The Catholic Diocese of Beaumont is committed to the safety of children and young people, the well-being of the community, and the integrity of the Church’s ministry. We strive to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ and to conform our attitudes and actions to that of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
As ministers and collaborators with our diocesan Bishop, we hold an abiding respect for each human being, and we endeavor to make our parishes, schools, pastoral centers, offices, and all of our ministries safe environments for everyone, especially our children and young people. As a Church family, we also reach out to those who have been victimized in any way by representatives of the Church and offer spiritual and pastoral assistance for their healing and restoration.
Victim Outreach and Assistance
How to report to civil authorities
Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-252-5400
Other states may use 512-834-3784 to report abuse or neglect that has occurred in Texas.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website: www.txabusehotline.org
How to report to diocesan authorities + Report Form (pdf)
En Español (pdf) (under revision)
Assistance Coordinator for victims/survivors abused as minors
VICTIM ASSISTANCE COORDINATOR FOR THOSE SEXUALLY ABUSED AS MINORS BY CHURCH PERSONNEL
The first obligation of our Church with regard to victims of sexual abuse is that of healing and reconciliation.
The Bishop of the Diocese of Beaumont has appointed a qualified person to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of the victim and the victim’s family.
The Victim Assistance Coordinator is:
Becky Richard, M.S., L.P.C.
2780 Eastex Freeway
Beaumont, TX 77703
Becky Richard, M.S., L.P.C., Counselor at Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Texas. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Lamar University in 1975 and a master’s degree in Community Counseling Psychology in 1977. She worked for 13 years at MHMR of Southeast Texas (now Spindeltop MHMR) as a therapist and Director. She also worked at Fannin Pavilion (now Memorial Hermann Baptist) for one year as Director of the Child & Adolescent Unit. She worked in private practice for 10 years. She joined Catholic Charities as a volunteer in 2000 and was hired as a part-time counselor in 2002. She assisted in developing Elijah’s Place, a grief support program of Catholic Charities which provides services for children who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. She continues to volunteer at Elijah’s Place and is a Board member of Spindletop MHMR. She is a Eucharistic Minister and Parish Council member at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Sour Lake, where she is a parishioner.
PROTECTING GOD’S CHILDREN
SEXUAL ABUSE AWARENESS SESSIONS
(Revised July, 2019)
Implementation of Safe Environment Training
Although the Diocese of Beaumont had been providing child sexual abuse awareness training for adults prior to the U.S. Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, it began a more focused and regular program in October, 2003. At that time the Diocese contracted with VIRTUS® for its PROTECTING GOD’S CHILDREN Program for adults.
The PROTECTING GOD’S CHILDREN (PGC) Program educates and trains adults (clergy, religious, teachers, employees, volunteers, and parents) about the dangers of abuse, the warning signs of abuse, the ways to prevent abuse, the methods of properly reporting suspicions of abuse, and responding to allegations of abuse
Phase 1: (Training of Adults)
Oct. 27-28, 2003: A VIRTUS® representative trained a selected group of individuals to be certified facilitators of the PGC Program on the local level. On Oct. 28-29, 2003, the VIRTUS® representative conducted two PGC training sessions for clergy, parish, school, diocesan, and Catholic Charities personnel. During the following year, participants received from VIRTUS® their bi-weekly on-line training bulletins to supplement the PGC seminar.
Beginning Feb. 2004, local certified facilitators began presenting the 3-hour PROTECTING GOD’S CHILDREN training sessions throughout the diocese for employees, catechists, volunteers, parents, teachers, clergy, and other interested adults. Through Nov. 14, 2004, sixty-six (66) adult training sessions had been conducted.
Beginning Oct., 2004, training specifically for parents/guardians and other adults was being provided in the East Texas Catholic and on the diocesan website, both on the Safe Environment pages. These training articles are designed to provide parents/guardians with more specific language and other tools to help them address personal safety with their children and youth.
Phase 3: (Training of children & youth)
Although in the year 2000, the Catholic Elementary Schools‘ Counselor started providing sessions on bullying/teasing and anger management for grades K-8 and sexual harassment sessions for grades 7-8, a more formal sexual abuse awareness & prevention program was implemented in Nov., 2004. To grades 1-3, a “For Pete’s Sake-Tell” lesson/video was presented to teach Okay and not-Okay touches. A “Tricky People” lesson/video was presented to grades 4-6 to teach personal safety and the tricks & lures used against children.
In the Fall of 2005, the parish religious education classes began utilizing the two above-mentioned programs for the same grade levels; however, they were interrupted for many months by Hurricane Rita which struck the Diocese on Sept. 24, 2005. Some parishes were not able to resume classes at all this pastoral year due to damaged facilities.
In the Spring of 2006, our Catholic Schools and most parish religious education classes (grades 7-12), began utilizing the program/video “Breaking the Silence” (produced by the Diocese of Orange, CA). This program helps teens to recognize the grooming techniques used by abusers, inappropriate adult behavior, and the widespread myths about sexual abuse. It also encourages reporting sexual abuse to authorities.
Supplementing the above, the pamphlet “Keeping Kids Safe” was distributed to the parents of Catholic school and parish religious education students for use in follow-up parent discussions with their children.
During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006, 4,689 parish religious education students and 1,397 Catholic School students had received safe environment training.
Beginning School Year 2006-2007:
In the Diocese of Beaumont Catholic schools, the sexual abuse prevention program was modified as follows: Grades 1 & 2: “For Pete’s Sake, Tell”; Grades 3 & 4: “Can’t Fool Me!”; Grades 5 & 6: “Tricky People”; and new for Grades 7 & 8: “Called to Protect-for Youth”. “Called to Protect-for Youth” by Praesidium teaches middle and high-school children about boundaries, how to respond if someone tries to violate their boundaries, and how to tell their parents if they or their friend have been abused. This same new program will also be utilized at Msgr. Kelly Catholic High School.
During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, 5,491 parish religious education students and 1,025 Catholic School students had received safe environment training.
Children & Youth:
Every year in the Fall, age-appropriate safe environment training is provided to students in parish religious education classes and in Catholic schools at designated grade levels as they advance through the grades. The training schedule and programs have been modified slightly. In the Fall of 2011, parishes were provided two new training resources/DVD’s (produced by the Diocese of St. Cloud): “Strong Voices-Smart Choices: How to Honor Your Instinct to Stay Safe” for grades 1-5 and “Personal Power: A Gut Check on Safety” for grades 6-8. In 2018, some of the larger parishes were provided an additional program for use with high school students–“Called to Protect-for Youth”
By the end of June, 2012, 32,925 children and youth have received safe environment training in parish religious education programs and in Catholic schools since Nov., 2004. Their training continues every year according to the diocesan schedule.
Each school year beginning 2014, the Elementary School Counselor conducts sessions with the various grades in our elementary Catholic schools on topics such as: real friends, being responsible, self-respect, emotional aggression/bullying, decision making, being trustworthy, helping others.
To address new areas of concern, Virtus® updated its “Protecting God’s Children Program” for adults to include technology and Internet safety, and this revised PGC program has been presented throughout the Diocese of Beaumont since January, 2010. Additional improvements were made in 2014 and 2019.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2015, recertification is required every 5 years for all adults who have already completed the initial 3-hour “Protecting God’s Children Program for Adults”. By the end of June, 2019, 633 “Protecting God’s Children” in-person training sessions for adults have been conducted throughout the diocese since the program was implemented in Oct., 2003, and 10,503 adults have been trained in those sessions. In addition, 1,778 adults have completed the on-line recertification since 2015.
Who Must Attend the Initial 3-hour “Protecting God’s Children” Training for Adults?
[Note: Because of the nature and purpose of this training, attendees are to be 18 years old or older.]
Attendance at the initial 3-hr. “Protecting God’s Children” (PGC) training program is required for ALL new full-time and part-time employees in parishes, Catholic schools, diocesan offices & programs, and for ALL clergy (priests and deacons with faculties of the diocese or who minister in the diocese), as well as seminarians and candidates for the permanent diaconate. Part-time employees also include substitute teachers in schools, those working with Vacation Bible School, and those working in summer youth programs (e.g. Youth Convention, Youth Camp).
The only ones exempted from this training are part-time employees who work less than 10 hours per week AND have no access to children or youth. The part-time employee has to meet BOTH of these criteria in order to qualify for the exemption.
In general, new volunteers who have regular access to children and youth at least 10 times per year must attend the initial 3-hr. PGC training program. Other volunteers who must attend the training include those conducting Teen ACTS Retreats, chaperones for the Diocesan Youth Convention or Youth Camp, those assisting with Vacation Bible School, and those who volunteer with similar activities that have concentrated access to children or youth or that involve overnight stays.
Any adult may attend, especially if they foresee volunteering in the future in a ministry that will involve access to children and youth. Parents and other adults are welcome and encouraged to attend.
When must new employees and volunteers attend the PGC training?
New employees and volunteers are required to attend the initial 3-hr. PGC training program within 60 days of their employment date or beginning their volunteer service. Those who procrastinate in fulfilling this requirement may not be allowed access to children and youth until they complete the training.
RE-CERTIFICATION: Beginning Oct. 1, 2015, recertification is required every 5 years for all adults who have already completed the initial 3-hour “Protecting God’s Children Program for Adults”. The recertification is an on-line training session with Virtus: “PGC On-line Awareness Session 3.0”. [Go to the diocesan website under the “Safe Environment” tab, then “Recertification” for instructions.] As an alternative, adults may choose to take another 3-hour in-person “Protecting God’s Children” training, if the on-line module is not feasible.
2018-2019 Schedule of Sessions
For anyone age 18 or older who has not already attended
Sessions in English
Sessions in English
Please pre-register for the session at least 5 days in advance of the scheduled date, at the phone number provided.
Sessions last approximately three hours. Thanks.
(Revised July 12, 2019)
|Tue. July 16, 2019||6:00 pm||Catholic Pastoral Center, Assembly Hall, Beaumont||Paul Thomas||Joseph: 409-924-4309|
|Fri. August 2, 2019||1:00 pm||Catholic Pastoral Center, Assembly Hall, Beaumont||Paul Thomas||Joseph: 409-924-4309|
|Fri. August 16, 2019||6:00 pm||St. Mary, Parish Hall, Cleveland||Flavia Avalos||Vanessa: 281-592-2985|
|Mon. August 19, 2019||5:30 pm||St. Michael, Parish Hall, Jasper||Regina Lawrence||Regina: 409-384-1424|
|Tues. August 20, 2019||6:00 pm||Our Lady of the Pines, Woodville||Regina Lawrence||Regina: 409-384-1424|
|Mon. August 26, 2019||6:00 pm||IC-St. Peter, Marino Hall, Groves||Mary Simon||Mary: 409-720-8816|
|Wed. August 28, 2019||6:00 pm||St. Jude, Culotta Hall, Beaumont||Jeanne Fennell||Jeanne: 409-866-9595 x2|
|Mon. September 9, 2019||6:00 pm||Infant Jesus, Religious Education Building, Lumberton||Stacy Keen||Stacy: 409-755-1734 x 114||Mon. September 16, 2019||6:00 pm||St. Francis, Orange||Jackie Spears||Jackie 409-882-4453:|
|Mon. September 30, 209||6:00 pm||St. Mark, Silsbee||Kathy Watson||Kathy: 409-781-7356|
|Tue. October 29, 2019||6:00 pm||Sacred Heart, St. Katharine Drexel Building, Port Arthur||Sheryl Channel||Sheryl: 409-985-5104|
|Mon. January 13, 2020||6:00 pm||St. Francis, Orange||Jackie Spears||Jackie 409-882-4453:|
|Mon. January 13, 2020||6:00 pm||St. Mark, Silsbee||Kathy Watson||Kathy: 409-781-7356|
|Fri. March 6, 2020||6:00 pm||St. Mary, Parish Hall, Cleveland||Flavia Avalos||Vanessa: 281-592-2985|
|Mon. March 23, 2020||5:30 pm||St. Michael, Parish Hall, Jasper||Regina Lawrence||Regina: 409-384-1424|
|Tue. April 28, 2020||6:00 pm||Sacred Heart, St. Katharine Drexel Building, Port Arthur||Sheryl Channel||Sheryl: 409-985-5104|
|Mon. May 18, 2020||6:00 pm||IC-St. Peter, Marino Hall, Groves||Mary Simon||Mary: 409-720-8816|
|Mon. June 8, 2020||6:00 pm||Infant Jesus, Religious Education Building, Lumberton||Stacy Keen||Stacy: 409-755-1734 x 114|
|viernes (Fri), 23 de agosto 2019||6:00 pm||Santa María, Salón Parroquial, Cleveland||Flavia Avalos||Vanessa: 281-592-2985|
|lunes (Mon), 9 de septiembre 2019||6:00 pm||San Francisco, Orange||Jesus Abrego||Jackie: 409-924-4308|
|lunes (Mon), 23 de septiembre 2019||6:00 pm||San Jose, Port Arthur||Jesus Abrego||Jackie: 409-924-4308|
|viernes (Fri), 21 de febrero 2020||6:00 pm||Santa María, Salón Parroquial, Cleveland||Flavia Avalos||Vanessa: 281-592-2985|
TO: All Priests and Deacons, Seminarians and Deacon Candidates, Religious, Lay Employees (full and part-time), and Those Volunteers Who Work with Children & Youth
FROM: Sr. Esther Dunegan, Chancellor, and Paul Thomas, Coord. of Safe Environment Training
DATE: September 22, 2015
SUBJECT: Re-Certification of Safe Environment Training for Adults
When we implemented the VIRTUS “Protecting God’s Children Program” – for Adults (PGC) in our diocese in October, 2003, many clergy, employees, and volunteers throughout the diocese were trained by a VIRTUS representative over a period of three days. Since then, locally trained facilitators have been conducting these 3-hour training sessions in various locations throughout the diocese. [Up to June 30, 2015, we have provided 467 of these sessions, and 8,113 adults have been trained.] During the past 12 years, VIRTUS has updated its 3-hour training program at least two times, and now the program is much improved and also addresses technology and Internet safety.
The goal of protecting our children & youth and keeping them safe is so important that all of us should update our training periodically, after we have first completed the initial 3-hour VIRTUS “Protecting God’s Children Program” – for Adults (PGC). During these past two years we have been collaborating with VIRTUS in their development of an on-line re-certification training, in English and in Spanish, and they have now completed their project.
Effective October 1, 2015, all of us are required to be re-certified every 5 years. Thus, everyone who has already taken the initial 3-hour PGC program for adults prior to July 1, 2011 must be re-certified within the next 4 months (no later than Feb. 1, 2016).
Before you can access the on-line re-certification session, you will first have to set up an individual account. [On the Diocese of Beaumont website (www.dioceseofbmt.org), click on the “Safe Environment” tab and then click on the link to the left named “VIRTUS Re-certification” This will take you to a link to the sign-in screen.] Select a username and a password and write them down in a secure place, so you can access them for future use. Then, select “First time registrant” and proceed as prompted in the registration process. Once you are registered, the on-line training module will appear.] The on-line re-certification module (PGC On-line Awareness Session 3.0) takes approximately one hour. If you cannot complete the training in one sitting, you can return to the session at another time and pick up where you left off. The on-line training can also be done on any mobile device / tablet; however, you will have to access a computer/printer in order to print out your certificate of completion.
The format of the on-line training is as follows: 1) it begins with a paragraph which presents a scenario, followed by one question to answer; 2) then, there is educational content re: the scenario; 3) afterward, you are taken back to the initial question and given the opportunity to edit your earlier response. There are 12 scenarios presented in this format. With successful completion, a certificate is available to be printed out as the last step of the on-line training. Each person is to provide a copy of the certificate to one’s location(s) of employment and/or to each location where one volunteers.
[Priests and deacons, seminarians and deacon candidates–please send a copy of your certificate also to Sr. Esther.]
Your pastor or school principal will designate the person at your location who is to collect the certificates so the documents will be kept in one place in the parish or school office.
If an individual has no access whatsoever to a mobile device or a computer & printer to complete the on-line re-certification training, that individual has the alternative of attending another 3-hour in-person PGC training for adults at one of the locations throughout the diocese prior to Feb. 1, 2016. This will fulfill the requirement for re-certification, and a certificate will be e-mailed to the primary location where the person serves. The schedule for these sessions is on the diocesan website.
Please Note: A new employee or volunteer must take the 3-hour in-person PGC training for adults at one of the locations throughout the diocese. The on-line re-certification session is intended only for those who have already completed the 3-hour in-person PGC training for adults and who have to be re-certified within 5 years.
If there are technical questions about the registration process or the on-line re-certification module, or if you have difficulties accessing the on-line training, you are to contact: the VIRTUS Helpdesk number: 888-847-8870.
For other questions, pastors, principals, and parish/school secretaries may contact:
Sr. Esther Dunegan
REMEMBER: this is all about protecting our children & youth and keeping them safe!
What If Someone is Using Explicit Materials and Language to Ensnare Your Child?
(From Virtus.org, August 2004)
By Sharon Womack Doty, Senior Child Sex Abuse Prevention Consultant to the VIRTUS Programs
There are many signs of a potential child molester that are public behaviors, visible to everyone who is observing the adult’s interaction with children and young people. However, some signs are not so obvious. Among the warning signs of a child molester are:
- Showing pornography and sexually explicit material to a child.
- Using sexually explicit language and telling sexual jokes to a child.
