be wary of the signs of grooming in our communities. The organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is a great resource for learning more around this issue.
3. Older children are common predators
We want to think the teens and older children in our toddler’s lives all have clean intentions and motives. However older children are just as likely a perpetrator as an adult. More than a third of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18 themselves . We need to be aware of what grooming looks like, and teach our children how to handle tricky situations involving peers and older friends. Oprah.com published an article with a great guide to help parent identify what grooming looks like.
4.The Church generally does not handle cases of abuse appropriately
From what I have observed, the Church, in general, handles sexual abuse allegations rather poorly. We should be extending therapy and arms of hope to the abused, and shunning the abuser and doing what we can to prohibit further abuse. Instead, often there is victim blaming, a stigmatization of therapy and psychological resources, and an all around hush-hush attitude. We need to do better! GRACE, again, is a resource for churches to help us become better as a community in addressing and preventing abuse in our church communities.
How to Protect Your Child
We live in a fallen, broken world. And we may not be able to fully prevent predators from being among us, but we can take steps to preventing abuse. The following tips are basd off the recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics.
1. Teach your child the proper names for their private parts
This sounds super awkward, but is so important. Teaching your child the correct term for their private parts (i.e. penis or vagina) can help catch a perpetrator if an incident occurs. Perpetrators are less likely to use these terms with a child, and therefore if a child begins using a different word it should raise suspicion.
2. Teach your child about Tricky People
Tricky people encourages kids to evaluate a situation. Not all strangers are bad, and the idea of “stranger danger” encourages kids to look for scary seeming people. However strangers looking to abduct or take advantage of people are usually friendly and seem kind. Tricky people teaches kids that adults do not ask children to break family safety rules, nor do they ask children for help. It also encourages children to use their instincts. If a situation or request seems unsafe, or makes them feel uncomfortable they can, and should, say no.
3. Teach your child about safe people
In the occurance that abuse does happen, children need to know who they should tell. These are called safe people. Generally this would be a parent, teacher, or doctor. These are people who should help contact authorities and create a safe and healing space for the victim.
4. Teach your child about safe touch and not safe touches
Safe touches can include hugs, handshakes, and high-fives. However, not safe touches include touching of private parts, or any touching that makes them feel uncomfortable (this can include hugs, handshakes, or high fives they do not want to give).
5. Teach your child about consent
Consent is one of those buzz words in our culture I feel we see over and over again on social media. But consent us really about teaching good boundaries. If our child doesn’t want to give a hug or kiss, they should not be forced. On the same note, we shouldn’t let our child hug, kiss, or touch a friend that doesn’t want to be touched. This helps prevent abuse and assault. A child that has had their boundaries respected is less likely to tolerate abuse, or will at least be more likely to tell if abuse does occur. A child that is taught to respect boundaries is less likely to become an abuser.
6. No secrets
From early on teach a child that there are no such things as secrets between parents and their children. Abusers will often threaten children to keep what has happened a secret. Reassure your child that anytime someone asks them to keep a secret from you it is not safe, and nothing bad will happen to them if they tell you the secret.
7. No games that require being naked
Often a tactic used by abusers is convincing the child to play a game that require being naked or touching private parts. Make sure your child knows that there are no games that require being naked, either with adults or children. If someone asks them to play such a game, they need to say “no, thank you,” and tell a safe person immediately.
Coffee and Crumbs podcast has an episode dedicated to talking about “Tricky People” with children. This episode is so informative, and the show notes include a list of resources for parents in tackling this issue.
GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is a tool for churches and their members to become equipped in preventing and addressing abuse.
These are bookI have read and recommend to start having these hard conversations with your young children.
By: Abbie Schiller and Samantha Counter
By: Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey S. Holcomb
This book comes from a Christian perspective, and includes scripture to help emphasize that God made our bodies, and we can protect our bodies.
By Zach and Kimberly King
This book is another one about boundaries, especially in regard to private parts. It’s written from a kid’s perspective and uses kid-friendly language to address this tough topic.
Have the Conversation
The conversation of private parts and abuse cand be uncomfortable and awkward, but it’s worth it. We live in a broken world where bad things happen. We don’t want our lives to be ruled by fear, but we need to be responsible and aware to protect our families, and community.
1. “Child Sexual Abuse: What Parents Should Know,” American Psychological Association. February 19, 2014 http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx
2. Love, Gregory and Kimberlee Norris. “Sexual Abuse Issues In The Church; Raising The Bar,”CTPastors. Promiseland, 2008, https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2008/april-online-only/sexual-abuse-issues-in-church-raising-bar.html
3. Finkelhor, David, and Anne Shattuck. “Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles.” Crimes Against Children Research Center. May 2012, www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV26_Revised%20Characteristics%20of%20Crimes%20against%20Juveniles_5-2-12.pdf.
4. “Preventing and Identifying Child Sexual Abuse – Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics,” American Academy of Pediatrics. 2018.