I tend to be very passionate about protecting our children, and this is something every person should be aware of, as it really does affect all of us, parents or not.
It is important to educate yourself and your children on the matter of sexual predators. It is also important to know that very few convicted sex offenders are registered. The sex offender registry was created through Meghan's Law, which just requires all states to have a registry. However, each state was left on its own with regard to how to implement it. It also comes down to the judge in each case to decide how dangerous a person is, and if they should be required to register as a sex offender or not.
One in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused at some point in their life. Sadly, it is thought that only one in seventeen sex offenders ever do time in prison. Many of them operate for 10 - 20 years before they are ever caught. Some are never caught at all.
So it's always a good idea to know who sex offenders are, but don't stop there.
"Don't talk to strangers" just isn't enough anymore. Teaching them about "good touch versus bad touch" from a very young age is essential. Watch out for mixed messages. Telling them never to let anyone touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, and then telling them not to be rude and "go give Grandma a hug" is confusing to them. Think about what you are really saying to a child. Try to look at it from their point of view.
In most cases the danger isn't from some stranger on the street but from close friends and family, people in a position of trust. In many cases it is a close family member. In my case it was neighbors, babysitters, and friends of the family. Not one of the people who molested me was a stranger. In fact, when it happened to me again as an adult it was someone I had known most of my life, and had no reason not to trust until it was too late. So watch the way your child reacts to certain people, that could be your only clue.
It's also important to teach them about the fine line between respecting adults and protecting themselves. They need to have the power within them to say no when they feel uncomfortable with something. Listen carefully to the messages you are sending to your children, and make sure they aren't mixed. We were taught to respect our elders, but nobody deserves blind respect just because of their age, their job, or their position in the community. By all means teach them to be polite, but also encourage them to speak up when they feel they are being mistreated.
This isn't a lesson that should be taught once or twice, but often.
Predators Know What They are Doing
Parents Should Too
Sex offenders are quite often professionals; they have spent many years honing their skills on victims. They are willing to spend long periods of time grooming a victim, sometimes years. They seek out kids who are lacking in parental supervision and self-esteem. They find kids who are craving attention and they fill that need. They find kids who have no personal boundaries. Those of you who knew me as a young child and remember how passive and hungry for attention I was, remember that. I was the perfect victim. If I can't serve as a positive example, let me serve as a negative. I was everything a predator was looking for.
Watch for those signs in your children and work on them. Take them to a counselor buy books on building that child's self-esteem. Take classes together. The last thing you want to raise your child to be is a perfect victim. The problem is we don't always realize it because as parents we are looking for the same things as sex offenders are: a child who always does what they are told, never argues, and never speaks their mind. We want our kids to be good little boys and girls, but we don't want them to be too good.
Teaching Your Children About Sex
Adults and Consent
Talking to your kids about sex is essential as well. Watch what messages you send them. If they think sex is dirty then they will think they are dirty if someone touches them inappropriately. If they think sex is bad, they will think they are bad. I am most comfortable in talking with my kids in terms of sex being a gift shared between two consenting adults. I try not to portray it as dirty or bad, but I do try to help them understand that it is meant for two adults, never for an adult and a child.
I also focus on the "consensual" part, because anytime sex happens without your full consent it is wrong, no matter what.
It is a very sensitive subject, but you can find whatever makes you comfortable. Just be cautious about sending messages that sex is dirty or bad. I was not able to tell my family about the sexual abuse in my past for a good many reasons, and the biggest was that I was ashamed. Those who know my family know that they would have (and have since) loved me and supported me wholeheartedly, but they were also very uncomfortable with the subject and they held a very traditional view that sex was not to be talked about. So I kept my shame to myself for many years.
When a child is molested, there is a good chance that they are going to feel like they have done something wrong and they are deeply afraid of getting in trouble. Kids tend to see the world as an extension of themselves, and that means they are somehow responsible for everything that happens in their life, good or bad. Can you imagine the pain of blaming yourself for something like that? How could you go to your parents, especially if you love them and don't want them to be disappointed in you?
Creepy Old Men and Other Myths
Do you think you can spot a pedophile? You might be surprised. See how well you do on this test.
How to spot a pedophile
Remember Debra Lafave? The 23 year-old former middle school teacher from Temple Terrace, Florida who plead guilty to statutory rape charges in 2005 after having sex with a 14-year-old student?
Most of us would have easily trusted our children with her, but pedophiles don't all come wrapped up in neat and tidy packages. So how do you spot them?
Watch for warning signs. Offenders are very rarely the creepy old men we want them to be. They are quite often younger and decent looking, sometimes they aren't much older than your children are. A child can molest another child just as easily as an adult can. Sometimes they are females. They are often people we naturally trust with our children.
Watch for someone who seeks out opportunities to be alone with children, such as inviting them over to their house alone, or someone who lavishes attention on them, and gives them inappropriate gifts or even money. Watch how your child reacts to them, and talk to your kids about it.
If they don't like an adult, find out why.
Keeping The Lines of Communication Open
You also need to make sure that you have a close relationship with your children, close enough that they feel comfortable in telling you things that might upset you. If you react strongly to other things, the child is going to be terrified of telling you something so serious. You need to maintain your position as an adult and be the one in control, but you also need to remember that how you react to bad grades or spilled milk can determine how comfortable your child is in sharing more serious concerns with you.