The use of this “adult” material to ensnare children rarely occurs in public or within view of other children and young people. The child molester knows this behavior will not be tolerated. It is unacceptable in society. So, how can parents recognize when someone is using these tools to trap their child?
Speak Up, Listen, and Learn
Communication is key to learning whether an adult who interacts with your child is grooming your child through the use of sexually explicit material and language. Communication includes talking with your child, listening to your child, and learning all you can about your child’s world.
Talk with your child about “adult” material. Educate him or her about the fact that pornography is wrong and that our human sexuality is a precious gift from God that is to be cherished and valued — not put on display or cheapened in any way. Let your child know that “adult” material does damage to those who see it and to those who are lured into participating in it.
However, don’t forget to tell your child that if someone shows him or her pornography, speaks to him or her in a sexually explicit manner, or tells sexually explicit jokes, your child can tell you and will not be in trouble because of seeing or hearing something he or she knew was wrong. This is an important point, and one you must affirm repeatedly in order to foster your child’s comfort in disclosing this information to you.
If we listen to what our children say, we can hear clues that someone is teaching them sexually explicit language or showing them sex-related materials. Children might blurt out language that indicates they know words that they should not know or use. You may hear your younger children using sexual language when playing with their friends.
One of the most valuable resources available to a parent for finding out what’s happening in his or her child’s life is “car talk”. A great deal can be learned about what is happening in the lives of your children while you are chauffeuring them and their friends around to various activities. Listen to what they say to each other in your presence and you can identify clues that someone is bringing pornography and/or sexually explicit language into your child’s world.
Learn about things in your child’s world that a molester could use as access points. For example, most children are computer literate at an early age. If you do not know enough about a computer to monitor your child’s activities with chat rooms, games, and websites, take the time to learn about it. Educate yourself about the different rating systems used in the entertainment industry. Find out the criteria used to rate movies, television, video games, and song lyrics so that you can make sure your child is not inadvertently being exposed to sexually explicit material without your knowledge. Become familiar with current slang your teen is using. Some parenting-related websites include current “teen slang” dictionaries to assist parents in having effective conversations with teens. In short, keep a clear head and a calm demeanor and continue to learn about their world. Accept your responsibilities, and assist them in staying safe in today’s environment.
There is no easy or foolproof way to know whether a potential child molester is using sexual materials and language to trap your child in a web of secrecy. However, if you talk with your child about these issues, listen to him or her carefully, and continue to educate yourself about how to effectively parent children in the current social climate, you can thwart the child molester’s objectives.
Brought to you by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. and its VIRTUS® programs with the goal to help prevent, address, and mitigate wrongdoing in the community of faith. Its programs are designed to help adults become protectors of children and to help communities become safe havens for children. The VIRTUS® programs marshal expert resources to develop, implement, maintain, and evaluate solutions that both embody and incorporate the Catholic Church’s moral leadership and responsibility for service.
Discussing Puberty and Adolescence with Your Youngster
(From Virtus.org, August 2004)
By Paul J. Ashton, Consultant on Adult Education
Parents often forget the occasional confusion and trauma that come with the physical changes of puberty. Puberty comes from the Latin word pubertas, which means grown-up or adult. Adolescence is another term associated with the span of time between childhood and adulthood. It comes from the Latin word adolescence, which means to grow up.
The many joys that accompany the changes a young girl undergoes when she becomes a young woman and when a boy becomes a man can often be overshadowed by a lack of knowledge and understanding of What exactly is happening to the young person emotionally and physically.
When we use the word puberty we usually refer to the physical changes that take place in kids’ bodies. These physical changes make it physically possible for a female and male to join together to make a baby. When we use the word adolescence we usually are referring not only to the physical changes that occur in a young man or woman, but also to the whole gamut of emotional feelings and thoughts that surround interpersonal relationships and changes in responsibilities that occur at this time in their lives. Although these two terms, puberty and adolescence, have different meanings, many people use them interchangeably.
Puberty and adolescence bring about changes in our bodies that are caused by hormones. Hormones are chemicals that are produced in many places throughout our body and flow through the bloodstream. The word hormone comes from a Greek word hormon, which means to set in motion.
Sex hormones cause the changes in a young person’s body and make it possible for them to reproduce. These hormones also cause other physical and emotional changes that extend well beyond the capacity to reproduce. These mood swings and changes in sensitivity can create real challenges for any parent. They may cause serious unrest for the affected individuals and their families. In many instances, teens may not understand their own feelings and behavior. It is often an effort in futility to try to understand or find a direct answer to these events. They just “are”. What is most important is for parents to give their child time, space, and attention and to focus on open communication and inviting conversation.
While these times present challenges to even the most grounded individual, they genuinely should be marked with celebration or ceremony. Many cultures celebrate this time of life as an important milestone or right of passage into adulthood and mark the onset with traditional rituals. Other cultures greet and accept it in more subtle ways. No mater what your cultural background, strive to be a parent who focuses on the positives and accepts the negatives as challenges to be overcome.
This is an “in between” time in the life of a young man or woman. Often in our society it is referred to negatively and as a period of awkwardness, shyness, immaturity, or irresponsibility. It is a time or period in life that many adults try to forget because of their own painful experiences.
Remember: knowledge is power, and power gives us the freedom and opportunity to make better choices, to define who we are, where we go, and what we want to be in life. The more knowledge you impart to your kids about their bodies and their emotions, the better equipped they will be to avoid the consequences of ignorance.
To make this time more bearable for parents and their teens, it might be a good prerequisite for parents to sit and talk together with their spouse or friends and discuss memories of their own adolescence and puberty.
Here are some questions that you might raise, discuss, share, or think about on your own:
- What was the most exciting and happiest part of my adolescence?
- What was the most difficult part of puberty? Of adolescence?
- What would I like to have known then that I did not know until later in life?
- What fears and unknowns did I face then?
- What would I have most appreciated in my parents that they did not do?
- What did my parents do at the time that I greatly appreciated?
When you gather and share this information, you will help yourself form a plan of action to follow with your own child. It will be the blueprint of how you approach conversations with your children to help them through this difficult transition.
A parent must be the leader in the challenge to come up with creative ways to discuss the beautiful, yet intense gifts that come with puberty. These “gifts” are often disguised as awkwardness in any number of ways. A kind and encouraging word of praise or affirmation goes a long way with an adolescent.
Here are some hints for having a meaningful conversation with your adolescent:
- Keep the conversations brief.
- Use appropriate language and medical terms, and correct slang words whenever possible.
- Be open to any questions that the child raises.
- Never ask “Do you have any questions?” as an opening line. If you do, the conversation will go nowhere.
- Start with your own experiences and use humor.
- But never laugh at a child’s problem or concern.
- What is small and insignificant to you may be large and extremely important to your child.
- Allow the child privacy of his or her thoughts.
- Allow yourself the privacy of your own life.
- Have conversations with your adolescent on an ongoing basis.
- Use the life experiences of the child as “teachable moments” (e.g., be in tune with what is going on in your child’s life and connect those experiences with a conversation that will help teach your child something).
Some of the physical changes that happen in your child’s body may seem to take place overnight, but in actuality these take place over a period of time. This time gives the child time to get used to their young adult body. While these changes are occurring, silence in your child does not necessarily mean inner peace. Be certain that you are the one who brings these issues to light. Highlight the positive and use humor and understating to accept the challenges that come with the changes.
These times of physical changes in boys and girls are extremely intense. The only other time in a person’s life that includes more changes is in the first year of an infant’s life. Parents need all the tools and assistance they can find to help make this period in a child’s life a time of excitement and new beginnings marked by open, caring, and concerned sharing. Good luck!
Brought to you through the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. and its VIRTUS® programs with the goal to help prevent, address, and mitigate wrongdoing in the community of faith. Its programs are designed to help adults become protectors of children and to help communities become safe havens for children. The VIRTUS® programs marshal expert resources to develop, implement, maintain, and evaluate solutions that both embody and incorporate the Catholic Church’s moral leadership and responsibility for service.
Abuse Prevention Begins with Adults
(From Virtus.org, August 2004)
By Sharon Womack Doty, Senior Child Sex Abuse Prevention Consultant to the VIRTUS Programs
When we confront the real danger of child sexual abuse in our society, we frequently find ourselves focusing on children. How can we protect them? How can we communicate the risk to them without causing excessive fear? How do we teach our children to protect themselves?
Each of these is an important question — and educating parents about these issues seems the logical place to start to prevent child sexual abuse. However, it is unrealistic to expect a small child to outwit or outmaneuver a seasoned child molester. In many cases, we can help create appropriate awareness for parents who are also trapped in the child molester’s grooming process, and in doing so, we can help lift the burden of sex abuse prevention off the tiny shoulders of children.
In 1984, David Finkelhor, one of the world’s leading authorities on child sexual abuse, published Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research, in which he defined the preconditions that must exist for child sexual abuse to occur. According to Dr. Finkelhor, there are four elements necessary for sexual abuse to take place. These elements are:
- There must be a person who has a desire for sexual contact with a child.
- This person must do nothing to inhibit or restrain the desire.
- There must be an opportunity for the offense to occur without being observed by others.
- The offender must be able to overcome any resistance offered by the child.
For at least 15 years we have been teaching children to say “no”, run away and tell someone if an adult approaches them sexually in schools, organizations, or in our homes. It is important to keep up this effort to empower children to resist the advances of a would-be child molester. But for far too long, we have placed the primary responsibility for preventing abuse in the hands of young children.
Adults must concentrate their efforts on learning how to prevent child sexual abuse. Remember that 60 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone known and trusted by the child and the parents. The primary method these molesters use to gain access to children is through grooming — grooming of the victim children, and grooming of the victims’ parents.
Our best opportunity to intervene and stop child sexual abuse before it happens is to eliminate the opportunity for abuse to occur — item 3 from the list above. To be successful, we must:
- Learn to recognize the behavioral warning signs of someone who is a risk to children.
- Control who has access to children.
- Monitor all programs involving children and young people.
Teaching our children how to overcome the overtures of a potential child molester is an important aspect of a comprehensive approach to preventing child sexual abuse. Learning how to communicate with our children about these issues is crucial to that process. However, the first order of business for adults is training ourselves to recognize the signs of someone whose interest in the children is unhealthy. Simultaneously, we must create environments where there is no opportunity for abuse to occur.
Prevention means taking action before the abuse occurs. For too long, the “prevention” efforts have been left to children. It is our job to keep them safe. It is our job to protect them. It is our job to know what to watch for and to take the steps necessary to stop abuse before it happens.
Brought to you by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. and its VIRTUS® programs with the goal to help prevent, address, and mitigate wrongdoing in the community of faith. Its programs are designed to help adults become protectors of children and to help communities become safe havens for children. The VIRTUS® programs marshal expert resources to develop, implement, maintain, and evaluate solutions that both embody and incorporate the Catholic Church’s moral leadership and responsibility for service.
Training Yourself to Recognize the Behaviors of an Abuser
(From Virtus.org, August 2004)
Being a good witness can mean having a “good eye” and “good ear” for information. It can mean being “articulate” and “presentable”. It can mean being “credible” and “believable”. It can mean being “neutral” and “unbiased”. And, all of these issues are important to different degrees, depending on the specific role you are playing as a witness. But, when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, the first and perhaps most important meaning is, simply, training yourself to look for warning signs of abuse, remembering at least the general details of anything that looks suspicious, and reporting those details to someone who is in a position to investigate, possibly verify your suspicions, and to intervene if necessary.
This is helping you to more easily and effectively recognize the warning signs of a potential sexual abuser. These skills can help you to be more effective in preventing child sexual abuse in your community.
Each of us has multiple opportunities, every day, to practice being a good witness and a good responder to possible child sexual abuse. We suggest using the following opportunities to train yourself to be a better witness:
- During your commute — if you use mass transit to commute to work (but definitely NOT if you are driving).
- When you are walking in an area filled with other people.
- On an elevator.
- In the entryway or lobby of a crowded building.
- At a restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, mall, or other crowded shopping venue.
Recognizing the Major Warning Signs
To recognize a child sexual abuser, adults in the community must develop a healthy suspicion about each and every adult who spends time with children. We must know the behavioral warning signs of a potential abuser, and be alert to the possibility that someone in our community — our neighborhood, our church, our school, and even our family — may be a sex abuser.
Those who abuse children rarely fit the stereotype of a suspicious looking stranger who hides in the shadows. Generally, abusers are warm, friendly, and engaging people who — aside from their sexual attraction to children — may be law-abiding citizens, responsible family members, and leaders in their respective communities. A person’s appearance provides virtually no value in identifying them as a sex abuser. Instead, we must focus on the behavioral warning signs of an abuser, and we must learn to see the warning signs wherever they present themselves — regardless of the physical appearance or “identity” of the person exhibiting those signs.
The five major warning signs of a child sexual abuser include, someone who:
- Always seems more excited to be with children than to be with adults and/or always wants to be alone with children.
- Gives gifts to children without permission, and encourages them to keep secrets from their parents and guardians.
- Goes overboard in touching children.
- Thinks rules don’t apply to him or her.
- Lets children do things their parents would not allow them to do.
Remember: The typical molester is no easier to identify by sight than the typical doctor, the typical schoolteacher, or the typical parent. Because there is no “typical” child molester, we must look for the behavioral indications that someone is a potential risk to children.
To make the exercise most effective, I recommend selecting a specific warning sign and focusing on that specific warning sign for two or three consecutive days. Every two or three days you should change your “practice” warning sign. Continue to juggle the warning signs until you’ve spent two or three days of practice observing the behavior of others for each of the major warning signs.
Because each of the warning signs, by itself, can have a wide range of different meanings, you’ll simply be using this process to sharpen your ability to collect information about those around you. However, you may begin to notice that certain individuals — complete strangers, or even close friends and family members — may exhibit more than one of the sex abuser warning signs. Again, it is possible that someone could exhibit all of the warning signs, and still not be a sex abuser. However, the rule of thumb is: the more warning signs that an individual exhibits, the greater the need to observe that person’s behavior more closely — especially when that individual is interacting with children.
Brought to you by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. and its VIRTUS® programs with the goal to help prevent, address, and mitigate wrongdoing in the community of faith. Its programs are designed to help adults become protectors of children and to help communities become safe havens for children. The VIRTUS® programs marshal expert resources to develop, implement, maintain, and evaluate solutions that both embody and incorporate the Catholic Church’s moral leadership and responsibility for service.
Adults Working Together to Protect God’s Children
Americans obtain most of their information about sexual abuse from news reports. News reports often focus on the most sensational aspects of high-profile cases but pay little attention to the millions of victims suffering from day-to-day sexual assaults by the people they know — neighbors, family, friends, and childcare providers.
Eager to “right the wrong”, the first action many people turn to is the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, this system is designed to punish criminals — not to prevent crimes. And the rise in reports of sexual abuse seems to indicate that emphasizing criminal prosecution hasn’t helped prevent the problem of child sexual abuse.
Victims turn to civil litigation. Civil litigation is also a tool for punishing the offenders. However, visits to the courthouse do not protect God’s children from future harm, and monetary awards do nothing to remedy the emotional damage that permanently scars abuse victims.
There is no quick fix. For prevention to occur, we must broaden our view of child sexual abuse beyond punishment. We must see this as a public health issue and a societal challenge where prevention is possible.
We tend to relate to sexual abuse as if it is only a sexual issue. Child sexual abuse consists of many complex issues. It is a health issue, a gender issue, a social issue, a political issue, a religious issue, a spiritual issue, and much more.
Sexual abuse is more common than most people realize, and more difficult to identify than other forms of abuse. Many symptoms of sexual abuse are also indicators of other physical and emotional illnesses. When adults see these symptoms, they generally react in one of two ways. Either they overlook sexual abuse as a potential problem, or they see sexual abuse in every symptom and every behavioral change a child exhibits. Neither of these is an effective response to help prevent and/or mitigate the effects of child sexual abuse.
Keys to Prevention: Awareness, Education, and Training
Awareness, education, and training are the keys to preventing child sexual abuse. A commitment to shift the paradigm — to change community perception and behavior — calls for a community-wide, long-term investment of time and effort. But how can a church or organization secure the commitment needed to get individuals to invest their time and effort?
Although prevention is the goal, the first step is raising awareness. This means teaching adults about the nature and scope of child sexual abuse and how to recognize the symptoms of sexual abuse. Parents and other adults must learn to trust their instincts and voice concerns when they see something that seems strange or makes them feel uncomfortable.
The second step is education. Empowered by awareness, we can use education to examine our own opinions, ideas, and points of view. These are the strong, personal points of view that can blind us to abuse and prevent us from offering potential abusers the resources that can make a difference and help stop the abuse before it occurs — while the abuse is still an idea in the perpetrator’s mind and has not, yet, been acted upon.
The third step is training. Training creates clear distinctions regarding lines of communication, reporting mechanisms, and policies and procedures. The Church should adopt effective policies and procedures for hiring staff and selecting volunteers to work with children. Additionally, the Church should provide training on those policies and procedures and strictly enforce them.
The Church can put into practice simple and straightforward preventive measures such as: requiring that at least two adults work together to supervise youth events; having two adults work together to provide daycare during Church activities; and encouraging parents to drop in, unannounced, on youth activities, daycare centers, and classrooms. By eliminating the opportunities for individual adults to be alone with children or youth, we can greatly reduce the opportunities for abuse to occur.
