Holiday season is when families and friends gather to celebrate. Sadly, it’s also a time of year that presents sexual predators with opportunities to prey on child victims.
While many may think we only need to worry about strangers harming our kids, we should all keep in mind that the true danger lies in our own circles of trust. Here are some sobering facts all parents should know about sexual predators:
- Ninety percent of sexually abused children know, love or trust their molesters
- Nearly sixty percent of sexual predators who harm children are known by the victims’ families
- Approximately thirty percent of children who are sexually abused are molested by a member of their family (for example, a parent, stepparent, grandparent, sibling, cousin, aunt, or uncle)
In a 2015 seminar about sexual offenders, researcher and therapist Cory Jewell Jensen shared how many predators will groom children in the presence of others to enhance the “thrill” of getting away with it. He also cited these facts about incest predators:
- They sexually abuse their own children and can also abuse other relatives and neighbors.
- They can be sexually attracted to children or offend because they are seeking intimate contact. with another person regardless of relationship, age or vulnerability.
- Some don’t understand and others don’t care that they are hurting their victims.
- Most have multiple victims both inside and outside of their immediate families.
- Some abuse both boys and girls in various age groups.
- Most appear normal and demonstrate no noticeable pathology.
- Few have criminal records.
- Most report that they were repeatedly able to talk family and friends out of reporting them and continued to offend.
- Many are likely to reoffend without treatment.
Because the holiday season can open the door for sexual predation, it’s important to review four key holiday safety tips with kids:
- You don’t have to hug cousin Sidney or sit on Uncle Bill’s lap.
Before heading over the river and through the woods to grandma’s, or simply inviting friends over for the holidays, reinforce with kids that they don’t have to give hugs or kisses to anyone they don’t want to and that you, the parent, will have their back should they choose not to. If a relative or friend gets upset, be your kid’s hero: Intervene and say, “We are teaching Johnny personal boundaries right now, but I would love a hug.” Then you go hug that relative or friend.
It’s also completely acceptable for a child to decline an invitation to sit on someone’s lap. Forcing children to hug, kiss, or come into physical contact with others flies in the face of body safety rules all parents should be reinforcing with their kids. Instead, offer children the option of giving high-fives or handshakes when they greet people.
- Never force a child to sit on Santa’s lap.
Even though these holiday photo opportunities can be adorable, forcing a child to sit and pose on Santa’s lap aligns with the concept outlined in the previous point. It flies in the face of all the safety rules we need to reinforce with kids.
- Review basic body safety rules before holiday gatherings.
Identify rooms or areas where you’ll allow your kids to play with cousins or friends
Remind kids to respect each other’s physical boundaries—no hitting, be nice to one another, etc.
Reinforce personal privacy—close the door when you use the bathroom and no bathroom parties
If you haven’t yet talked with your child about basic body safety, you can find out four easy ways to begin the conversation by going here.
- Check-in periodically.
Holiday gatherings can be a bit crazy, so periodically check in with kids, be it personally or via text. Remind children of your family’s emergency code and reiterate that they can use if they ever feel in danger or want to leave a situation. If you don’t have a code, now is a good time to pick one.
Talk with your kids about a password or phrase they can use to alert you (on the sly) that there is trouble. You can pick something benign like “I’m in the mood for peppermint ice cream” or something silly like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
This season with family and friends should be enjoyable, and having basic safety conversations with kids in comfortable, relaxed settings will help set the stage for a happy holiday.
- Darkness to Light: http://www.d2l.org/atf/cf/%7B64AF78C4-5EB8-45AA-BC28-F7EE2B581919%7D/Statistics_2_Perpetrators.pdf
- Corey Jewell Jensen: http://chfs.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/1609E5F9-6686-4E11-B7F7-225E5902A76C/0/WhatEveryAdvocateShouldKnow.pdf
- BeAKidsHero™ —Sexual Predator Grooming: http://www.beakidshero.com/posts/sexual-predator-grooming/
- Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRFHXMQP-QU
BeAKidsHero™ is an initiative to educate parents, teachers and other caring adults around the globe about protecting the children in their lives from abuse and neglect. Founded by Child Advocate and Child Forensic Interviewer Ginger Kadlec, www.beakidshero.com spotlights child protection best practices and tips, as well as features a host of resources and information about issues related to child abuse awareness, prevention and intervention ranging from child sexual abuse facts and prevention to cyberbullying, sextortion and Internet safety. Parents are invited to participate in a free three-part video training series about protecting kids of all ages from sexual abuse. To enroll, visit www.sexualabusepreventionsystem.com.
The BeAKidsHero™ column on CW NEWS is released biweekly on Tuesdays.