Need To Know


This is no myth: Being a parent is hard.

We live in a world of 24-hour news channels and the Internet, both chock-full of scary stories about children, violence, sexual abuse and scandal. No wonder we're wracked with fear.

We want our children to play outside, get dirty, and build forts. At the same time, we ache to lock them away in a safe room where everything is covered in bubble wrap and all of the food is organic.

But by educating and empowering yourself and your children, you can give kids a "virtual bubble wrap" that will aid them in making good decisions and make them "hard targets" for predators. It's not rocket science—it's just brave common sense.

The best place to start is by dispelling some of the myths that child sex predators want to you to believe. Your child's biggest defense is knowledge.

Myth #1: Knowing about "stranger danger" will save my child.

Teaching stranger danger is important, but strangers account for less than than one-tenth of child sexual abuse. The other 90 percent of child sexual abusers are people that a child already knows and loves. That's why experts encourage parents to start early: teach your children good communication skills, strong body boundaries, and the importance of reporting crimes and suspicious behavior.

Myth #2: Women don't abuse kids.

Yes, women do sexually abuse kids. While women are far less likely to abuse than men, law enforcement has stepped up and is prosecuting more women who target children. As a result, more female predators are spending time behind bars.

Myth #3: Children can't sexually abuse other kids.

The recent Josh Duggar scandal has opened the public's eyes to the harm that predatory children can cause. Bullying experts are also educating parents about how bullying can escalate into child-on-child sexual abuse. The best way to help your children is to ensure that your school follows strong anti-bullying policies and that you talk to your children openly about the problem.

Myth #4: It's okay to make young children hug and kids adults, even if they don't really like it.

When we force a toddler to hug or kiss someone when he does not want to (even if it's Grandma), we are telling the child that he is not in control over who touches his body. We are also telling the child that he should not say no an adult who may want to touch him in sexual ways.

Don't worry about hurting Grandma's feelings. Instead, teach your young children to shake hands, make eye contact, and say hello. That way, they learn respect—not only for Grandma, but also for their own bodies. And if you're honest with Grandma, she'll understand.

Myth #5: It's embarrassing to hear children say words like "vagina." It's fine if they don't learn the real names of their genitalia until they are older.

Yes, it can be embarrassing to hear words like "penis" and "vagina" from a child. But children believe that only silly things are called by silly names. By using the proper names for body parts, you are telling your child that their genitals are important, should be respected, and are not silly or shameful.

Proper name usage will also discourage predators who want to blur sexual boundaries by minimizing the important of a child's genitals.

And if—heaven forbid—something does happen to your child, he or she will be able to properly explain what happened by using correct language that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to punish predators.

Myth #6: Children lie about abuse to get attention.

If a child comes to you to report seen, experienced, or suspected abuse, immediately call 911 or your local social services hotline. It's not your job to investigate abuse or establish the credibility of victims or witnesses.

It's very hard for a child to come forward. Don't make it worse by doubting him or her.

Myth #7: I checked the sex abuse registry, so my kid is safe.

According to Darkness to Light, less than one-tenth of victims ever report their abuse to the police. Even if a child sex predator is prosecuted, there is no guarantee that the predator will show up on your local registry. Check out the registry, but take the next step and empower yourself and your children against all predators.

Myth #8: I don't need to monitor my child's phone/tablet/computer/Xbox. I trust him/her.

Monitoring your child's Internet-enabled devices is not a matter of trust. It's a matter of safety. Predators are cunning and use all kinds of manipulation to earn entrance into your child's world. Keeping an eye on texts, chats, photos, email, and social media is the best way to make sure that a predator is not targeting your child. It's also a great way for you to make sure that your child is not a target or aggressor in cyber-bullying.

Myth #9: Children don't need to know about sexual abuse.

Victims of child sexual abuse will usually disclose their abuse to their closest friends: other children. You do not need to go into explicit detail with your child about sex or abuse. But you do need to tell your children that if a friend comes to them and talks about abuse, they should come to you—the parent—immediately.

Myth #10: The justice system will be more traumatizing to my child than the actual abuse.