When parents become aware of what is needed to deter sexual predators from exploiting children, parents eagerly support school-based education programs that teach children about a variety of personal safety issues. Additionally, well-informed parents adopt “touching rules” in their own homes — rules that provide children, from a very early age, with appropriate boundaries — to help children understand when a touch from an adult or older child is okay and when it is not. Through a comprehensive training program, all the right messages can be focused toward target groups within the Church population. When adults fully understand the scope of child sexual abuse, simple prevention measures become routine.
The Church community can call the world into action and make a powerful difference in the prevention of child sexual abuse. What will you do? Will you raise your voice? What forces will you set in motion? What resources will you dedicate to this cause?
You are the Church. You can make a difference.
Discuss Your Concerns
The road toward preventing child sexual abuse begins with bringing the issue “out of the closet” and into the public spotlight. Too often, people are reluctant to mention suspicious activities or uncomfortable circumstances because they don’t want to falsely accuse someone of child sexual abuse. False allegations, though rare, often generate news headlines and frequently leave the public questioning its commitment to prosecuting abusers. Communicating your concerns and asking questions about disturbing incidents are not the same as making accusations. Communicating your concerns — to those responsible for the programs or activities that concern you — is the key to identifying potential risks to children before damage occurs. If you see or hear something that raises concerns, talk to a supervisor or call the child abuse hotline in your area and share your concerns. Remember, discussing your concerns is NOT an accusation.
Although a report to child protection officials is not always the appropriate action, communicating your concerns “immediately” is always the best road to take. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse groom their victims and, in many cases, they groom the victim’s parents or other guardians as well. Grooming takes time. Communicating concerns can interfere with the grooming process and prevent harm; therefore, communicating concerns as they arise is the best chance of stopping abuse before it happens. Don’t be sorry! Be safe! Sharing your concerns can save a child and can help protect an innocent adult from the risk of false accusations.
Awareness — There are certain “red flags” that indicate an adult is crossing appropriate boundaries in relationships with children. Knowing these indicators is the first step to eliminating the risk of harm. Be watchful and ask questions no matter who is involved or how much you think you should trust that person. Perpetrators may groom the victim and the victim’s family over an extended period of time. Sometimes the grooming goes on for months before any sexual contact occurs. Don’t be lulled into complacency and overlook the little things. Those “little things” could be the clues to preserving a safe environment for your child.
Communication — Often we discover that perpetrators get away with abusing children because the adults in their lives are not trusting their own instincts about the warning signs, about the source of their own feelings of discomfort, or about what seems “right” in a particular situation. Any time you have concerns, talk to someone else. Listen to your inner voice and communicate your concerns to someone who can listen objectively and help you sort it out. Your silence may make you an unwilling partner in a growing risk.
Timely Response — When something happens that raises concerns about the appropriateness of a relationship between an adult and a child, remember the old adage “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. One report by one observer can prevent abuse. And no amount of hindsight, wishing, or remorse can undo the damage to the child and the faith community when a child is victimized.
What is Done and What Should I Do, Part 1
(From Virtus.org, September 2004)
By Robert Hugh Farley, M.S., Consultant in Crimes Against Children
Child abuse can happen anywhere. And people from all backgrounds — regardless of social, economic, or educational level — can sexually abuse or physically abuse a child. During my 28 years of conducting child abuse investigations, I have arrested both men and women for child abuse — including those who lived in Chicago’s notorious public housing projects as well as wealthy Internet predators who lived in mansions on the north shore of Lake Michigan.
Child abuse usually takes place in secret and frequently will go undetected for years. The victim will often conceal the abuse and then later will psychologically repress these experiences — in some cases for years. Children often will know no limits for their acceptance of the child abuser’s actions. The “love” or “friendship” between a child and the abuser ensures that these acts of cruelty will go undetected by the other members of the community.
Transfer of Blame
One commonality that is found in child abuse investigations is that the abuser transfers the blame or the responsibility for the abuse from himself to the child. This “transfer of blame” can be a major stumbling block in the initial stages of getting a child to talk about being abused.
- In an incest situation, the father will tell his daughter that the only reason he is having sex with her is because she is so pretty. If she was ugly like her two other sisters, he would never have sex with her. The child is told that she is blessed that she is the prettiest sister in the family.
- An abuser pushes a 6-year-old boy’s hand into a pot of boiling water. The abuser tells the child that he put the hand in the boiling water because the child was bad. Upon interview, the boy tells the investigator that “my daddy loves me; he wouldn’t have done this to my hand if I wasn’t bad.”
- Child pornography, which is utilized by the offender for his or her own sexual gratification, is often used by the offender to blackmail multiple victims of sexual abuse. A predator will tell his 14-year-old sexual abuse victim, “If you tell anyone about what you did with me I will post your naked photos on the Internet and everyone will know you’re a whore and a slut.”
Because the blame has been transferred, a child who has been abused is frequently consumed by guilt or feelings of responsibility for the abuse. The successful interview of a suspected child sex abuse victim begins with patience, understanding, and an expression of sympathy. During the course of conducting hundreds of child abuse interviews, I have had to tell each child repeatedly, “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
In general, a child is defined as someone who has not yet reached his or her 18th birthday. However, a legal definition as to who is considered a child varies from case to case, from statute to statute, and from state to state. Even so, all state laws require a mandated reporter to immediately report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities.
The actual interview of a victim of child sexual abuse or child physical abuse is a complex interplay of questioning, comforting, and counseling. School personnel, social workers and the clergy rarely possess the specialized skills, training, and legal background required to interview a child abuse victim successfully. When a child comes forward and makes a disclosure of child abuse, the mandated reporter should confirm that the child is safe and then make a report. It is not necessary for the mandated reporter to identify details or to confirm the specifics of the abuse.
Once the mandated reporter has made a report, a professional is assigned to conduct an investigation — which includes a child abuse interview. This professional can be either a child protective service worker or a police juvenile officer. In addition to conducting the child abuse interview, the professional is trained to emphasize the therapeutic needs of the child — before, during, and following the interview.
Child Advocacy Center
In many situations, an appointment is made to interview the suspected child abuse victim at a Child Advocacy Center. The center is generally at a central location that’s easily accessible to many communities. The Child Advocacy Center provides the perfect working environment for the investigative multidisciplinary team, or what is commonly referred to as the MDT.
Multidisciplinary teams, across the United States, vary in their composition, but typically they include a core representing law enforcement, child protective services, pediatricians, social workers, mental health professionals or therapists, and the prosecutor. A basic philosophy shapes the Child Advocacy Center: With a multidisciplinary team, the number of child interviews is reduced, thereby decreasing the trauma to the child and the family.
The multidisciplinary team gathers at the center and then observes the victim sensitive interview (what is called the VSI) through a one-way mirror in a special child-friendly interview room. The purpose of the forensic child sensitive interview, which is conducted at the center, is to determine whether or not a crime has occurred and to assess the child’s safety in his or her current living environment. Often the Child Advocacy Center will provide on-site medical exams, treatment, and follow-up counseling. Most centers investigate child sexual abuse and serious physical child abuse.
It is critical to select the right location to conduct the interview of a suspected child victim. Conducting the interview in the school principal’s office, for example, implies a negative connotation, which confirms to the child that he or she has done something wrong. An empty classroom or a library is a more appropriate setting than the principal’s office. There should also be room for the child to get up and move about. And the interview environment should have a safe and open feeling about it.
Once the interview begins there should be no interruptions such as a teacher, student, or secretary walking into the room unannounced. There should also be minimal distractions. Such distractions might include the ringing of an office telephone, the buzzing of cell phone, or loud music playing in the background.
The interviewer should never sit behind a desk to interview a child suspected of being abused. The desk is viewed by the child as a barrier for the interviewer to hide behind. I have personally found that my most successful child abuse interviews occurred when I simply sat on the floor with the child. Showing a child that you are willing to sit on the floor will indicate that “I may look like an adult but I can still act just like a kid.” I have successfully used this sitting-on-the-floor technique with all ages of children up to age 18.
When talking to a child suspected of being an abuse victim, the interviewer must remain neutral and not rush to any judgment. In some situations there may be a simple explanation for a school’s suspicions other than child abuse. In other situations, the sexual abuse of a child may be corroborated within a few minutes.
The interviewer must remember that, in some cases, the child simply will not tell or disclose the abuse. If this should occur, the interviewer must respect the child’s decision and simply say, “Later on, if you ever want to talk to me about anything, I would be happy to talk to you — any time you’d like to talk.”
What is Done and What Should I Do, Part 2
(From Virtus.org, October 2004)
By Robert Hugh Farley, M.S., Consultant in Crimes Against Children
In this second part of our ongoing series on the child abuse interview process, we take a closer look at the dynamics of interviewing a child who is the victim of a preferential child molester.
While the focus of the article is on describing the perpetrator’s characteristics and interviewing the victim, we want to strongly remind our readers that the interviewing of victims should be left to child protection authorities and specially trained law enforcement officers. Why? Because improper interviewing techniques can bring further damage to an already wounded victim, and can complicate suspicions or allegations — sometimes to the point of giving the abuser an easy way out.
We present this information in the spirit of understanding — to help caring adults within the faith community to better understand the manipulative means that abusers use to hook their victims, and to help faith communities better understand how to respond appropriately to assure that abuse ends, appropriate justice is served, and everyone affected is offered the maximum opportunity for healing.
In Part 1 of this series, we told you that the actual interview of a victim of child sexual abuse or child physical abuse is a complex interplay of questioning, comforting, and counseling. School personnel, social workers, and the clergy rarely possess the specialized skills, training, and legal background required to interview a child abuse victim successfully.
Then, we began to describe how the process works, and to provide insight into why most adults should avoid asking the victim lots of questions, and should instead focus on getting child protection and law enforcement authorities involved.
In this article, we explore preferential child molesters, and some of the complexities involved in properly interviewing their victims.
Defining the problem
The sexual victimization of children ranges from one-on-one “intrafamilial” (within the family) sexual abuse, to multi-victim “extrafamilial” (outside the family) sexual abuse. The term “child exploitation” refers to various forms of multi-victim extrafamilial abuse involving pornography, child pornography, and/or computers.
The term “preferential child molester” is a descriptive label that was developed by the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, which is used to identify a certain type of child sex offender. When testifying in court, as an expert witness for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I use the term preferential child molester rather than the commonly used clinical term “pedophile” when referring to this offender or describing his or her behavior with children.
Preferential child molesters possess certain characteristics — the most significant of which is a true sexual interest in children. In addition they are gender-specific, which means their sexual interest is having sex with either boys or girls. They are also age-specific, which means that they are interested exclusively in either pubescent or pre-pubescent children. For example, one preferential child molester that I arrested was interested in molesting pre-pubescent girls. As his victim began getting older, developing breasts and body hair, the molester lost interest in this girl. He then began to molest a much younger girl. I have found that it is frequently the “age” of the child that excites this type of offender.
During their lifetime, preferential child molesters leave behind many victims. In addition, preferential child molesters utilize the same seduction techniques, over and over again. Plus, they typically possess a collection of child pornography and child erotica — some of which is homemade. Once identified, this long-term and persistent pattern of behavior frequently makes preferential child molesters moderately easy for police to identify.
The dynamic surrounding the victim
One of the most difficult interviews to conduct is with the victim of a preferential child molester. This molester is often described as the “pillar of the community” or a “real nice guy”. The preferential molester typically controls his or her victims by seducing them with attention, affection, kindness, and gifts. This is done until the molester has lowered the victim’s inhibitions and gained the victim’s cooperation. Because of the “seduction”, the victim may voluntarily return to the offender and be repeatedly molested.
The community often finds this concept difficult to understand. If a victim is molested by a teacher, a police officer, or member of the clergy, why does the child “allow” it to continue? Because the victim has been carefully chosen by the molester based on certain characteristics exhibited by the victim. The victim may not even realize he or she is a victim. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances surrounding the seduction, the victim may have many positive feelings for the offender, and may even resent the police being notified of the abuse.
Many victims are concerned about the reaction of their friends or classmates. In addition, they rightfully believe that their community will not understand their victimization. Frequently, the victim is embarrassed and ashamed of his or her behavior related to the abuse. The interviewer must be careful to remain neutral and to carefully communicate to the child that he or she is not at fault — even though the child did not say “no” to the molester. During the interview if the victim asks the interviewer any questions (for example, a question about the offender being arrested), the question must be answered openly and truthfully.
When talking with a victim of sexual exploitation, it is important to allow the victim to use scenarios in order to disclose the victimization. Often, the scenarios allow the victim to “save face”. I have found that in many cases adolescent boy victims are initially very likely to deny any sexual activity with a male offender. Even if a victim discloses sexual abuse to the interviewer, the information is likely to be incomplete. In some cases, the child may even minimize many of the sexual acts. The interviewer must remember to never be judgmental when discussing sexual activity that took place during the abuse.
Developing a protocol
Every school, parish, and diocese should develop a protocol for dealing with the suspicions of child abuse or the actual disclosure of child abuse. Most importantly, the protocol should outline the exact steps and the appropriate notifications in making a child abuse report to the authorities. The protocol should also include the designation of a person on the staff who has the responsibility to talk with a child about the suspicions of abuse. This person should be chosen based on his or her skill in developing trust and dealing with children of all ages. The person should also have a list of resources and telephone numbers for agencies within the community that can assist a victim of abuse.
Starting the interview
Preparation is the first step for a successful interview. If a teacher suspects a child in her homeroom may have been abused, the teacher must provide as much information as possible to the staff member responsible for confronting the child during the interview.
This information should include:
- The child’s name and age.
- The names and ages of any siblings in the child’s family.
- The names and the relationship of any adults living within the family unit.
- Have there been any changes observed in the child’s demeanor? If so, what changes, and when were the changes first observed?
- What are the teacher’s exact suspicions or concerns about possible abuse?
- Were any statements or comments made to the teacher that would support the suspicion of abuse?
- Is there any identifiable evidence of abuse? (e.g., belt marks, cigarette burns, or other indicators of physical abuse)?
- Does the child have any disabilities or emotional problems?
If a child has actually disclosed child abuse to a staff member, the following information must also be identified:
- Who made the disclosure of abuse?
- What were the circumstances of the disclosure?
- To whom (which staff member) was the abuse disclosed?
- Has the child told anyone else about the abuse? If so, who did the child tell?
- What were the exact words of the disclosure?
- Who is the alleged offender?
- How does the child react in the presence of the alleged offender?
- Has the child identified a special name for the abuse?
- Were there any witnesses to the abuse?
- Was any information provided that that would corroborate the child’s account of the abuse?
My rule is to NEVER have a family member or a caretaker present when interviewing a child that you suspect has been abused. I have found that many children are afraid to identify the offender or to disclose details of the abuse when a family member is present. It has also been my experience that some non-offending caretakers were already aware of the abuse, had failed to intervene, and in some situations, had actually attempted to protect the offender.
Building a rapport with the victim
In order to reduce the child’s anxiety, the interviewer should begin by talking to the child about random things such as the weather, musical interests, or classmates. Every attempt must be made to create a relaxed atmosphere. By initially engaging the child in a neutral and non-threatening conversation, the child should feel at ease talking to the interviewer.
During the interview, it can be significant to discover how the child feels about the interviewer and the interview process itself. The interviewer can accomplish these objectives by going over the following points:
- Has the child been told by anyone not to talk about the abuse?
- Is the child frightened of anyone in particular?
- Does the child feel that he or she can trust the interviewer?
- Does the child feel a sense of control over the interview or does the child feel overwhelmed by the process?
I have found that one way of developing trust is to tell the child at an early stage of the interview, “My name is Bob and my job is to help kids.” As the interviewer talks with the child, the interviewer should maintain objectivity and be careful not to project any negative facial expressions or body language. The interviewer also shouldn’t get frustrated and must never put pressure on a child to talk about something the child doesn’t want to discuss.
The interviewer should keep the questions brief and simple. For example, an icebreaking question that can be utilized is, “Your teacher tells me that lately you’ve been sad, is that right or wrong?” This should be followed up with a question such as, “Will you tell me what is bothering you?”
The interviewer must try not to interrupt the child when he or she is describing the actual child abuse. The interviewer should let the child talk, while at the same time providing gentle reassurance. The interviewer must also emphasize that the child has done nothing wrong.
During the interview, the child should be encouraged to ask questions of the interviewer. If this is done, the interview becomes like a two-way street, rather than a dead end where the child may feel like he or she is getting the “third degree”.
After a disclosure of child abuse has been made, the interviewer must assess the immediate safety of the child. If the alleged offender lives outside the home, the mandated report should be made immediately to the appropriate child protection agency.
If the alleged offender is living in the child’s house, then the child can’t go home from school. In this situation, a telephone call should be made immediately to the local police, as well as to the mandated child protection agency. The police in every state will not only respond immediately to the abuse complaint, but also they can take protective custody of a child that they suspect has been abused.
Remember: Unless you have received specialized training in the interviewing of victims of sexual abuse and unless you are appropriately authorized to participate in the interview process, your first and primary attention should focus on immediately shielding the victim from further abuse and reporting suspicions or allegations to the appropriate child protection agency or law enforcement authorities.
Conversation Guidelines for Parents
(From Virtus.org, September 2004)
By Erika Tyner Allen, Independent Consultant and Parent
“Whoever causes one of these little ones (children) who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” — Matthew 18:5-6
The Protecting God’s Children program asks adults in the faith community to take five steps towards keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. The fourth step, “Be aware,” reminds us to pay attention to the children in our lives in a new way. When a parent or other loved one sees a child demonstrating unusual behavior, we must remember that, among all the possible causes of that behavior, sexual abuse may be one explanation. But how do you talk with a child who may be suffering from abuse? Consider the following guidelines for such a conversation:
Set the stage
Use benign opportunities to begin the dialogue with your children about sexual abuse. Bath time with young children, for example, is a great opportunity to practice naming the private body parts and talking about why the private body parts are covered and are kept private. Make sure to stress that your children can always come to you with their questions.
