In today’s world, it’s more important than ever for parents to be aware of what is going on in our children’s lives. How do parents keep their kids safe from predators, both online and offline? Jeff Herman, a nationally-recognized attorney and advocate for survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation, offers advice for parents on how to speak to your children about sex crimes and predators and how to recognize signs of abuse.
How to Talk to Your Children About Sex Crimes and Predators
Your child’s vulnerability makes them an easy target for predators to lure, manipulate and abuse. When a naïve child is sexually abused, it can result in one of two things; either the child doesn’t even realize that they’ve been abused or taken advantage of, and therefore continue to permit the abuse and willingly comply, or they recognize what’s happened and feel guilty for ‘letting’ it happen, which can cause a multitude of other problems.
We can’t be there to protect them 24/7, but we can arm them against the dangers of child molesters and rapists by educating them, keeping open lines of communication, and helping them set healthy boundaries for their bodies. Jeff Herman suggests taking the following steps to talk to your kids about the dangers of sex crimes and sexual predators.
#1 – Keep it Age Appropriate – Start talking to your kids at an early age about their bodies and keeping boundaries using age-appropriate language and vocabulary. Make sure they understand which parts are private and off-limits to others. This, combined with an anatomically correct vocabulary, will help them to appreciate what’s not acceptable and give them a way to discuss things with you later if something ever happens.
#2 – Teach Them to Say ‘No!’ – At any age, make sure your child understands that they always have the right to say ‘no’ if somebody is making them feel uncomfortable. Make sure your children understand that nobody has the right to touch them or make them feel uncomfortable.
#3 – Give Examples – Make sure your kids understand that there are people in their lives who might act like friends but actually mean to harm them. Emphasize that even teachers, police officers, family members, coaches, clergy and friends aren’t allowed to touch them and have no right to make them feel uncomfortable.
#4 – Don’t Stop Talking – ‘The sex talk’ shouldn’t be a one-time conversation. Preventing abuse means keeping an open-line of conversation with your child, being involved in their lives, and using everyday situations to reiterate the risks of abuse and the importance of keeping boundaries.
Recognizing the Signs of Abuse
Kids are no match for a seasoned predator. It’s up to the adults to pay attention to what’s going on. The most critical thing of all is to have a great relationship with your kids. The more trust there is between you and your kids, the more likely they’ll talk to you about what’s happening in their lives, and especially if something bad happens to them.
Make sure you have access to all your kids’ online accounts, including their usernames and passwords. Every once in awhile, log on to their accounts and look around at what’s happening in those accounts.
In general, keep a close eye on all the adults in your children’s lives. No adult should have electronic contact of any kind with your kids without you being copied. This vigilance must extend into your kids’ brick and mortar interactions with adults. Why? Because the people doing inappropriate things in real life will often also be the ones trying to contact your kids online.
Watch out for any adults who want to spend personal time with your kids, who say inappropriate things, make sexual jokes, are more touchy-feely than they should be or try to give gifts to your kids.
Watch for any signs in your kids that they might be victims of abuse. Here are signs to pay attention to that might mean something is going on:
- Sudden change in behavior that includes acting out sexually, whether through dolls or compulsive masturbation.
- Regression to previous behaviors you thought they had outgrown, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking.
- Other sudden changes in behavior, such as depression or acting out in anger, disruptive changes in sleep patterns or nightmares, even sudden fear of particular places or people.
- Drastic behaviors, such as trying to hurt themselves, which can often be a cry for help.
These are all signs that might be present for reasons other than sexual abuse, but they’re consistent with victims of sexual abuse as well. Be aware of them because if your kids are being abused, they may not talk about it, even when asked.
Predators groom their victims so that children trust them. The attention, both emotional and physical, can feel good. But they also may feel like something’s wrong about it, or that they’ve done something wrong. They may feel very confused or even scared if they’ve been threatened.
Keeping your kids safe from online sexual predators is based on vigilance not only in the virtual world of the Internet and electronic communications, but also in the real world, because the two often overlap. Develop close, trusting relationships with your kids, and don’t be afraid to be a little nosy when it comes to their online lives.
About Jeff Herman
Jeff Herman is noted for exposing the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Miami and in dioceses around the country. In 2011, he won a landmark $100 million verdict on behalf of a client who was sexually abused by a priest. Recently, Herman made national headlines for representing multiple men in sexual abuse lawsuits against former Elmo puppeteer, Kevin Clash. Herman’s Boca Raton based law firm, Herman Law, is dedicated exclusively to representing victims of sexual abuse in civil lawsuits nationwide.
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