If your child does tell you something has happened, don't overreact; they may think it is because they have done something wrong. Believe them. Make sure that they understand that they have done nothing wrong, and above all support them!
If you believe that something serious has happened, get enough information to be certain and call the authorities. You need someone who is trained to investigate the case without jeopardizing it. While you mean well, your reaction could keep a sex offender out of jail, so leave the investigation to the authorities. Don't assume something serious didn't happen, let the authorities sort that out. If you aren't positive enough to call the police, put the child in counseling right away and let the therapist decide. Don't assume it is "no big deal," your child needs you to support them and that also means not sweeping it under the rug.
In that regard, don't just trust one authority to handle it. Call the police, social services, and a counselor. Create a system of checks and balances, and don't just wait to hear from them. To you it may seem like the world stopped turning, to them it's just another case. They deal with so many of them, and so many of them are hard to prove that they do have to prioritize. The word they used with me was "triage." It does get frustrating, but they have a job to do, and sometimes part of that job is dropping a case when it isn't going anywhere. It hurts like crazy, but your job is always to do what is best for your child. Sometimes those two jobs collide.
The hardest thing I have had to learn is that you can't wait for justice. It may never come, and you may have to watch the person who abused you or your child walk away. They might not even get a slap on the hand. Prepare yourself for that, because chances are he or she is not going to be that one in seventeen. You can't wait until that magic day of justice arrives to heal.
Start working on healing right away, and understand that it is going to take awhile. It is going to take some longer than others. Your child might bounce right back, and they might still be in therapy when they are adults. Don't push them. Let them deal with it at their own pace, and just support them. Don't forget that a child being molested affects the entire family, and sometimes extends to the community. If you are having trouble dealing with it, get help. You really can't do it all on your own.
The Longterm Effects of Abuse
I didn't grow up knowing I was a victim. I just always had this feeling of being tainted, of not belonging to the world around me. I still do. I always felt like I had this invisible tattoo on my forehead, and only the bad people could see it. Predators seemed to seek me out.
I thought it would go away when I grew up, and I was shocked to find out it didn't. Being a grown-up is no less scary than being a child; sometimes it's even more frightening because you can't blame it on monsters under the bed or things unseen anymore. There are real monsters in this world and they are hiding inside of normal everyday people.
Everyone deals with it differently, and I was no exception. I stuffed it down inside and kept saying it didn't bother me. I was a good little doormat for many years. I encouraged people to walk all over me, and it never occurred to me to mind.
Then, I was victimized again, and I tried to stuff that down too. The problem is the predator didn't stop. They pushed, and pushed, and pushed until I was too terrified to leave my house. Had they just hurt me and ran like everyone else I would have been fine, but they finally pushed me beyond scared and right into pissed. Very pissed.
That's when it all boiled over, years of abuse just exploded out of me. For the first time in my life I was actually angry and that scared the hell out of me. I had all of these emotions and I didn't know what to do with any of them. I finally stopped trying to be tough, and got help.
I'm still learning to stand up for myself. Sometimes it's successful, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes I make a terrible mess of things, but sometimes I do something right and that strength begins to build. It's a long, hard road, and I still don't like to leave my house. I'm getting better a little at a time, and I'm stubborn! So that helps.
A person who is a victim as a child grows up to be a victim as an adult. They draw users and abusers to themselves without even realizing it. They have developed the perfect personality traits to be taken advantage of. Like all of our actions, even being a victim has consequences.
My diagnosis is PTSD from spending too many years looking over my shoulder. I thought only war veterans got shell shocked, but apparently there are many different forms of war. The shaking and the walking, that's fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that may or may not be linked to PTSD depending on the study. I'm not a doctor, but I'm voting for the connection.
The always being tired, that's chronic fatigue. Usually people only show one or the other, but I somehow developed both. The depression and not wanting to leave my house are certainly related, but they are the lesser demons. I never expected to be disabled at 35, and I still refuse to apply for disability. I've even refused to get a handicapped parking permit. I'm not going to give up that easily.
Don't Stop There
So, now you know why I am passionate about protecting victims and educating parents. I am a good example of what happens when it is allowed to continue into adulthood. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your kids about things like sexual abuse and victimization, just imagine trying to help them heal after the damage is already done.
Nobody told me the consequences of longterm stress until it was too late. So please, if you are are having a hard time dealing with something, get help. Don't be stubborn and ignore it until it is too late. It's just not worth it. If your child is victimized, get them the help they need as soon as possible.
By all means go check out the sex offender website and educate yourself, just don't stop there. Teach your child how to be a horrible victim, teach them to stand up for themselves and speak their mind. Let them know that you will always be there for them, and no matter how hopeless they think things are, you will always love them. Talk to them, and listen to what they are saying.
One in four girls and one in seven boys is a very scary thing to think about. The consequences of abuse can last a lifetime. The last thing I want is for someone else to end up like me.
I would do anything to protect a child's future whether that be my child or the child of my worst enemy. When I look into the eyes of a child, I see my future, the future of this planet. People often parent under the assumption that we are raising kids. We are not raising kids, we have eighteen years to raise an adult that is expected to inhabit this earth for another sixty years or so. That's a pretty big responsibility when you think about it that way.
Protecting them and their future really is a huge responsibility. It is very important to protect our children and ourselves. It's something that as a parent we would rather not think about. So sometimes it helps to have someone remind us how important it really is.