Get the facts
The place to begin any conversation about a concern is to collect background facts from the child’s life: who, what, when, where, why, and how regarding the child’s activities with friends, school, and otherwise. Not only is this factual information important as you start piecing together an explanation about a child’s behavior, but also such factual questions are easier for a child to respond to — much easier than psychological or “feeling” questions.
So, begin your conversations by asking about the simple facts of a child’s day: What activity did you do in CCD this morning? Who was in class with you? Who taught that lesson? Were you in the classroom for the entire session?
Ask kids to list specifics
As you ask about the basic facts, make sure to collect the relevant, useful details. If a child tells you that she was at a friend’s house for a few hours before dinner, for example, you’d want to ask who else was there.
Ask feeling questions as a follow-up
Use these detailed facts to begin prompting the feeling sorts of questions. If a child tells you, for example, that her friend’s older brother was at the house, ask whether your child played with the older brother. Was he fun to play with? Why or why not?
Sometimes it is easier for a child to talk about the feelings of others, so consider asking questions such as, “Do you think your friend had fun playing with her brother? Did her brother like playing with you? Why?”
Do not be alarmed
If a child reveals facts that sound like abuse, stay as calm as possible. Continue to collect as many facts as you need to complete your understanding of what happened. Resist the urge to characterize the revelation with exclamations such as, “Oh, that’s terrible!”
By the end of the conversation, however, you do need to convey that what happened is wrong, that the child did the right thing by telling you, and that you will help your child in every way possible.
Allow the child to focus on something else
Your child may have a hard time looking you in the eye when she is talking about abuse. That’s okay; let her fiddle with a toy or her dinner. Ask any experienced parent: some of the most meaningful conversations with children occur in the car, when the child has the protection of being in the backseat to create a virtual protective barrier.
It will take all the steps in the Protecting God’s Children program to effectively protect children. Your work may not always be easy, but it is always important. Good luck in your endeavors!
The Right Way to Help Kids Protect Themselves
By Jack McCalmon
In the teachings of the Catholic Church, the role and responsibility of parents in the education of their children about sex and morals is paramount. The documents The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (November 21, 1995)  and Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981)  clearly state that the “right and duty of parents to give education is essential.” This responsibility to educate children about love, sexual intimacy, chastity, and the unique human experience of living one’s own sexuality properly is challenging and essential to the development of healthy functioning adults.
These documents also mandate that parents teach children the things that will keep them safe from sexual violence. Parents are to devote “special attention … to the children by developing a profound esteem for their personal dignity, and a great respect and generous concern for their rights” (Familiaris Consortio #25). At the time these documents were written, society believed that the greatest risk to children was strangers. “Stranger danger” is the issue raised in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (#85).
Today we know that the greatest risk to children comes from those close to the victim. Family members account for 29 percent of perpetrators of child sexual abuse, and others in the community that are known and trusted by the children and by the victims’ parents and guardians account for 60 percent of the perpetrators. Strangers, meanwhile, account for only 11 percent of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse. 
One way that we, as parents, can help protect our children from sexual abuse is to teach them about their private body parts in ways that can give them the tools to protect themselves in risky situations. The challenge for adults is to be willing to use the same words a doctor would use when teaching children about private parts. For the most part, this is not a problem for the children. They know the names of their other body parts — this is just a new body part to them. God teaches us that our human sexuality is something to be cherished — not to be ashamed of — and that human love is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio #11). The following article discusses the importance of teaching children the proper names of their private body parts and how parents who are uncomfortable with this discussion can join with trusted educators to present this information in a healthy way, which is consistent with Catholic teachings on chastity, fidelity, and human love.
Why is it Important to Teach Children About Their Private Body Parts?
This article was written in response to a request from a VIRTUS coordinator. This coordinator posed a very serious question: “Why should parents teach their children to use proper medical terms to describe private body parts and their functions? The coordinator explained that while child safety is necessary, some believe that teaching about private parts and their functions is unnecessary — especially using terms that would cause most adults to blush if mentioned during a church service.
I am not a medical doctor, nor do I know much about child development except through my own personal experience of being a child and growing into an adult. So, some may argue that I am professionally unqualified to write on this topic. To a point I agree. But, the arguments against teaching about private parts have little to do with medical research or child development. Most have to do with whether such training improves child safety and whether it is appropriate for an unrelated adult (someone other than a child’s own parents) to teach such safety techniques to someone else’s child. In this context, I feel certain I know enough to write on this topic.
First, why should we teach children the proper names for their private body parts? Simply … the need to communicate with others will lead children to name their body parts regardless what we teach them. If we don’t teach them the proper names, they will make up their own names or learn incorrect or slang names from their classmates, peer relatives, or worse — from an offender. So, for one to argue that children should not know the medical terms or should not talk about their private parts makes no sense because they will do it anyway.
Further on that point, I want to be the person who introduces the proper names of body parts to my child. I don’t want my child to be the kid in the group telling everyone else: “No, it’s called a thingamajig.”
Finally, because children do use terms for private body parts, why not increase the child’s vocabulary to include the proper medical names for the private body parts? In my family, we would casually use the word “bum” for buttocks, but we knew that although some people might not know our meaning for the word “bum,” everyone should know the meaning of the word “buttocks.”
So, why not stop there with the child simply knowing the proper names of private body parts? Why should you discuss with your child the functions of the private body parts — which will, at some point, include a discussion about sex?
Child sexual abuse is an abuse of power. Knowledge is one form of power. Knowledge about sex gives power to offenders over children who know nothing about sex. When your children have knowledge about sex it gives them power to defend themselves at a time and location when you or another caring adult is not there to help.
People who sexually abuse children often pretend to offer a missing piece in a child’s life. If knowledge of sex is the missing piece, you have given the offender an opening to exploit your child. It is not uncommon for an offender to tell a child that he or she is teaching the child about love when, in reality, the offender is teaching the child about sex — for the offender’s own personal gain. An offender may say: “I will teach you how to be a good wife” or “I will teach you how adults love one another.” So, when a parent says that he or she is protecting their child by not teaching the child about the private body parts, their functions, and sex, the parent is actually making their child more vulnerable.
On the other hand, if you teach your child about the private body parts, their functions, and sex, then your child is protected — especially when the child knows that safe adults do not touch a child’s private body parts except to keep the child clean, healthy and safe (a responsibility that falls almost exclusively on parents and healthcare providers). By knowing the proper terms and by having a basic understanding of sex, children learn to become suspicious of anyone who wants or tries to touch them in a sexual way. Otherwise, a child may fall victim if someone “really nice” tells the child: “I’m going to rub you here because I really love you,” or “I’m going to reach in and touch your brain because I want to make you really smart.” A clever perpetrator can create an illusion so complex that a sexually uneducated child could never adequately describe what happened. I never want my child to be in that position, and I trust that you feel the same way about your child.
Importantly, when the offender tries to get to the child’s level, often talking like a child, he or she will become unnerved when the child demonstrates knowledge about the private body parts and their functions. If you have presented your child with the age-appropriate truth about sex, the offender’s false message will be his or her own undoing.
When a child is educated about the private body parts, he or she is able to communicate without fear if he or she is approached by a perpetrator. But, if a parent is afraid to discuss sex with their child, the child will sense the angst and will be afraid to tell the parent if something does happen — fearing that the parent will get angry or accuse the child of doing something wrong. It is this fear that helps the offender remain hidden from sight.
Undoubtedly it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children about the private body parts, their functions, and sex. Parents are the primary educators of their children and no person can or should replace the parents in this important role. However, I have no problem with properly trained teachers or other properly trained professionals presenting these important issues to my child. In fact, the Church recognizes that parents alone cannot accomplish the task of fully “socializing” children and should associate with education programs “marked by the true values of the person and Christian love.” 
Some parents — because of their own background and experience — have difficulty talking with their children about these issues. What they don’t realize is that their discomfort with using the proper names for private body parts places their children at risk and may create a risk for other children. That’s why teachers need to be properly trained to fill the information void. If all children are educated on proper adult-child boundaries, then every child can begin their social development from the same starting point. In such an environment, children are safer and those with the propensity to abuse children are less likely to find easy victims and more likely to seek help once they know they have a problem.
There are no simple answers, and the answers sometimes spawn new problems. But, more education and knowledge on how to prevent child sexual abuse can never hurt anyone. It can only help.
References The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Pontifical Council for the Family, Guidelines for Education Within the Family. November 21, 1995.  Familiaris Consortio: Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, to the Episcopate, to the Clergy, and to the Faithful of the Whole Catholic Church, on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. November 22, 1981.  Russell, D. E. H; & Bolen, R. M. The epidemic of rape and child sexual abuse in the United States. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 2000.  The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, #24.
Helping Parents Protect Their Children
(From Virtus.org, June 2003)
By Sharon Doty
Is sex abuse prevention education the same thing as sex education? The simple answer to this question is “No.” However, this doesn’t adequately address the concerns of parents who take seriously the responsibility to educate their own children about sex.
Parents are concerned that the material presented in sexual abuse prevention education is too explicit and can scare children. They are also uneasy about the discussion of any sexual issues with small children. A discussion and comparison of sex education and sex abuse prevention education can provide some insight and, perhaps, some reassurance to parents.
Sex education is the process of acquiring information and developing values, beliefs, and attitudes about sex, sexual identity, relationships, and intimacy. According to Familiaris Consortia  and The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality , parents are the ultimate educators of children on this subject.
Although it is the parents’ responsibility to teach children fundamental values and to lay the foundation for basic Christian values of life, human love, and family, some feel ill equipped to do an adequate job. The Church, therefore, provides for collaboration between parents and competent educators to give children accurate information.
The role of teachers is to assist and complete the work of the parents. Sex education in the schools is not a substitute for the responsibility of the parents in the area.
The purpose of sex education, whether provided by parents alone or in cooperation with other educators, is to teach children about human love — love between a man and a woman — as an integral part of the manifestation of God’s gift of human sexuality. Therefore, in addition to accurate information about the human body, sex education includes:
- That human beings, created in God’s image, have the capacity, responsibility, and vocation of giving love and being in communion with others.
- That sexuality is not simply biological. It embraces the body and the spirit and is a powerful source of self-giving through marriage.
- Developmentally appropriate information that also considers the physical and spiritual growth of the child.
- Discipline, modesty, sacrifice, self-restraint, chastity, and celibacy.
Sex education is the process of preparing children and young people to live their lives according to and in conformity with Christian principles. It is the course of action in which parents must participate fully in order to assure that the values of education for human love are at the heart of any information provided to their children.
In addition, sex education should assist the child in developing skills in negotiation, decision-making, assertion, listening, and other life skills. Children should learn tools to deal with the emotions and feelings that will accompany their sexual development and the pressures that their peers and others in society will exert on them to experiment with or to exploit their own sexuality.
While many parents may be uncomfortable with the subject of sex, their discomfort does not absolve them from the responsibility to educate their children on this issue and on its importance as an aspect of our humanity. Sex education is, ultimately, education for love.
Sex abuse prevention education
Although some of the information provided in sex education is included in sexual abuse prevention education, these are two distinctly different areas of education. They have different objectives and a different context for providing the information.
Simply said, sex education is teaching children how to live as adults in loving, chaste, sexual relationships. Sex abuse prevention is not about “sex”. It is about empowering children to resist the advances of predators and the lures of manipulative, controlling people who would exploit children for their own sexual gratification.
In its most effective form, sex abuse prevention education teaches children about “good”, “bad”, “comfortable”, and “uncomfortable” touches in a safety-based curriculum. In order to provide children with adequate tools to resist the overtures of potential offenders, children must have the following information:
- The accurate names of private body parts, or for younger children, the ability to at least recognize that private body parts are those that are covered by a bathing suit.
- Instructions regarding what to do if someone touches them in a way that leaves them feeling uncomfortable or uneasy.
- Assurances that they (children) get to say whether a touch is “unwanted” or not.
- Reminders that they can always talk to parents or another trusted adult about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Sex abuse prevention is “preventive” in nature. It is not intended to educate children about “sex”, “sexuality”, the “sexual functions” of private parts, or human love relationships. It is intended to teach children about their rights to assert limits over what happens to their bodies and to give them the tools necessary to communicate effectively if someone violates those boundaries.
Young children are generally comfortable with the information provided in sex abuse prevention programs. It is parents who typically exhibit discomfort. We — adults — are the ones who have difficulty with the subject matter.
As adults, we can recall that our sex abuse prevention education consisted primarily of warnings about “stranger danger”. We were taught to maintain “modesty and reserve with regard to strangers.” Because strangers commit less 12 percent of abuse, this standard is unlikely to provide the comprehensive protection we want for our children.
In the same paragraph in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality that speaks about strangers, parents are also mandated to provide “suitable sexual information, but without going into details and particulars that might upset or frighten [children].”
Sex abuse prevention education must include necessary information about the private body parts or, for younger children, at least enough information that younger children develop the ability to recognize that private body parts are those that are covered by a bathing suit. A comprehensive sexual abuse prevention program also includes information about some of the things a predator might do to a child. It is important for children to be certain about limits and boundaries.
One of the objectives of sex abuse prevention education is to empower children to resist the overtures from an abuser. Because those who abuse children are masters at manipulation and grooming, children must have objective information about the kinds of touches that are okay and the kinds of touches that are not okay.
Some of this information may seem “scary” or “upsetting” to parents and other adults in the community. However, sex abuse prevention education, when done well, teaches these matters in a way that empowers rather than frightens children.
This is, in many ways, no different from other types of safety education. For example, some children may find the rules about fire safety upsetting — but nobody would consider leaving fire safety out of children’s education on the basis that it might frighten children. Instead, fire safety rules are developed and delivered in a way that empowers a child to take appropriate action if faced with fire safety issues.
Education for the prevention of child sexual abuse must include accurate information that is sufficient to give the child the tools to resist the advances of an abuser. It is not “sex education” but the information provided must include some physical and biological facts if we want to give children what they need to stop this crime from happening.
When we start talking about children and “sex,” adults, and parents in particular, are faced with a number of challenges. We are aware of our responsibility to adequately educate our children about human love. In addition we want to make sure our children are safe from those in our communities who would harm them sexually. At the same time, we face the challenge of dealing with our own, often inadequate, education on both subjects.
Simply said, sex education is teaching children how to live as adults in loving, chaste, sexual relationships. Sex abuse prevention is not about “sex.” It is about empowering children to resist the advances of predators and the lures of manipulative, controlling people who would exploit children for their own sexual gratification.
It would be great if we could prevent sexual abuse without ever talking about sex. However, it is important that a comprehensive program offers children the information they need to help protect themselves from abusers. We must be willing to set aside our own levels of discomfort. We must join with competent, responsible educators to establish a foundation of personal safety education and respect for human sexuality that will assure that our children grow up to be healthy functioning adults.
References Familiaris Consortio – Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, to the Episcopate, to the Clergy, and to the Faithful of the Whole Catholic Church, on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. (November 22, 1981)  The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Pontifical Council for the Family, Guidelines for Education Within the Family, November 21, 1995.
What If The Risky Behavior Doesn’t Rise To The Level Of Sex Abuse?
(From Virtus.org, October 2004)
By Erika Tyner Allen, Independent Consultant and Parent
The Protecting God’s Children program asks adults in the faith community to take five steps toward keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. The fifth of these steps “Communicate concerns” asks adults to be willing to talk to each other about adult conduct that raises concerns.
Expressing your concerns can take several paths: Any time you believe that a child is being abused, you should immediately contact your state’s child protective services. If the abuse appears to have happened within the church, you should also contact the appropriate person in your diocese. It is more likely, however, that you will see conduct that, though not abusive, still doesn’t model the adult behavior we want our kids to experience and expect. How should you structure your conversation with an adult whose behavior is inappropriate? Consider the following suggestions for helping to effectively express your concerns.
Talk to the adult directly, in private
Whenever possible, take your concerns directly to the individual whose conduct worries you. While you may feel awkward speaking with the person, you will do that individual a far greater service by not involving other people unnecessarily. Plus you have the most control over how the message is delivered when you are the messenger. Of course, you should always conduct such a conversation in privacy.
Set the stage
Begin your conversation by acknowledging that you feel awkward or uncomfortable about the discussion. State explicitly that you hope your words will be productive.
Recount what you saw that concerned you
Tell the adult exactly what you saw that troubles you. Refrain from characterizing any of the conduct in subjective terms. Simply describe your observations and let the person know why the observed behavior concerns you. Also refrain from generalizing from more than one instance. For example, don’t say: “Several times I have seen you…” One specific example is better than several general examples.
Keep it first-person
Refrain from saying that other people have also expressed concern, even if this is the case. Instead, be ready to confidently but gently assert that you believe the concerning conduct is the kind that might draw negative attention from others or create unnecessary risks for those involved — especially for any affected children.
Express concern for the adult
Explain that you are concerned about this behavior because you worry that it might raise suspicions. Explain that in the context of the recent Church crisis, we must be willing to express our concerns if we are to create a safe environment. Remind the adult that it is important that each of you maintain a healthy suspicion about the adults who interact with children and young people. Also, tell the adult that you simply do not want him or her to be harmed by any unnecessary scrutiny.