Law enforcement wants two things: to put predators behind bars and to protect young victims of abuse. That's why there are special programs across the country where police, prosecutors, and social workers come together to create safe, child-friendly victim interview procedures. The interviews, which are recorded so that the child is only interviewed once, are conducted by specially trained forensic specialists who understand children and who create a natural environment where children can speak safely.

Social workers also closely engage with the victim and non-offending family members to make sure that the victim and the entire family gets therapy, services, and continuing care.

Joelle Casteix is a former journalist, educator, and public relations professional that has taken her own experience as a victim of child sex crimes and devoted her career to exposing abuse, advocating on behalf of survivors, and spreading abuse prevention strategies for parents and communities. She is a regular speaker for the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma and The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Her blog,The Worthy Adversary, is one of the leading sources for information and commentary on child sexual abuse prevention and exposure. She is the author of "The Well-Armored Child: A Parents Guile to Preventing Sexual Abuse."



Traditional Sexual Abuse Victim Reactions

Fear of not being believed
Fear of threats by one or both parents
Fear of rejection by the family or being blames
"It was my fault"

National statistics tells us that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18! Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know and may not report the abuse for fear of being blamed or not believed. A child advocacy center is a safe and comforting place for these children to come for interviews and assistance by specially trained investigative professionals.This child-focused approach is widely recognized as the best and most effective way of handling child abuse investigations.

Myth* #1: Child sexual abuse occurs only among strangers. If children stay away from strangers, they will not be sexually abused.                                
Fact* National statistics indicate that in approximately 88 percent of the cases, the offender is known to the victim. He/she is usually a relative, family member, family friend, baby-sitter or older friend of the child. 

Myth* #2: Children provoke sexual abuse by their seductive behavior.
Fact* Seductive behavior is not the cause. Responsibility for the act lies with the offender. Sexual abuse sexually exploits a child not developmentally capable of understanding or resisting and/or who may be psychologically or socially dependent on the offender.

Myth* #3: The majority of child sexual abuse victims tell someone about the abuse.
Fact* According to a study by Dr. David Finkelhor, close to 2/3 of all child victims may not tell their parents or anyone else because they fear being blamed, punished or not believed.

Myth* #4: Men and women sexually abuse children equally.
Fact* Men are offenders 94 percent of the time in cases of child sexual abuse. Men sexually abuse both male and female children. Seventy-five percent of male offenders are married or have consenting sexual relationships. Only about 4 percent of same-sex abuse involves homosexual perpetrators; 96 percent of the perpetrators are heterosexual.

Myth* #5: If the children did not want it, they could say, "Stop!"
Fact* Children generally do not question the behavior of adults, having been taught to obey them. They are coerced by bribes, threats and use of a position of authority.

Myth* #6: All sexual abuse victims are girls.
Fact* Studies on child sexual abuse indicate one in three females under the age of 18 and one in four males under the age of 18 are child sexual abuse victims.

Myth* #7: Family sexual abuse is an isolated, one-time incident.
Fact* Studies indicate that most child sexual abuse continues for at least two years before it is reported. And in most cases, it doesn't stop until it's reported.

Myth* #8: In family sexual abuse, the "non-offending" parent always knows.
Fact* While some "non-offending" parents know and even support the offender's actions, many, because of their lack of awareness, may suspect something is wrong, but are 
unclear as to what it is or what to do.

Myth* #9: Family sexual abuse only happens in low-income families.
Fact* Family sexual abuse crosses all classes of society. There is no race, social, or economic class that is immune to family sexual abuse. Incest is estimated to occur in 14 percent of all families. Up to 25 percent of American children are incest victims.

Myth* #10: Non-violent sexual behavior between a child and adult is not damaging to the child.
Fact* Nearly all victims will experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger, and a poor self-image. Child sexual abuse can result in long-term relationship problems and be perpetuated from generation to generation. Dr. Nicholas Groth, who has worked extensively with sexual offenders, reports that 60 percent of convicted sexual offenders have reported histories of child sexual abuse victimization.

*Information provided by Red Flag Green Flag Resources, Rape and Crisis Abuse Center of Fargo/Moorhead.