Coordinated Community Response Column

Research tells us that one in five children will be sexually abused. The offenders will be someone close to them, a relative, family friend or one of the many professionals or volunteer staff who come in contact with our children every day. Someone we won’t suspect and our children might love or admire.

Experts say that sex offenders work just as hard to deceive adults as they do to seduce and silence their victims. Their tactics work so well that fewer than five percent are reported and successfully prosecuted. As adults, we must do better. Child safety is our responsibility, not a burden for children to shoulder by themselves. We need to prepare children, talk to them about sexual abuse and offender behavior. If we don’t educate them, the child molester will.

By taking the time to learn about sex offenders and effective prevention strategies, you will be joining a growing number of adults who are becoming better educated about child molestation and the ways in which we can stop this crime.

Sexual abuse begins with a relationship. Offenders gain the child’s trust and friendship. As the relationship grows, they test the child’s ability to protect themselves and push limits. They wrestle, “accidentally walk in” while children are using the restroom or “accidentally touch” children while “playing.” They talk to children about sex or purposefully expose children to adult sexual behavior or pornography. If the offender is sneaky enough, or “slow and gentle” most children don’t feel uncomfortable.

Offenders are clever. They make children think, “it’s okay,” “just a game,” or something they “will like.” They make it “feel good” because they know that if they cause pain or fear, children will more likely tell. Most don’t. Children get tricked into thinking they “went along with it” or “caused it.”

Simply put, children are no match for offenders, particularly if the offender is older, more manipulative or able to control the situation. If parents haven’t talked to them some children don’t know that what’s happening is “wrong” and the more it happens, the harder it is to tell. Offenders tell children we “won’t believe them,” will be “angry at them,” or “hurt” by the disclosure. They are convincing and children believe them. Even if children want to tell, most understand what could happen and few want to see their friend or relative “get in trouble.” Because of these reasons, fewer than 10 percent of child victims report. Worse still, 52 percent of child molesters surveyed reported that when children did tell, they were able to “talk the adults out of calling the police.” After that, most continue to offend.

There is no substitute for an adult taking an active role in the safety of their child. As parents, we make sure our children wear seatbelts, walk them across busy streets, and make sure they wear a bike helmet. Why then, would we leave child abuse prevention up to children?

The overwhelming majority of child victims are abused by someone they know and trust, someone their parents would never suspect. No one can protect your child better than you. Educate yourself, your family and your community. Don’t let a child molester do it for you!

Here are some resources where you can get help:

• To report suspected child abuse call your local police or Door County Human Services at 920.746.7300.

• For advocacy and support services call the Door County Sexual Assault Center at 920.746.8996.

• For more information about child sexual abuse and offenders read There is No Sex Fairy – The Ten Commandments of Raising Sexually Respectful Children by Jan Hindman; A Very Touching Book by Jan Hindman; and Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders; Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Our Children by Anna Salter.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.