Let the person know which of the warning signs of a potential child molester gave rise to the concern. For example, if you observed the person tickling children in the Church parking lot, remind him or her that someone who goes overboard touching children is one of the signs of someone who is a potential risk of harm to children.
Explain role modeling as a priority
Explain, too, that it is vitally important for all adults in the faith community to practice safe and appropriate behaviors and to serve as appropriate role models for the children and young people in our communities. This modeling is important in training children to distinguish for themselves the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Explain to the other adult that, by changing the inappropriate behavior, he or she can play an important role in the community. By eliminating risky behavior and, when it is appropriate, explaining to children why you changed, you will help raise children’s expectations regarding how all adults should treat them.
It will take courage to speak up when you observe behavior that concerns you. However, we must follow all the steps in the Protecting God’s Children program to effectively protect children. Actions may not always be easy, but they are always important. Good luck in your endeavors.
Don’t Get Caught Up In Excusing Abusive Behavior
(From Virtus.org, October 2004)
By Sharon Womack Doty, Senior Child Sex Abuse Prevention Consultant to the VIRTUS Programs
In October of 2002, Jake Savoy was assaulted during a hazing incident in a school locker room. According to a lawsuit filed by Jake’s parents, Jake’s fellow football players “stripped him, taped him naked on top of a bench, beat his buttocks with his hands, football cleats and other objects, inserted a tubular object into his buttocks and placed private parts into [his] nose.” Although there was widespread public outrage at these events, a significant number of local residents and supporters of the athletic program have ridiculed the Savoys. They believe that because the behavior had gone on for many years, it was excusable — because, after all, “boys will be boys”.
Recently a young boy of 12 sexually assaulted a 6-year-old neighbor girl. When the parents of the boy were confronted and asked what they intended to do about it, the response was that while they did not excuse the behavior, they thought it was just a case of “boys being boys”.
Incidents such as this, where the violent and aggressive behavior of boys has been disregarded and labeled as “boys being boys”, are not unusual. While it may seem like a harmless comment in some contexts, in these circumstances it is understood as approval of the behavior — or at least excusing it.
Justifying abuse by saying that “boys will be boys” relieves adults of the responsibility for dealing with serious behavioral issues. At the same time, it sends the message to the community, victims, and especially boys that their irresponsible and violent behavior is acceptable because they can’t really control these urges — they are, after all, only boys.
It is understandably difficult for anyone who knows and loves a child to believe that their child would deliberately hurt another and take pleasure in that activity. However, turning a blind eye to abusive behavior is not responsible parenting or caring ministry. Refusing to confront the abusive, violent, or illegal behavior of children sends the wrong message — and it is demeaning to the entire male population.
Dismissing sexual or physical assault as “boys will be boys” can give boys the idea that their behavior is acceptable — and that can put them on the path to becoming an adult offender. There are, however, some things that parents and others can do to interrupt this cultural thinking.
- Openly and objectively investigate all reports of abusive behavior. Remember that many children who abuse others are, themselves, being abused.
- Don’t let your love of the child cloud your ability to recognize bad behavior.
- Relate to any incident of sexual or physical assault as a warning sign of future trouble, and provide the minor with the therapeutic help needed to deal with these abusive behaviors.
- Stand up for minor children when they are wrongly accused, but maintain objectivity toward the facts when the facts support the allegations.
- Report abusive behavior to the civil authorities and request appropriate intervention to stop the pattern of abuse. Reporting incidents of abuse by minors can save both children — both the abuser and the abused.
Caring adults who provide the appropriate therapeutic intervention at the time of the first incident of sexual assault by a minor can make a profound difference in the child’s future. Studies show that once a juvenile sex offender is identified and provided with appropriate intervention, the rate of recidivism is very, very low. For example, in one major study, only 9.7 percent of juvenile offenders were subsequently arrested for sexual assault as an adult.
“Boys will be boys” can simply be an explanation for why you are not surprised that the boys in a 3-year-old playgroup ended up in the mud puddle in your back yard. In that case, the phrase reminds us of that little kernel of adventure, mischief, and fun that often characterizes efforts to parent little boys. However, testosterone is not an excuse for abuse, and adults who care about raising and educating boys to become responsible adult men will consider their attitudes about this issue and do what is necessary to provide the help needed to intervene in abusive behavior.
Keeping Kids Safe
(From Virtus.org, July 2004)
Parent involvement is critical to an effective Abuse Prevention program. Parent involvement is critical because:
- a parent who is educated about child sexual abuse knows the signs and symptoms of abuse and can watch for those signs their own and other children;
- a parent who is educated about child sexual abuse can talk with their own children about personal safety; and
- a parent who is educated about child sexual abuse can understand what to watch for in the behavior of adults or older children that could be signals of a potential abuser.
This educational segment gives parents ideas on how to talk to kids about personal safety, and tells parents what to watch for in potential abusers.
Talking to Kids
Talking about child sexual abuse is sometimes uncomfortable for many people, even in adult conversations. Thus, discomfort with the idea of talking to children about the issue makes many parents shy away from such discussions. Yet experts say that parents are one of the single most effective tools in the fight against child sexual abuse. Parents who talk with their children about personal safety can be extremely effective in assuring that their children do not become victims. Here are some tips for parents who want to talk with their children about this delicate subject.
- It is not about sex! Remember that most children, especially at younger ages, do not understand sexual concepts, so when you talk about this issue, you will not be discussing “sex” with the child. Instead, the focus is on personal safety.
- Talk about safety! Use opportunities to discuss other kinds of safety issues as a way to discuss this issue as well. There are many times when you talk to your children about looking both ways when crossing the street, what to do if there is a fire, etc. This discussion with your child is simply another low-key opportunity to make sure they understand what they can do to keep themselves safe.
- Read to your kids. Purchase or obtain a book that addresses the issue in childlike terms. Use this to go over the safety rules with your child.
- Teach your children. Teach your children:
- to trust their own feelings;
- that they have the right to say NO when something feels wrong;
- no one should be able to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable;
- places on their body that are covered by their swimsuits are private and just for them, except for when a parent helps them stay clean or a parent or doctor helps them stay healthy;
- if any touches make them feel uncomfortable, they should tell someone immediately;
- no one should ever ask the child to keep a secret from their parents, and if that happens, he or she should tell a parent or teacher right away;
- teach your children the rules of safety in navigating the Internet (avoiding dangerous websites, not giving out personal information, not trusting everything someone says on the web, etc.)
Other Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Abuse
- Educate Yourself!! Understand the problem so that you are not misled by myths and misperceptions. The Diocese of Beaumont website, under the Safe Environment page, has on-line training for Parents and Adults. Use these references to become informed about the facts of abuse.
- Understand the Causes. Understand the causes of abuse, so that you are more able to spot potential safety issues with your children.
- Supervise Your Children. Children who are less supervised are more at risk for abuse. Know where your children are, who they are with, and what they are doing. Understand the supervision being provided, and make sure you know who those people are. Monitor those relationships.
- Give Children Permission to Refuse Touching. Allow children to say no when they don’t feel like being kissed by “Great Uncle Roger”. This gives children the idea that they have the right to refuse to be touched.
- Let the Children Talk. Be approachable and sensitive to your children’s need to talk.
- Play! Observe children playing, and play with them. This is sometimes the way that children tell you what they are feeling.
Understanding Potential Abuser Behavior
The following information is excerpted from the book Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse by Recognizing the Patterns of the Offenders, Carla Van Dam, PHD, The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press, 2001. This information is provided so that parents can be more familiar with patterns to look for in those people who interact with their children. This book is an excellent source of information, and a summary of the research to date on the issue of identification of child molesters. It should be read and interpreted with caution to avoid overreaction to any vague similarities some of the information in the book. The following is a brief summary of information about a process called “grooming,” which is an organized progressive rapport some molesters try to establish with children to engage a child in sexual activity. In this summary, the molester is referred to in the male gender given the realization that the majority of child molesters are male.
The “Grooming” Process
Studies show that child molesters go through a “grooming” process, which can sometimes take months or years, in an effort to facilitate molestations. The grooming process generally involves the following elements:
- Sexual attraction to children: This may be a pre-existing condition in the molester, and can occur for many different reasons.
- Justification of interest: The molester often goes through a psychological process of justifying his attraction to children. This is described further below. This is a process of breaking down the molester’s own psychological boundaries to allow the molestation to occur.
- Grooming of the adult community: Often the molester will go through a process of getting the adult community that surrounds the child to accept and even welcome the molester’s involvement with the child. This is also described further below.
- Grooming of child: This is a process the molester goes through to break down the child’s resistance to sexual activity and to engage the child in the activity.
Justification of interest
This process of justifying the behavior is sometimes called neutralization. This is the psychological effort the molester goes through to justify the behavior to himself, and to break down any emotional barrier in himself which would prevent him from acting upon his sexual attraction to children.
- Denial of injury: The molester denies to himself, and perhaps to others, that any injury to the child could occur. The molester tells himself things like “This is my way of showing love to the child, I don’t want to hurt the child.” Many molesters lead themselves to believe that they are helping the child by showing love.
- Denial of victimization: The molester also denies that the child is a victim, instead choosing to view the child as actively wanting to engage in sexual activity.
- Condemnation of dissension: Many molesters actively argue against any societal view that child abuse is wrong.
- More enlightened viewpoint: Molesters will often take the position that their view is in fact the more enlightened view.
Grooming of the adult community
Child molesters will often ingratiate themselves with the adult community surrounding the child, and break down any barriers that exist to access to the child. This includes exhibiting behaviors such as:
- Friendliness, often excessive, or patronizing of children or their caregivers
- Ingratiating activity, such as doing favors, helping out when no one has asked for help, etc.
- Targeting vulnerable families, such as those with alcohol problems, or single mothers
Grooming of children
The child molester will often groom a particular child using techniques which:
- Choose the most vulnerable child (see below)
- Engage the child in peer-like activities (playing with the children, playing games, etc.)
- Desensitization of child to touching (see below);
- Isolating the child (see below); and
- Making the child feel responsible and thus less likely to disclose the abuse.
A Vulnerable Child
A vulnerable child, and thus a child more likely to be a target of abuse, often has several of the following characteristics:
- Needy (and thus vulnerable to positive attention)
- Quiet (and thus less likely to tell)
- Craves attention (and thus vulnerable to attention)
- Younger (less likely to understand or tell)
- Picked on by other children (and thus needing a friend)
- Low self esteem (and thus vulnerable to the positive reinforcement of the molester)
- Trusting (and thus less likely to understand the danger)
- Compliant (and thus vulnerable to an adult telling them it is okay)
- Eager to please (vulnerable to engaging in activity if they are told it is pleasing to the adult)
- A single parent (thus the child generally needs attention and the parent is grateful for the help)
- Unsupervised (and thus vulnerable to the attention of the molester).
The molester will often go through a process of desensitizing the child to the touch of the molester by engaging in the following types of activity:
- Tickling games;
- Physical picking up, carrying the child, using this as an opportunity to test the child’s reaction to touch;
- Testing child’s reaction slowly — if the child balks at the touch the molester will back off and continue the grooming process
- Testing whether child will tell — if the child tells, the molester will know to move to another child. Of course, there may be very innocent explanations for many of the activities noted above. This list is intended only to generally describe the process of grooming that may be engaged in by a child molester. Such activities should be interpreted cautiously, but with increasing vigilance if observed, and acted upon if repetitious.
Of course, there may be very innocent explanations for many of the activities noted above. This list is intended only to generally describe the process of grooming that may be engaged in by a child molester. Such activities should be interpreted cautiously, but with increasing vigilance if observed, and acted upon if repetitious.
The Bad Guy’s Tool Box
(From “Kid Tips 101”, January 2005)
The “Bad Guy’s Tool Box” tells you the tricks that bad people use to try to hurt kids. Use this guide to teach your children what those tricks are and how to say NO!
There are many names for bad guys. When it comes to stealing kids, and hurting them, we call them Predators or Pedophiles. Most of the time they are men, but sometimes they are women, too.
There is one very important thing you have to know. You do not deserve to be hurt, abused or used. If someone tells you it was your fault they hurt you or touched you in private places, they are a liar, and you must not believe them.
The real BAD GUYS sometimes look just like the GOOD GUYS. So since you can’t tell if they are bad or not by looking at them, then how can you tell?
Well, here are some of the tricks they use. We call it the BAD GUY’S TOOL BOX.
Okay, so, can you tell who is a bad guy and who isn’t? No, it isn’t always the person who is homeless, or walking around in a trench coat, or even someone who has a face that might scare you.
Special Hint #1: Pay really close attention to what you see here. This stuff could make the difference between whether a bad guy could trick you or not.
A GOOD GUY is someone you know you can trust, who really cares about you and loves you.
A BAD GUY pretends to care about you. If you get a really bad feeling about someone when they tell you that no one cares about you as much as they do, and that you should keep a secret from others… TELL SOMEONE YOU CAN TRUST.
Special Hint #2: Remember that, unless one of your family (like your mom or dad) is the person who is abusing you, they are your very best friend. Never keep a secret from your parents if they are the good guys. If it is one of your parents who is hurting or abusing you, you must tell someone you trust right away!
Always remember that GOOD GUYS sometimes ask kids to help with things like dishes, taking out the trash, and stuff like that.
When it comes to asking for help, like finding a lost pet, or their missing child, or money or finding a street, or anything like that… they really need another adult to help them. If they ask you for this kind of help, they probably are a BAD GUY and you should tell them what?… That’s right — NO!
Special Hint #3: Always, Always, remember that you are never a bad person if someone manages to sexually abuse or assault you. They are the bad guy, you are the victim. BE SURE TO GO TELL SOMEONE YOU TRUST.
A GOOD GUY might bribe you to do your homework, or help around the house.
But a BAD GUY might bribe you with money, candy, clothes, trips, or other really special things to try to get you to go with them when you know you shouldn’t. They might try to get you to do something that makes you feel funny or bad inside.
Trust your feelings. If it feels wrong, it probably is. SAY NO, GET AWAY. THEN GO TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST. If someone tries to bribe you to do something or go somewhere you don’t want to… Always say NO! NO! NO! NO!
This one is kinda hard to understand sometimes, but it’s important that you know that BAD GUYS will do almost anything to hurt kids. So sometimes they will take jobs like being a coach, or a teacher, or a clown, even a youth group leader.
It’s easy to recognize the BAD GUYS because they will try to get you alone, where there are no other kids or adults around. Then they may try to convince you to do things that will hurt you or make you feel very bad.
Most adults who are in these jobs are really GOOD GUYS, so don’t be afraid. Just be careful and TRUST YOUR FEELINGS. SAY NO and TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST.
This one is pretty easy. Have a CODE WORD with your parents, and baby-sitter, someone special your parents trust. Make sure that no one else knows it. If someone comes to pick you up without your parent’s permission, if they don’t know the code word, you know they are a BAD GUY. SAY NO, THEN TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST.
Fun & Games
We all love to play games, with our parents, our brothers and sisters, even our friends. Games that make you feel good and make you laugh are played with GOOD GUYS.
Whether it’s an older child or an adult, if someone wants to play games that allow them to touch you in your private places, or tie you up, or put handcuffs on you, or lock you in a closet or room, they are a BAD GUY. SAY NO! GET AWAY, THEN TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST!
Ego, Fame, Jobs
Here is where BAD GUYS are really mean and cruel. They use your feelings to make you feel special even though they only want to hurt you. They will offer you things like modeling jobs, beauty contests, commercials, lots of money, high pay, a private audition, and tell you they will make you famous. Then they tell you to keep it a secret. You know the song by now, I hope. Don’t believe their lies. SAY NO; THEN GO TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST.
If anyone, especially a stranger, comes up to you with one or more other kids, and asks you to go with them for any reason, no matter how real it may seem, say NO. This is a trick that BAD GUYS use to get you to go with them.
You should never go with anyone, even someone you know, without permission from your parents or guardian. There are no exceptions to this one, kids. Don’t let them fool you! Then go tell someone you trust.
It used to be okay to wear your name on your jackets, hats, and backpacks. BAD GUYS use names showing on your clothes, book bags etc. to make you think they know you, and make you feel comfortable with them. If you don’t know them, and they don’t know your code word, you know what to say….. “NO! GO AWAY!” THEN YOU GO AND TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST. Right? RIGHT!
A BAD GUY is a lot like a bully. Most of the time they are full of hot air. If they threaten that they are going to hurt you or your family if you don’t do what they tell you… JUST SAY NO! THEN WHAT? YOU GOT IT… GET AWAY. GO TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST!!
Man, this is so gross. When the BAD GUYS decided to start using Santa Claus and other hero figures to get at kids so they could hurt them… that was a low blow. But that is exactly what they do.
The same rules apply here as with all the others. Even if it’s Santa Claus… he’s a BAD GUY if he tries to get you alone, or tries to do something to you, or have you do something that makes you feel bad. DON’T DO IT; SAY NO. GET AWAY, AND GO TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST.
Magic & Rituals
Special Hint #4 – An important thing also to remember is that if anyone ever wants to do a trick with handcuffs, blindfolds, or locking you in a box, closet, or room, tell them NO. Then immediately go tell an adult you trust.
Now, listen very closely to this one. You know how there are funny shows on TV like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed, and stuff like that. Well, that is only TV. But there are people out there who will use your curiosity to try to get you alone and then to hurt you.
