PROTECTING YOUR CHILD FROM SEXUAL ABUSE
I hate for people to live in bondage of any kind, especially to be held hostage by fear. If you’re a parent of an elementary school child and you watch the TV news, you’re probably needing some relief from the fear that somebody will abuse your child sexually.
I noticed unusual courage, wisdom, and resolve in one parent interviewed recently on TV about child sexual abuse. I remember her words about her own children: “All I can do is tell them what you do, and what you don’t do. We’re ready now to avoid trouble the best we can, and to deal together with whatever happens.” Younger children should not generally be left unattended, but to give both of you that confidence and determination, here’s what you might want to tell an average second- or third-grader or older elementary school child.
“What You Don’t Do”:
1. Don’t talk to strangers (adults you don’t know). It might be OK if you’ve seen them around a lot at church or school or scouts or something, or if you’ve seen them talking a lot with your parents or teacher or scout leader. But be sure to ask your parents about this rule before you go somewhere for the first time without them.
- Don’t talk much with older children you don’t know either. If they are three or more years older, or if they scare you in any way, use the same rules as in 1.
- Even with your friends or relatives, don’t talk about your private parts, or theirs, or anybody else’s. Your private parts are the parts of your body that your bathing suit covers. They are very special and beautiful, and should only be seen or touched by your husband or wife someday. God gave us these special body parts to make a husband and wife enjoy and love each other more. It helps them be a team, a partnership. If we let others touch these parts of ours first, it bonds us to them – we will have a very hard time getting them out of our hearts and minds afterwards.
- Don’t show your private parts to anyone, unless your parents say it’s OK, like with doctors and nurses, or if your coaches in middle school say it’s OK, like taking showers with the rest of the football team, or changing clothes or showering in the boys or girls locker room after gym class.
- Don’t let anybody touch your private parts either, even with your clothes still on. Some people have a reason to, like doctors or nurses if something needs to be looked at, but your parents should be there when it happens. After you’re old enough (like about now, age 8), you should bathe yourself without help from your parents, grandparents, relatives, or your parents’ friends you might be spending the night with.
- Don’t look at pictures or movies that show people’s private parts. These pictures or movies are bad for anyone to see, or else they are just for married people to see.
- Don’t believe that looking at or touching private parts can be “just for fun.” To anybody outside this house, your private parts will seem nasty, funny, ugly, or sexy. Why? Because they don’t understand what private parts are for. They haven’t been taught. If they did know, they wouldn’t be talking about them with you, or wanting either of you to see or touch each other’s private parts. These people think that private parts are just for fun, or for making fun of, because they don’t really know how important or beautiful these parts of your body are. They have probably never seen a good husband and wife team, so they are looking for something much less beautiful and valuable.
“What you do do”, (and this is the most important rule of all): When somebody asks you or makes you break one of these rules, DO TELL Mom, Dad, your teachers, whoever is in charge that makes you feel safe. If something happens with an older person involving your private parts or theirs, it’s never your fault. Even if they threaten to hurt you for telling, it’s especially important to tell somebody. They know it’s wrong what they are doing, or else they wouldn’t threaten you to keep you quiet. But if you don’t tell somebody, you will feel it is your fault, and the older person will go on doing this to hurt you and other people. Only when you tell can we put a stop to it, and that’s the only way we can make sure that others are safe, that the older person gets help and is kept away from you, and that you are safe and feel OK about yourself, just like you did before this happened.
What to say to children for their protection: When young people have been exposed to sexual behavior, some things need to be explained to them. Depending on the child’s age or situation, they may need to hear something like this, slowly, pausing after each sentence to let them digest it and ask questions: “Sexual events leave us with strong feelings that stay with us for a long time. When they are exposed to sex, children often feel fear, shame, confusion, or sexual desire. If you have sexual feelings or memories you can’t get out of your mind, you will talk them out with with young people, who don’t understand them either. You may find that you keep doing sexual things that keep bringing your sexual memories and feelings back. This is called acting out your feelings, and it will keep happening until you talk your feelings out with a safe adult. A safe adult is someone who can help you understand and accept yourself and all the other people involved. Then your sexual thoughts won’t be upsetting and confusing to you anymore. Until this happens, you will find yourself wanting to act out or talk out your feelings with young friends and relatives. This will confuse and upset them. Soon they will probably tell an adult about it. To protect young people like you and them, adults will either know how to make you safe, or they will find out how. Only then will you be able to learn how to make good love someday to the person you are going to marry. . . . Now since I know you’ve been talking and acting out your sexual feelings with young people or with yourself, who would you like to talk these things out with? Me, ______, your teacher, your grandmother, or who?”
Finally, if you are a parent who suspects someone else in your family may have abused your children sexually, or in any other way, my next post will be for them: “Straight Talk to the Abusive Parent.” Make sure you or someone better suited than you (like a professional) can discuss both these posts with the relative you need to be able to trust with your children.