It is very, very important that if anyone ever approaches you about learning about magic, magic tricks, witches, or going to a haunted house, or a cemetery, without your parents’ permission, or to any place else that is scary or has to do with witchcraft, or performing spells, DON’T GO!! These people are big-time BAD GUYS. SAY NO; GET AWAY AND GO TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST RIGHT AWAY!!
This is a big word, huh. Some of you may even know what it means. For those who don’t, it is a word used for books, pictures, and magazines that have bad pictures of children and grown-ups who are naked or touching each other in their private places.
Sex and touching are not bad, but the way they are shown in these pictures and magazines is bad — the people who create pornography are very, very BAD GUYS. They use children in bad ways, and will try to convince you to do these things, too.
YOU KNOW THE DRILL BY NOW. STAY AWAY FROM ANYONE WHO WANTS TO GET YOU NAKED OR TOUCH YOUR PRIVATE PLACES OR TAKE PICTURES OF YOU NAKED OR HALF-DRESSED. GET AWAY AND TELL AN ADULT YOU TRUST.
Understanding and Identifying Physical Child Abuse
(From Virtus.org, October 2004)
By Robert Hugh Farley, M.S., Consultant
Physical child abuse is usually not a constant or daily occurrence. There are often many days or weeks between the actual attacks. There is usually, though, constant or daily emotional abuse directed toward the child — abusive behavior such as yelling and belittlement. But, unless the caretaker is psychotic, the actual attacks most often occur intermittently and in a somewhat discreet manner.
In many cases, school or church personnel identify children in their organization who appear to have been physically abused. These same people then make the appropriate report to the authorities. To help ensure the proper treatment (if required) and the future safety of a child, professionals need to understand the abuser and some of the different types of soft tissue injuries that a child may sustain — both accidentally and as a result of physical abuse.
Physical child abuse occurs in families from all socioeconomic groups. The poor, who generally have fewer choices of medical treatment available to them, are often successfully identified and then prosecuted in many of these cases. Health care providers or even school personnel may be more likely to question low-income parents about how their child’s injuries occurred, rather than asking middle class or affluent parents about how their child’s injuries occurred.
In my investigations involving the physical abuse of children, parents or other caretakers will exhibit a variety of attitudes, behaviors, and responses. Some parents, when interviewed by school personnel, may seem unconcerned about a child’s injuries. Others may feel guilty or remorseful for their actions. Still, others may be reluctant to admit physically abusing a child out of fear of legal consequences or because they were beaten as a child by their own parents. In some situations non-abusive family members may even lie to protect a spouse or other loved one who is responsible for physically abusing a child. This occurs for a number of reasons, such as preservation of even a dysfunctional family unit, potential loss of a breadwinner, or fear of reprisals.
In an effort to conceal the physical abuse, caretakers may delay seeking treatment or fail to provide treatment for injured children. Some abusive caretakers attempt to conceal a child’s injuries by having the injured child wear oversized clothing to school or by keeping the child inside a family residence for extended periods of time.
Parents or caretakers who were abused as children are more likely to abuse their own children. A family history of spousal abuse also increases the likelihood of child abuse. Substance or alcohol abuse is another major causative and correlating factor for the physical and emotional abuse of children. The frustration and pressures of poverty may also increase the chance of child abuse. Other contributing factors can be the loss of a job, an illness or death in a family, or a divorce or separation.
Physical or social isolation may make caretakers feel incapable of asking for help. Cut off from friends, co-workers, family members, and outside social activities, these individuals may have no one to whom they can “vent” or confide their frustrations. This isolation may cause significant stress and, for some, may lead to child abuse.
A triggering mechanism is the crisis or other event that precedes and precipitates an incident of physical abuse. It is the single event that causes a parent or caretaker to feel suddenly angry, out of control, or overwhelmed — the event that leads him or her to react with abuse. Every case of physical abuse, even with the psychotic, is precipitated by a triggering mechanism.
While connected with stress, the typical triggering mechanisms are common, everyday occurrences such as: a child’s crying, unwillingness to eat, complaining, a lack of cooperation or just being “bad,” or a teen “talking back” to a parent or guardian. It can also be a somewhat minor incident, such as spilled milk or food or a broken glass or dish.
In some families, one or more children are singled out for abuse because of a characteristic that the parent or caretaker perceives as negative. Children abused repeatedly because of specific characteristics are known as target children. Repetitive abuse of this kind is known as the “target” or “special child” syndrome. Targeting is not always easy to identify. It may be a causation factor when a parent claims that a child is hyperactive, aggressive, or disobedient. Again, it may not be just one child in the family who was physically abused.
All too frequently, the characteristic that places a child at risk of abuse is a physical, emotional, or psychological handicap. A disproportionate number of physically handicapped children are abused, perhaps because of the additional pressures on caretakers related to a handicapped child’s special needs. In several cases of abuse, I have found the beating is often directed at that portion of the child’s body that is different than that of a normal child.
Accidental vs. Non-accidental Injuries
A bruise is the most common accidental or non-accidental injury a professional observes on a child. A bruise is also described as a closed soft tissue injury. A bruise usually occurs when blood escapes into the tissues of a child following the breakage of capillaries by blunt force. In some child abuse situations, the offender may also produce bruises by squeezing or pinching the victim.
It is important for the professional to differentiate between accidental and non-accidental soft tissue injuries. Accidental injuries typically occur along areas that are commonly known as bony prominences.
Accidental Injuries areas: Knees, Elbows, Outside of the Hands, Chin, Forehead, Nose.
By contrast, non-accidental injuries usually occur on the backside of a child in an area called the primary target zone. This zone extends from the back of a child’s neck to the area behind his or her knees. These injuries are often the most obvious and dramatic examples of child abuse. As identified in the list below, the primary target zone also includes a child’s shoulders and the entire length of his or her arms. Bruises found in this area should be treated with suspicion and considered non-accidental.
Non-accidental areas: Buttocks, Thighs, Arms, Cheeks, Stomach or torso, Back, Shoulders.
The bruising pattern most frequently observed in abuse cases includes injuries on multiple edges of a child’s body or injuries on more than one body plane. This is very different from what is customarily expected in accidental injuries, where injuries are usually confined to bony prominences. The distribution of soft tissue injuries on a child’s body provides information about when and how frequently the abuse may have occurred.
Professionals should also look for multiple resolving injuries (i.e., those that occurred at different times and in different areas of the body). Because such injuries are in various stages of healing, they will create a rainbow effect on the child. This effect often negates the caretaker’s statement that the child suffered the injury as the result of “one” accident.
Hands and fists are the most common weapons in physical child abuse cases. If other weapons or objects are used, they are often ordinary household instruments such as a belt, a wooden spoon, or an extension cord. The overall size and shape of the injury left on a child’s body may indicate the type of object that the offender used.
Physically abused children often walk gingerly around the abuser fearing something will set him or her off. Because crying often brings extra blows, abused children will often learn to suppress their tears. These children often will feel responsible for the abuse, rationalizing to themselves, for example, that they “got caught being so bad” that they had to get “whupped”, or that “Daddy wouldn’t hit me unless he loved me.” Only after extensive therapy as adults can they remember and then fully acknowledge their helplessness, anger, and indignation over being beaten by a beloved parent or caretaker.
An Overview of Online Problems and Risks
(From Virtus.org, January 31, 2005)
By Robert Hugh Farley, M.S., Consultant to the VIRTUS Programs
Our society has vastly changed with the advent of the Internet. With just the click of a mouse one can easily research a subject for school, shop from home, or map out the directions for a trip. While providing almost limitless learning opportunities for children, the Internet has also become the new schoolyard for child molesters seeking boys and girls to victimize. Unfortunately, innocent children are only a mouse click away from sexual exploitation and victimization.
Beginning in 1997, the child molesters’ use of computers and the Internet exploded. Prior to this time, I was a member of a federal task force in Chicago, where I worked undercover as a pedophile arresting those who sexually abused children and who traded child pornography. Preferential child molesters are quick to utilize the newest technology in order to access and satisfy their sexual interest in children. In 1997, I discovered that the Internet allowed those molesters to gain access of huge amounts of child pornography. These images could then be easily, safely, and discreetly stored on a computer. Prior to 1997, when I arrested someone for possession of child pornography, it was, for example: two commercial magazines, a VHS video, or a dozen homemade Polaroid photos. Now arrests routinely involve individuals possessing hundreds or thousands of images of children being sexually abused.
Just as disturbing is the child molester who no longer has to lurk in parks and malls, seek out a traditional child-orientated profession, or befriend a single mother in order to gain legal access to her children. Since 1997, a molester merely sits at a computer and roams from chat room to chat room, trolling for children susceptible to victimization.
What is cyberspace?
In a 1984 science fiction book that was titled Neuromancer, author William Gibson created a world that he called “Cyberspace”. Gibson felt that online human interaction with computers would someday create a virtual universe where electronic actions could lead to physical repercussions. Today, Gibson’s cyberspace is a reality. Started by the creation of the Internet, accelerated by the World Wide Web, and fueled by the data demands of the Information Age, today’s cyberspace covers the entire world and a significant amount of the population with instantaneous data exchange.
To help understand the many facets of cyberspace and online communication, one must be familiar with computer terms and other related terminology. There are thousands of locations or areas that make up what is often referred to as “cyberspace.” The Internet is the largest locality or network within cyberspace. In addition to the ability for the user to send electronic mail or “email”, there are three distinct locations within the Internet: the World Wide Web, Usenet Newsgroups, and Internet Relay Chat.
Although the term Web and Internet are often used interchangeably, the World Wide Web (web) is actually only a part of the Internet. The web or “www” consists of websites that are set up by government agencies, businesses, clubs, or simply people with a specific interest. A positive example of this is the VIRTUS Online website. Negative examples, however, would be websites located outside of the United States that sell child pornography, or websites located within the United States that sell child erotica.
The Usenet Newsgroups are very similar to the bulletin boards at the grocery store. On the many newsgroup sites you can read information or view photo images that have been posted by people from around the world. These postings are broken down into specific subjects or topics that can be easily searched by a user. A positive example of this is information postings about the recent tsunami disaster. A negative example would be newsgroup postings that offer free child pornography images.
The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a collection of tens of thousands of electronic chat rooms where one can talk to other participants on a multitude of subjects. These chat rooms or “channels,” which each can hold 999 members, once could only be connected by keyboard text. But, now, with the advances of technology, the participants in these chat rooms can talk in real time via a computer microphone. And, they can see one another by utilizing a web cam. A positive example of an IRC chat-room would be one called “California Wines” where the members can discuss the best California cabernet sauvignon wines. A negative example would be an IRC chat room called “Pre-Teen Child Rape” where the members can freely discuss the “pleasures” of raping pre-teen age children.
How can I access cyberspace?
Access to cyberspace is growing all of the time. Many people think that a computer in one’s home, school, public library, or office is the only way to get online. In the past this was true, but with the advent of Wi-Fi (wireless technology) notebook or portable computers one can now go online at free or pay-as-you-go access sites around the world. In addition, it is also possible to reach cyberspace from other devices such as cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and even some Internet-enabled video games.
As cellular telephone companies produce more advanced features, the cell phone or PDA have become — as I have observed in many countries outside of the United States — a practical alternative for reaching the Internet. Unlike the personal computer (PC), cell phones and PDAs can be carried or used virtually anywhere. For instance, a molester can now easily take surreptitious photos of a child with a cell phone and instantly upload the photos to his office computer where, in the privacy and security of his office, he can later examine or digitally modify the content of the photos. In addition, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere where text messaging is very popular and inexpensive, more and more children are receiving unwanted, sexually explicit text messages from adults on their cell phones.
What are the dangers for children?
Unfortunately, there are no censors on the Internet. Anyone, good or bad, can distribute information or post materials on a website. A number of Internet service providers have parental controls or monitoring tools to help customers keep unwanted materials out of their home and office computers. Unfortunately, these companies do not have control over the entire Internet. The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) still remains fertile ground for child molesters with no restrictions imposed on them whatsoever. In many cases it is only a caring adult that can safely guide a child thru cyberspace.
In June 2000, a study titled Online Victimization was conducted for the United States Department of Justice. In the study, a national sampling of children found that:
- Approximately one in five children had received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet in the last year.
- One in four children on the Internet had an unwanted exposure to naked people or people having sex in the last year.
- One in thirty-three children received an aggressive sexual solicitation — a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere called them on the telephone, or sent them mail, money, or gifts.
Today, even more children in the United States are online; undoubtedly, if a national sampling of children was interviewed in 2005, these numbers would be even higher.
Often, children fail to tell an adult about their discomfort associated with visiting websites or chat rooms because they feel that they have done something wrong, or they are afraid they will lose their computer privileges.
As pervasive and tempting as the Internet can be, it is essential for parents, teachers, and members of the clergy to be knowledgeable and fluent in both the negative and the positive aspects of the Internet. Parents, teachers, and members of the clergy must speak very openly about online child safety issues. If a child feels that those adults are comfortable discussing the child’s questions and online experiences, the child will be more forthcoming, and ultimately more protected.
Taking A Closer Look at Cell Phone Video Voyeurism
(From Virtus.org, February 28, 2005)
By Donna Albertone, M.P.A.
Recently, an Ohio man pleaded guilty to one count of voyeurism for using his cell phone to take an inappropriate picture of a 13-year-old girl. He will soon be sentenced and a judge will decide if he is a sex offender. Witnesses saw the man using his cell phone to take a picture looking up the girl’s skirt in a grocery store. He bent down pretending to be on the phone all the while using the phone’s video feature to “sneak a peak.” When confronted by a sheriff’s deputy, the man quickly attempted to delete the photo.
Cell phones with photographic capability are a mixed blessing. Forget your camera? Whip out the cell phone and your toddler’s first step, friend’s goofy mishap, or fender-bender is captured for posterity. But cell phones are also being used in a sinister way — to silently take pictures of unsuspecting children, adolescents, and adults in compromising positions and without their consent. Plus, unlike conventional photographs, digital photos can be placed on the Internet very quickly — within minutes of the photo being taken — and distributed around the world. In fact, some websites have been created for the sole purpose of posting photos taken surreptitiously with camera phones.
Victims of video voyeurism say they now experience fear in certain situations and are suspicious everywhere they go. “Finding out someone took my picture while disrobing in a locker room shocked me,” said a recent female victim whose image was found on the cell phone of a recently arrested individual. “I can’t help but think about where my image is now. Am I on the web for all to see? It’s hard to get out of my mind.”
In an attempt to address this problem, on December 23, 2004, President Bush signed into law the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 making it a crime to secretly capture naked or underwear covered private-part images of people in situations where those people have the expectation of privacy — regardless of whether that person is in a truly private area. Any person found guilty of video voyeurism could be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned for up to one year. States have created or are creating legislation to address this same issue, however, the laws vary greatly from state to state, which raises a number of jurisdictional complications that make real prosecutions difficult for many local prosecutors to actually pursue. For example, in Texas, a state prosecution would require proof that the photographer took the photos for his or her sexual gratification — and, as we all know, intent can be very difficult to prove.
Among other things, the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 makes it illegal to take any type of photographic images (film-based, digital, camera phone, video) of various parts of people’s unclothed bodies or undergarments without the consent of the person being photographed, and/or to place a secretly obtained photo on the Internet.
In the United States, the trend for many establishments such as gyms and recreation centers is to ban all cell phones in all areas except for public lobbies.
Yet, even with the new law and increased awareness by law enforcement agencies, the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. According to a market research firm, more camera-phones will be sold in 2005 than film-based cameras and digital cameras combined. And, most people take their cell phones with them everywhere they go. This is precisely why we must remind ourselves that though we cannot control someone with the desire to take voyeuristic photos — we can take away their opportunity to do so through our own awareness and cautious behavior.
Video voyeurism is not confined to the United States. In Saudi Arabia, the import and sale of camera phones was illegal until recently. And, South Korea’s government has ordered manufacturers to design new phones so that they beep when taking a picture.
Remind yourself over and over again that a cell phone can be used for something other than talking. Be aware of anyone using a cell phone in a locker room, public showers, children’s play area, swimming pool, or changing areas. Accompany your children into changing rooms and other areas where someone could have an opportunity to photograph a scantily clad child.
Have a healthy suspicion of anyone using a cell phone in an awkward way, such as not holding it up to his or her ear or facing his or her mouth in a walkie-talkie style. Be especially cognizant of any suspicious cell phone use in areas where people could be in various states of undress or where children are gathered.
If you see someone using a cell phone in a way that appears suspicious, don’t be afraid to ask what he or she is doing or to alert someone in a position of authority about your concerns.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of video voyeurism, immediately tell someone in a position of authority and report the incident to the local police or sheriff’s department. Those who engage in video voyeurism tend to re-visit locations where they have easily and successfully obtained photos in the past.
Taking pictures is not a crime and the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 doesn’t prohibit people from using their camera phones for legitimate purposes. It merely means those who choose to use the camera feature in an inappropriate way will have a price to pay and a lot of explaining to do.
Talking With Your Teen About Dating Safety
(From Virtus.org, August 2004)
By Paul J. Ashton, Consultant on Adult Education
Have you discussed sex, sexuality, and your personal values with your teen — including your values regarding both sex-related and non-sex-related issues? Have you determined when your teen will be old enough or mature enough to begin dating? How can you make sure your teen will return safely when he or she leaves to go on a date? Besides worrying, what should you do next?
You can greatly assist your teen in the development of a healthy decision-making process by having ongoing discussions with your teen in a short “sound-bite” style of dialog. This is an effective way to provide your child with important safety information, and to help him or her think about dating and other behavioral decisions within the larger context of values and morals.
Here are some questions for you to answer for yourself, before you initiate a conversation with your teen:
- What are your values?
- What are your feelings and hopes for your child?
- What behaviors do you find acceptable and unacceptable?
- What would you like for your child to do if he or she becomes uncomfortable during a date?
- How will you respond if your teen does something that you consider unacceptable?
- What is a good choice, and how do you make a good choice?
- What is a bad choice, and how can you avoid making a bad choice?
- What are the consequences of bad choices?
- What kinds of positive and negative dating issues did you experience when you were your child’s age?
- Who are the people your teen can trust, regardless of the circumstances?
- Who will always be there for your child, no matter what?
Even though these questions may appear to be straightforward, direct, and very simple, these topics are often unspoken and left as assumptions between parents and teens. Parents know how they think their teens should respond — and teens often don’t think about these issues in advance. Once you are clear about your responses, the issues raised by these questions provide a great way for you to initiate a conversation with your teen about the larger topic of dating safety.
In my 12 years of experience leading seminars for couples engaged to be married, I have found through informally polling of participants that roughly 96 percent never had a discussion about sex or sexuality with their parents. In my experience, it also appears that the percentage is roughly the same among parents I train and teach. For whatever reasons, we agree that it is absolutely essential for parents to educate their children about sexuality and values, but very few of us do it.
Many parents rely on school programs to fully educate their children about sex and sexuality, but often these programs do not include the particular values and religious beliefs that each family holds true and dear. For your teen to be properly equipped to make good decisions — not only about relationships and sexual situations, but also about appropriate behavior in all human relationships — it is crucial that values and morality be applied to any sex education a child receives.
When talking about dating safety, you need to place the facts within the context of your family’s values and moral responsibility. Knowing what to do and what not to do is one thing; knowing why is yet another. Discuss with your teen the things to consider when making a responsible choice.
Additionally, teaching them to understand and respect the distinctions between different individuals, cultures, ideas, and norms, can empower teens to see their own individual worth within a relationship and the need to have their own beliefs respected. This allows them to be open-minded, yet faithful, in knowing who they are, what their family values are, and how to manage their growing edge.
What is their growing edge? Everyone has a growing edge — the places in our life where we need to grow and understand more about ourselves and the world around us. Communication and education are the keys to keeping this growing edge as rich and rewarding as possible. It is so important for parents to have regular, frequent, and consistent conversations with their children and teens about the changing world in which we live — including a discussion of how these changes interface with the values and moral beliefs we hold to be true.
Parents are often faced with the challenge of redefining their own language and understanding the new terms and definitions that teens use as a part of their dating lingo. Parents need to ask their teens the definitions for different terms so everyone in the family can operate from a common understanding. Perhaps “dating” or “going out” does not mean the same thing today that it did when you were a teenager. Reviewing dating lingo with your teens can be a humorous way to segue into a serious conversation about dating safety.
Safety is an important part of anyone’s dating life. Knowing what to do when the “unexpected” happens can save your teens from difficult or hurtful experiences. Here are some topics to help you initiate a discussion with your teen:
- How the teen can reach a parent or guardian when the teen is on a date.
- The family’s rules regarding curfews.
- Meet the teen’s date and have the date’s home telephone number.
- Know exactly where your teen is going, and the telephone numbers of those locations.
- Know whether there will be other adults present at parties and other activities.
- Give your teen a cell phone for emergencies, and make sure he or she carries enough money to be able to call someone in an emergency or to arrange for alternative transportation if he or she chooses to abandon a date. A cell phone is a powerful tool in an emergency. Your teen can summon immediate help by calling 911 or a family member.
- Make sure you teach your teen the meaning of the word “no”. Tell your child that he or she should bring to their date’s attention anything that makes them uncomfortable. Make sure your teen understands that he or she has the right to say “no” and to be respected for exercising that right. Remember, when it comes to sex, “no” ALWAYS means “no”.
- The possible lifetime negative impact of today’s choices and actions. Teach your children of all ages to walk away from anyone who suggests that it is okay to break the law — even for the purpose of a juvenile prank. This, for example, applies to underage drinking, smoking pot, taking any type of illegal or recreational drug, skipping out on a restaurant bill, stealing anything of any value, damaging property in any manner, and hurting anyone. These things need to be discussed, repeated, and repeated some more. Your constant and consistent support — not nagging — on these points will help to reinforce your teen’s personal investment in making good choices.
- Possessiveness in a relationship has nothing to do with love or respect.
- Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse should never be tolerated.
- Teens should learn to trust their instincts and to stay away from peer pressure as often as possible.
- Teach your teen to be a “leader”, not a “follower”, by taking the lead in saying “no” to anything that he or she knows is dangerous.
- Emergencies are not always life and death issues. Teach your teen to call home whenever he or she feels uncomfortable or threatened. It may save your teen a great deal of trauma and, in some cases, it can save your child’s life.
- Always have a “plan” to act on in any emergency situation.
- Tell your teen to always call you for help — regardless of the type of trouble he or she encounters. Your teen needs to know that you will help, even when he or she breaks the rules.
- If in danger, teens should “make a scene” to draw attention to themselves and to summon help.
By discussing these topics with your teen, you may prevent a terrible situation from happening. Plus, the conversation gives you an opportunity to share your values with your teen.
Bottom Line: Most importantly, perhaps, parents should always focus on the joy and fun of dating — and the positive and enjoyable experiences that result — when you engage in good, clean, wholesome fun! Dating adds a new element of excitement to a teen’s life. By having frank, open, and respectful conversations with your teen, you can encourage them to share their experiences with you without fear or guilt. This foundation of effective communication will extend far beyond the teenage years and the dating environment and will support a lifetime of happiness and joy with your young adult.
Blogs and RSS: Oh Brother, What’s Next?
(From Virtus.org, April 2005)
By Donna Albertone, M.P.A.
Just when it seems like we’ve started becoming familiar with the latest Internet lingo, a new term comes along. “blog” was Merriam-Webster’s No. 1 word for 2004. The more technical word is Weblog, but the common term is simply blog. A blog is a website run by an individual or a small group of like-minded people, and is actually an online journal or diary.
Most of us think of a diary as a little book with an unreliable lock, or a secret journal used to capture our most personal and intimate thoughts. Not so with a blog. Online blogs contain reflections, thoughts, rants, or virtually anything the author can think of — including photos, videos, music, and links to other websites. And, unlike the diary of old, anyone who reads the blog can add his or her comments. The concept isn’t radical or new. The difference between blogs and other “low-tech” forms of opinion sharing, is that anyone can easily, cheaply, and with very little skill, create a fully linkable blog, in about five minutes.
For a child — mostly “tweens” and teens — a blog can be a great way to express his or her current emotion, whether it’s joy, anger, frustration, confusion, or anything else. But because a blog is an online journal or diary, kids often upload pictures of themselves, write details about their daily lives, or inadvertently reveal where they live, where they attend school, and other identifying information about their family and friends. These mini-autobiographies are out there for anyone to see — and for anyone to join in the ongoing “conversation.” As with Internet chat rooms, the comments can expand into long-term conversation, which can then become a web-based friendship that may include plans to meet in person. And, all the while, the child or teen doesn’t really know who is participating in the blog. It is not unthinkable, then, that sexual predators could become frequent visitors to blogs created by children and teens.
A sexual predator could, potentially, create his or her own blog. A molester could design his or her blog to appeal to a specific set of child characteristics that meet the molester’s specific sexual preferences. Then, like a spider waiting for prey, the child molester could watch and wait for children to visit the predator’s blog. A blog can include a “blogging roll,” which is nothing more than links to other websites. Be warned of the potential for these blogging rolls to link to pornography or to blogs created by other sexual predators.
Blogging, however, is only part of the story. Another tool that’s featured on many blogs is called Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication — the acronym RSS is the common term. In very simplistic terms, RSS allows someone to “subscribe” to a blog and to receive instant notification when something new is added to the blog. So, for example, when the author of a blog posts a new entry, those with an RSS subscription to that particular blog will immediately be notified of the new information — and the “subscriber” doesn’t have to constantly monitor the blog.
RSS has great value for researchers, “news hounds,” and a wide variety of people who share common interests. But, like anything else, those with less than noble intentions can pervert even the greatest technological advances. Let’s say a predator discovers some children’s blogs that he or she finds interesting. Instead of having to click through all those blogs on a daily basis, the child molester could use RSS to instantly access the latest information on those favored websites. So, if a child or teen has set up an RSS feed of his or her blog, and if a sexual predator has subscribed to that RSS feed, the predator could wait patiently for the child to add to the blog, and watch for the child to express certain vulnerable emotions. Then, the predator could swoop in and take advantage of that vulnerability, providing a sympathetic ear by someone who (lying, of course) claims to be “a little older” than the child — someone who “understands” what the child is experiencing. So, with the help of blogs and RSS, the potential for grooming has never been easier. With RSS subscriptions to dozens or hundreds of children’s blogs, sexual predators could kick back in front of their computer monitors salivating over all of those potential conquests.
Certainly Weblogs and RSS have an important and positive role to play in society. They are an inexpensive and highly efficient means of disseminating information and getting quick interactive responses. But, be aware of the “dark side” that comes with these technologies. If you hear your children — or anyone for that matter — using terms you don’t understand, then ask questions. Go to a major search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or AOL and conduct an Internet search. Or, ask a technology expert at your local library. Don’t assume that the technology is something you can’t grasp or won’t understand. All you need to know is just enough to keep asking the right questions and to continue monitoring your child or teen’s activities on the Internet.
Myths About Child Sexual Abuse, Part 1
(From Virtus.org, May 2005)
For many adults, the mere mention of child sexual abuse fills them with fear. They rely on myths and half-truths to convince themselves that “this could never happen in my family” or that this type of thing would never occur in their community or Church.
When adults are ignorant about the nature, scope, and facts surrounding child sexual abuse, the risk to children grows. Dispelling the underlying fear is an important part of the process for reducing the risk to children.
Some adults have a tendency to rely on myths about sex abusers as if those myths are the truth. Correcting the myths, however, will dissolve the false sense of security that many people share — a sense of security they feel until someone in their family or parish becomes a victim. This is the first of a two-part series on myths surrounding sexual abuse of both children and adults.
There are myths about abusers and myths about victims. Look in any popular dictionary and you’ll find “myth” defined as something similar to the following: “a fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology, or a fictitious story, person, or thing. A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.”
Here are some of the most prevalent myths about child sexual abuse.
MYTH: Sex abusers are dirty old men — easily recognized by anyone on the street.
FACT: Sex abusers look like their neighbors, friends, and acquaintances — the people they work with, family members, and other trusted adults and adolescents. Abusers come from all income brackets, and all ethnic, racial, and other demographic backgrounds. In fact, in recent surveys, there was virtually no difference in the race or ethnicity percentages of abusers when compared to the race and ethnicity of the victims being surveyed. In addition, slightly more than 26 percent of those who sexually abused a female relative under the age of 18 were also under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse.
MYTH: Strangers are responsible for most child sexual abuse.
FACT: The primary perpetrators of abuse are trusted adult males in the child’s life. They are people adults know and trust with their children. Studies estimate that only 11 percent of abuse is committed by strangers. Family members or relatives commit another 29 percent, and 60 percent is committed by other persons known to and trusted by the child and the child’s family.
MYTH: Most sex abusers are homosexuals.
FACT: Most sex abusers are men, but not necessarily homosexual. Even most adult males who victimize boys do not identify themselves as homosexual. They are people who get sexual pleasure from activities with children and are attracted to the particular characteristics of the young male body. Most child molesters have trouble sustaining adult relationships but they marry at some time in their lives.
MYTH: Most sex abusers are stepfathers or live-in boyfriends.
FACT: Current statistics show that uncles account for the largest percentage of incest cases when the victim is a female child. In a recent study, 25 percent of female victims identified an uncle as the perpetrator. The same study indicated that natural fathers are more likely to abuse than stepfathers (14 percent were natural fathers and 8 percent were stepfathers). Studies demonstrate that among victims of incest, uncles and natural fathers are the most likely offenders. However, evidence indicates that a female child is more vulnerable to sexual abuse by someone other than a family member when there is a stepfather in the home. Several studies found that stepdaughters are more vulnerable to victimization by the stepfather, the parents’ friends, or other men.
MYTH: Incest is rare.
FACT: Incest, as used here, is any sexual activity between blood relatives that involves an adult and a minor child. Incest is the primary form of child sexual abuse. The vast majority of victims know their abusers, and 4.5 percent of women report having had an incestuous experience with their father before the age of 16.
MYTH: Children usually lie about sexual abuse.
FACT: Children rarely lie about sexual abuse. Fewer than 6 percent of all allegations are intentionally false — 5 percent of allegations by adults are intentionally false, and less than 1 percent of allegations by children are intentionally false.
MYTH: The reason priests abuse children is their vow (or promise) of celibacy.
FACT: Most child molesters never took a vow or celibacy and most people who took a vow of celibacy never abuse children. The few priests who abuse children do so for the same reason that other adults abuse children — they are sexually attracted to children. Eliminating the vow of celibacy would not eliminate the problem of priests who sexually abuse children. According to a prominent Catholic writer, “It is intellectually dishonest Catholic-bashing to blame celibacy for the problems of the church or the priesthood.”
As long as adults rely on myths as the framework for dealing with the risks to children, child molesters have vast opportunities to access our children. Dispelling the myths helps to open adults’ eyes to the real warning signs of those who pose a potential danger to children.
It is important that adults resist any tendency to categorize or label abusers or victims. Openmindedness and observation are the keys to protecting our children and removing would-be child molesters from our environments.
Myths About Child Sexual Abuse, Part 2
(From Virtus.org, June 2005)
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the most popular or well-known “myths” about child sexual abuse and the people who commit this crime. We discovered that these common myths were not supported by “facts”. In Part 2, we will look at other types of “myths.” This second set of myths is not so easy to dismiss because they contain an element of truth.
When a statement has a factual foundation, the myth is more difficult to identify. The truth in the statement is often distorted or oversimplified, but because there is some truth to it, the statement is frequently interpreted as “fact” rather than “myth”.
Many of these statements appear in articles addressing the issue of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and the Church’s response to such abuse. If our objective is to understand what really happened and to create an environment where it can never happen again, it is important for thoughtful people of faith to separate the “truth” from the “myth” in these statements.
MYTH: All child molesters are dangerous pedophiles. They abuse lots of children and are incurable.
FACT: The truth is that “pedophiles” are an ongoing threat to society. Pedophiles are high-profile, often notorious abusers with hundreds of victims. They are usually resistant to psychological treatment and are an ongoing threat to society. It is important that pedophiles be prevented from having any future contact with children.
However, not all child molesters are “pedophiles.” In fact, real pedophiles appear to be the exception among people who abuse children. Most offenders have a very different clinical profile. They are not compulsive, habitual pedophiles. While these other offenders should be subject to the law and must pay for their crimes, many can be rehabilitated through appropriate treatment. They can go on to lead productive lives and their recidivism rate is very low.
This does not mean, however, that someone who abuses children, even once, should ever be allowed to work with children unsupervised again.
It simply means that we must be aware of the complexities of the problem. And, we must remember that to prevent abuse, adults in the faith community must work together to create an environment where there is no opportunity for abuse to occur. In so doing, we will eliminate the risk from both the pedophile (or “preferential” offender) and these other, more prevalent situational offenders.
MYTH: The priesthood’s celibate lifestyle attracts men with sexual problems; therefore, celibacy makes a priest more vulnerable to sexual activity with a child.
FACT: There are no easy answers to this complex issue. In part 1 of the series on myths, we discussed the fact that celibacy does not cause child sexual abuse. However, there appears to be some truth to the statement that the priesthood’s celibate lifestyle attracts men with sexual problems.
Those who provide psychological counseling support to clergy report that some men have entered the priesthood, in part, to subconsciously escape their own sexual issues. The problem is that the entire priest population then gets painted with the same broad brush. Such generalizing is both dangerous and unproductive. For example, it could be said that some people enter law enforcement because of a distorted need for power and control. However, this does not mean that all police officers are power-hungry and controlling people.
Celibate chastity is a complex issue involving a commitment to channel sexual energy to the unselfish service of others. Most people who take a vow or make a promise of celibate chastity do so as a measure of their dedication to the ministry they have chosen. To broadly assert otherwise because a relatively few individuals have abused children does a great disservice to the many clergy and religious who have thoughtfully and prayerfully taken on this commitment in their life of service.
MYTH: The U.S. Bishops are the problem and they still cannot be trusted. They are still not doing what they agreed to do in the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ (Charter) and the ‘Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons’ (Norms).
FACT: Most of the anger and furor in the Church and in the media is aimed at Catholic bishops. The public apparently expected a faster response to the mandates of the Charter.
Americans have a fondness for expecting speedy resolutions to problems. It could be said that we are an impatient people. We often have unrealistic expectations that things will change direction “on a dime” so to speak. Demand for getting what we want now is apparent in many areas of society.
Many of us carry cell phones so we can be in communication anywhere, anytime. We get money from ATM machines and drive-through banking centers so we don’t have to take time to “go to the bank”. We demand a painless adhesive “patch” to eliminate a 30-year-old smoking habit in only two weeks. We have early pregnancy tests, pain medications that deliver faster and faster relief, and high-speed Internet access. We send emails, not traditional letters, and we get annoyed when we have to wait two or three minutes for our fast-food order.