STRAIGHT TALK TO THE ABUSIVE PARENT
In response to last week’s post on child sexual abuse, some may wonder why an adult would ever abuse a child. The insights below will speak to adults that may be slipping into more and more abusive behavior toward children without knowing why they do this, or how to quit.
Let’s look at how child abusers think. Here are some mistaken beliefs we commonly find in abusive parents, plus the ideas that will counteract these mistakes. Let’s start with physical and verbal abuse, the use of harsh, intimidating, and physically damaging punishment to control children.
- “They need it—they’ll thank me for it when they grow up.” No, they need mild punishment, coupled with lots of praise, affection, and encouragement. Punishment without reward, discipline without love, breed an insecure and rebellious child.
- “It helped me. No telling how much trouble I’d have gotten into if my parents hadn’t beaten and yelled at me.” Fear of a beating is not the only or the best motivation to avoid doing wrong. Give yourself some credit. There’s also no telling how much more good you could have done if your parents had been less intimidating and more supportive.
- “It’s my responsibility to control my child’s behavior.” No, it’s the child’s responsibility. No one else can do it. Your responsibility is to teach right and wrong, with words, setting a good example, and responding fairly to your child with praise and punishment.
- “If they don’t love me, at least they’ll respect me.” Fear is not respect. They can’t respect you if they don’t love and admire you. Losing control of your temper without apology or corrective action kills both their love and their admiration.
- “It’s my way of showing love—I feel so tender and warm afterwards.” How would you feel if your husband or wife had to chain you to the bed and whip you real good before he or she could warm up to making love to you? What kind of love is that?
This brings up the matter covered in my previous post, sexual abuse. In addition to #5 above, here are some of the beliefs which contribute to this awful habit.
- “I can’t help myself.” Maybe you don’t know how, but you can learn with professional help. Both civil and moral law say you can and should know how to control yourself.
- “They won’t remember.” Just because you can almost forget things like this yourself (probably with the help of drugs and alcohol) doesn’t mean a child can. Children don’t know how to separate themselves from their bodies the way some adults try to do. What happens to their bodies happens to them. Besides mental memories, we also have “body memories”: our abused body parts just don’t respond right when they are later touched in love by a lover or spouse, even if we can’t remember why.
- “My children want it, or need it.” A small part of their nature may want it, but they certainly don’t need it. Would you give them meth or crack cocaine if they wanted it? If so, you may well have a multiple addiction, both to sex and drugs.
- “My child seduces me. I’m not to blame.” A parent is like any other authority figure—a teacher, policeman, pastor, doctor, lawyer, counselor, or other professional. We have great power over those who look up to us, and trust us to protect them, help them, and teach them how to live. We have special responsibility that goes with our position. In all such cases, the law correctly says the sex is harmful, and the older or professional person is totally responsible for letting it happen.
- “It makes us closer. It’s beautiful.” Even if the first part is true (and it usually isn’t), the second part is never true. In fact, the closer it brings you, the more ugly it becomes. The memories become rooted more and more deeply into the self-concept, and both parent and child are less able to give themselves later to a marriage partner. You are stealing something very precious from not only your spouse and your children, but also from the people they will someday marry: the feeling and assurance that they are safe, beautiful, and alone together without distraction or guilt.
- “It’ll keep my children out of trouble. If they don’t do it with me, they’ll do it with someone who doesn’t really love them.” Even if that’s true, no sexual experience, not even rape, is as harmful to a person’s mental health as parental incest. And that is a well proven FACT.
- “It’ll keep me out of trouble.” Sexually abusive parents usually have very poor sexual relationship in marriage, so they rationalize that child abuse is better than adultery. Wrong—it’s the very worst form of adultery.
So finally, here are some false beliefs that lead abusive parents to avoid getting help for their problem:
- “I can control myself through will power alone. Families should keep all their problems secret, and solve them without outside help.” Oh really, how is that working for you? Have you ever tried any other way, like with counseling, religion, or working a 12-step program?
- “The more I think about it, the more I will want to do it.” If thinking about it leads to acting it out, you haven’t learned the right way to think about it yet. And you can’t learn a new way to deal with it by keeping it out of your mind.
- “Treatment will only make me more ashamed. I couldn’t endure the shame of having people know.” Not all therapists are head-shrinkers. Some of us believe we are the servants, the employees of those we work for, and we teach you how to be in control. Sure, some people will criticize and reject you, but some others will become dear friends.
- “They’ll put me in jail for it, and my family can’t afford that.” As I’ve written here and elsewhere, if you’re a sex addict, you’re going to bankrupt your family anyway if you don’t get help. The child abusers who refuse treatment and wait until they get reported or arrested are much more likely to get sent to prison than those who turn themselves in, and do what they’re told by 12-step sponsors and counselors who are specifically trained to treat this problem.
Remember it’s never too late to apologize to your children—that’s the least you can do to make it up to them. Getting help and doing everything you’re told to do is the most you can do.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at firstname.lastname@example.org, 502 633 2860.