Much of society expected the Church’s response to child sexual abuse to mirror our broad public idea of “quick response” time. And although the response has in many ways been swift, a large number of people are not satisfied.
The truth is that the bishops have hired a top law enforcement professional to manage the Office for Child and Youth Protection and have established guidelines for compliance, along with an audit process. Many dioceses have implemented comprehensive programs to create safe environments.
However, it is also true that some dioceses have not selected, developed, or implemented safe environment programs yet — while others have made their selections, but have scheduled training sessions for later in the year. At this time, 100 percent compliance does not exist. However, there is overwhelming evidence of a real commitment to altering the way we create and function within our school and church environments.
Sometimes we forget that this is a church that has historically measured change in terms of “centuries”. The progress that the bishops and the USCCB have made since last summer — in less than a year — is staggering in many respects. There is still a long way to go. But, if people will pause for a moment and look at what has been accomplished in the last year, the media and the Catholic faith community will see remarkable strides toward fulfilling both the letter and the intent of both the Charter and the Norms.
MYTH: The safest thing to do is to remove every priest who ever molested a child from the priesthood. This would prevent the Church from ever again moving an “abuser” priest from parish to parish.
FACT: It is true that if every priest who ever molested a child was laicized or “defrocked”, the Church would be prevented from ever moving him from parish to parish again. Because of the history of bishops moving offending priests around, many think that the first part of this statement is also accurate — that the safest thing to do is to remove every priest who ever molested a child from the priesthood. On this second point, the fact couldn’t be further from the truth.
We must carefully consider whether turning these offending clergy loose on society is the “safest” thing for our children and our neighborhoods. The current policy of the bishops and the Holy See is that any priest convicted of child sexual abuse will be laicized. This policy recognizes that the courts will brand the abuser as a child sex offender and, in most states, will list his name on sex offender registries. His whereabouts in the future will be easy to follow and his location will be tracked to help protect children who could be at risk of harm.
However, the statute of limitations has expired for many of the claims of clergy-related abuse that are coming forward today. There will be no criminal prosecution of these claims, and therefore, none of these men will be listed on sex offender registries. If the Church laicizes them and turns them loose on society, they will no longer be under the Church’s guidance and supervision. Any one of them could move into your neighborhood, unidentified, unrecognized, and unsupervised. In that case, nobody’s children would be safe. By keeping them within the structure of the Church, the Church is doing the most responsible thing possible, by spending its own resources and capital to prevent these people from having access to children. Better that they be living under the careful supervision and watchful eye of a highly sensitized church, rather than living alone, perhaps unemployed, next door to you or your child’s school.
Discerning adults should be wary of any simplistic statements about a complicated issue such as child sexual abuse. There are no easy answers, and very few reliable “facts” about victims and/or abusers. If we are to effect the kind of change that is needed to ensure safe environments for our children and the children yet to come, we must continue to identify the facts and dispel the myths.
They Think the Rules Don’t Apply to Them
(From Virtus.org, June 2005)
In the Protecting God’s Children® program, we teach people that one of the warning signs of a potential child molester is that they think the rules don’t apply to them. What “rules” are we talking about, anyway? And, how can our awareness of this warning sign make a difference?
This warning sign is one that, perhaps, shows up in more areas and situations than any other warning sign of sexual abuse. Because child molesters view the world differently than the rest of us, we have to set aside some of our own assumptions in order to be continuously alert to the ways that this warning sign can show up.
For example, one of the Protecting God’s Children videos mentions people who don’t follow established policies and procedures as an illustration of the concept that “the rules don’t apply to them.” However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other situations that demonstrate this same point.
For us to apply this rule in a meaningful way, it is important that we begin to think about how our thought processes and logic could inadvertently benefit a child molester in his or her effort to get access to children and young people. We also need to understand how knowing this warning sign can make a difference.
Ignores Standard Policies and Procedures
People who are a risk to children typically think that the standard policies and operating procedures are meant for someone else — not them. They may try to justify the failure to follow policies and procedures by using such excuses as:
- “I’ve always done it this way.”
- “I don’t mind staying late and, anyway, the other religious education teachers need to get their children home.”
- “I have a great relationship with these boys. Their parents don’t mind them riding alone with me.”
The fact that someone tries to go around standard operating policies and procedures does NOT mean that the person is a child molester. Ignoring policies and procedures is a common pattern in some communities. So, how will knowing this warning sign make any difference at all?
One way that knowing this warning sign can impact a potential molester’s ability to get access to children is for a community of adults to begin rigorously following the rules. When the rest of those working with children and young people are adhering to the policies and following the established procedures, the behavior of the one who ignores these things becomes quite noticeable. When something is noticeable, it draws the attention of others. And, attention and appropriate action are the keys to intervening before a child is molested.
Ignores the “rules” of society
In the video A Plan to Protect God’s Children, the younger offender demonstrates that he doesn’t think the rules of society apply to him. He talks about taking pictures of young naked neighborhood boys at his house — not posed still photos, but action photos of the boys “jumping on the bed, and the like.” He thought the photos were okay because the boys “weren’t doing anything sexual,” so he took them to a local photo developer to have prints made.
Responsible adults know that it is a violation of the rules of our society to photograph naked children — particularly 10-year-old boys from the neighborhood. However, this is an example of how a potential child molester thinks — and how his or her thought process is different from the rest of society. This failure to recognize the inappropriateness of his behavior was the key to his being arrested. Noticing these types of incidents can heighten our awareness of potentially risky adults in our own communities.
Thinks that they can get away with things
We can see that there are elements of this attitude in many of the warning signs in the Protecting God’s Children program. The fact that potential abusers allow children to do things their parents wouldn’t permit or that they structure time alone with children in areas where their activities cannot be monitored are examples of this kind of thinking.
However, molesters also think that they can use our “logic system” against us in order to get away with things. For example, it seems logical to assume that anyone who willingly signs an authorization for a criminal background check or allows fingerprinting for that purpose is certain that his or her own record is “clean”. In the past, some supervisors have used that logic to forgo the time and expense of actually conducting the background check.
So, many molesters don’t believe anyone will actually conduct a background check. One organization demonstrated that notion through its own experience. The Civil Air Patrol started conducting annual criminal background checks on approximately 31,000 adult volunteers in 1988. In the first four years of the background checks, the Civil Air Patrol found 70 convicted sex offenders applying to work with the young people in their program — more than 15 convicted child molesters a year.
Our view of “references” is another example of how our own logic gets in the way. We normally expect people to provide only those references who will say good things about them. After all, that’s what we would do! However, many times the people on a potential child molester’s list of references will tell the truth when asked whether the person is safe to be working with children at a church or school.
Child molesters think you won’t follow through with the references because they think the rules don’t apply to them.
It is important for us to remember that the thinking of a potential child molester is just distorted enough to give us an edge if we pay attention. We must look for the indications that someone thinks that the rules — both written and assumed — don’t apply to them. We must also avoid buying into the logic that convinces us of such things as “no one in their right mind would sign an authorization for a criminal background check if they knew they were on a sex offender registry.”
Remember — perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not in their right mind. And, if we pay attention to the behavior of those around us, this can really work to our advantage in helping to prevent sexual abuse.
Child Molester Collections and the Sexual Exploitation of Children
(From Virtus.org, July and August 2005)
On July 4, 2004, Fox News reported that Michael Jackson’s attorneys had lobbied California Judge Rodney Melville to keep sealed the specifics on the numerous items that had been seized pursuant to the police search warrant that was executed on Jackson’s Neverland property. According to Fox News, some of the items that had been seized by the police from Jackson’s bedroom included a “collection of pornography”. What is the relationship between pornography, a “collection”, and the sexual exploitation of children?
The word “pornography” comes from the Greek words pornea or porne. The words roughly mean “the writing about harlots.” History suggests that depictions of human sexuality are among some of the oldest paintings that are known to exist. For instance, pornographic paintings can be found on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in the destroyed city of Pompeii. One example of this is a ruined Pompeii brothel in which the various sexual services were advertised in murals above each door.
Pornography has evolved along with technology. Law enforcement authorities have found that some sexually explicit photographs actually date back to the beginning of photography. In addition, some of the earliest movies or filmed scenes were works that depicted nudity and even explicit sex.
Once underground, pornography in the United States became somewhat “hip” in some cities in the 1950s, with the advent of so-called “men’s magazines” such as Playboy and Modern Man. These magazines featured nude or semi-nude women, although genitals were not actually displayed. However, by the late 1960s, pornographic magazines which included titles such as Penthouse and Hustler began to evolve, and more explicit displays of the body were shown. By the early 1990s, magazines and videos were available featuring acts of sexual penetration, group sex, bondage, and even more hardcore graphic displays of sex.
Child Molester Collections
Preferential child molesters have a definite sexual preference for children. Unlike the incestuous parent, preferential molesters are actually sexually attracted to children. Preferential child molesters are gender-specific (preferring either girls or boys) and age-specific (preferring prepubescent or pubescent children) in targeting their child victims. In addition, law enforcement has found that preferential child molesters almost always maintain a “collection”. A child molester’s collection may consist of pornography, child pornography, child erotica, and/or trophies and souvenirs.
Molesters do not merely view the many items in their collection. Rather, they actually work very hard to build, expand, and save their collection. In time, the items in the collection become the molester’s most cherished possessions.
To the preferential molester, the collection is important; it is well organized, and sometimes concealed — but not always. These collections tend to vary in both size and scope. Because collections are accumulated over a period of time, older child molesters tend to have more extensive and bigger collections. In the past, better-educated and more affluent molesters tended to have larger collections, while those who had more modest incomes often had significantly smaller collections.
This all changed in 1997, when the preferential child molester found that all forms of pornography, including child pornography, could easily be obtained and traded using a computer and the Internet. As a result, law enforcement has found that Internet-based molester collections frequently contain tens of thousands of digital images of children.
The legal definition of the term “child pornography” varies from state to state and under federal law. Under most legal definitions, child pornography involves a visual depiction of a child less than 18 years of age being sexually abused, or the lewd exhibition of the child’s genitals.
Some explicit visual depictions of children clearly and obviously are always child pornography. Other visual depictions of children, no matter the context or the use, do not meet the minimum legal requirements and are never considered to be child pornography. These images are often identified by law enforcement as being “child erotica”.
The difference between simple nudity (e.g., innocent baby bathtub photographs, works of art, or medical illustrations) and the lewd exhibition of the genitals is often not in the visual depiction itself, but in the context. Many visual depictions of children may or may not be considered child pornography, depending on how they were produced (e.g., child abuse or trickery) or how they were saved by the molester (e.g., location, labels, morphing, or the computer file names). Not all children depicted in child pornography have been sexually abused. For example, some have been photographed or videotaped, without their knowledge, while undressing or while taking a shower or bath. Possession of child pornography is a violation of the law, while possession of child erotica, in most cases, is not a violation of the law.
Examples of child erotica that can be purchased commercially include so-called “art books” by Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, and Robert Mapplethorpe, which include naked photographs of girls and young women.
Souvenirs and Trophies
Collecting souvenirs and trophies may help the molester satisfy his or her persistent sexual fantasies concerning children. In some situations, souvenirs and trophies allow the molester to relive the abuse of a child. Some of these objects include personal items taken from their victims, such as:
- Articles of clothing (e.g., underwear, panties or bras)
- Pubic hair
- Hair clippings
- Fingernail clippings
- Recordings of a victim’s voice from the telephone, or videos of a victim talking
In some cases molesters may keep calendars or journals that identify their victims and the date(s) of the abuse. For example, on June 17, 2005, The Associated Press reported that the San Jose, California, Police Department, searching the home of a convicted child molester, discovered handwritten lists of more than 36,000 children’s names — mostly boys — and codes that appeared to indicate how he abused them.
The lists were written in loopy cursive on 1,360 pages in seven multicolored spiral-bound notebooks, according to police. Headings for the logs include “Blond Boys”, “Cute Boys”, and “Boys who say no”, a spokesperson said.
The police said that Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller appears to have spent much of the past 30 years in California; he has been arrested on child molestation charges in New York, Arkansas, and Washington. He also served prison time in Idaho for child molestation in the late 1970s, and is wanted in Oregon on sexual assault charges involving a minor. Interestingly, Schwartzmiller apparently took his journals with him as he moved from residence to residence.
Older molesters, as in the San Jose case, often keep journals outlining the sexual abuse of their victims. Younger molesters, in many situations, will use a computer database or a word processing program to record the abuse of their victims. Some of these computer-based records will even include the victim’s photo.
A child molester uses the collection to satisfy his or her sexual needs or, in some situations, to reinforce his or her compulsive and persistent sexual fantasies regarding children. Some of the items from the collection may also be used as a seduction tool in the molestation of a child. And, in some cases, child pornography may be used to blackmail the victim.
We will now examine how items from the collection can also be used as a seduction or grooming tool in the molestation of a child, and in cases involving child pornography, how an item from the collection can be used to blackmail the victim.
Seduction Sexual Activity
Child molesters have been found to be highly adept at rationalization, displacing responsibility, and transferring blame toward the victim rather than toward him or herself. Child sexual abuse typically is a slow, deliberate, and methodical process that engages the target in activities designed to seduce the child. Law enforcement officers refer to this process as seduction sexual activity, while therapists often call it grooming.
Offenders spend a great deal of time and energy in the process of seducing or grooming a victim. Paramount to the molester is gaining the child’s trust and confidence in order to begin the process. The seduction of a victim can take quite a while, sometimes even months or years, and can be very subtle and devious. During the seduction, the molester will court a victim with attention, affection, and gifts. Victims of the seduction process often do not realize that they are being manipulated until after they have been sexually abused. Even then, some victims do not realize or even understand how the seduction process led to their abuse.
The first necessity in the seduction process is that the molester must be alone with the child. This is frequently accomplished with the molester being the child’s parent or guardian or somehow gaining legal access to the child. Traditional warnings about not talking with strangers are not applicable, as in most situations the child knows and may even have a loving relationship with the offender. Even in cases of “strangers” (those outside the family unit), the offender, after becoming acquainted with the mother or the caretaker, may offer to spend some time alone with the child at the house, in a sports activity, or simply by babysitting. In cases involving single mothers, the molester may offer to be a male role model or father figure in a young boy’s life.
Once alone, the next step of the seduction is that the victim is often induced into some type of activity such as playing a “special game”. In order to play the game correctly, the molester suggests a special place or private location in the residence “where no one will see all of the fun that we are having.” The location for the game is frequently a bedroom or a family room. Most importantly, the location must be somewhere where other adults are unable to observe the game.
This stage of the seduction scenario may sound somewhat familiar to the reader in light of the extensive media coverage of testimony from the Michael Jackson trial in southern California this year. Notwithstanding a “not guilty” verdict on all counts, on June 14, 2005, Michael Jackson’s attorney, Thomas Meserau Jr., told NBC’s Today Show, that in order to avoid any future complaint of impropriety, “The singer will no longer share his bed with young boys.”
At some point during the game the molester will introduce an item or items from the collection. The items, pornography or child pornography, are shown to the victim in order to lower the victim’s inhibitions. In younger children the items are used to get a reaction from the victim so that a discussion about sex can follow. With older children, pornography may be used in an attempt by the molester to arouse the victim so that a discussion about the victim’s body or sex education can follow. With either victim, regardless of age, the molester will frequently say something to the child such as, “This is lots of fun, isn’t it? When we are finished, we’ll go out and have a hamburger,” or some similar approach. Because the offender is generally someone well-known, well-liked, or even loved by the victim, the child may feel that he or she has no alternative but to accept the seduction.
Following this, the next step in the seduction is the actual molestation. As items from the collection are exhibited to the victim, the child is introduced to various types of sexual touching. This is often accomplished slowly, so that the child is gradually desensitized to the touch. This frequently begins with sexualizing physical contact, such as inappropriate tickling and wrestling. Child pornography or pornography with younger looking participants (child erotica) may be shown to the victim as a way for the molester to convince the victim that “kids really do that sex stuff with adults, and it’s lots of fun.” In some situations beer, wine, alcohol, or drugs will be provided to the victim just prior to or during the course of the actual molestation. Once the child has been molested, the child may attempt to back off, but by then the “secret”, with accompanying warnings, has already been established.
As the seduction continues, the victim learns that the number one rule for the game turns out to be keeping everything about the game a big secret. In some cases, it may be years before a child will actually disclose the abuse. In most cases, the molester has transferred to the victim any blame for the sexual abuse that took place during the game. If the child at some point complains to the molester, the molester will simply reply, “You never said no and nobody will believe you,” or “If you tell, I’ll go to jail and it will all be your fault.”
In most cases, the last step in the seduction is blackmail. If the victim continues to complain about the sexual abuse or threatens to tell someone, the molester will frighten the victim into silence by reminding the victim of the alcohol that he or she consumed, the drugs that were used during the game, or the naked photos that were taken of the victim. Since 2000, the most common threat the preferential child molester has used is threatening to publish the naked photos of the victim on the Internet “so that everyone in the world can see them”. Lastly the molester may threaten the break-up of the family by saying something such as, “This would really hurt your mother if she knew what you did.”
Although the statute of limitations for the actual molestation may have expired prior to the disclosure of the abuse by the victim, the statute of limitations for possession of child pornography frequently does not. Because the molester will never destroy his or her collection, it has been law enforcement’s experience that the molester may be prosecuted for possession of items in the collection years after abusing a child.
How to Determine Whether Your Child is Being Bullied
(From Virtus.org, September 2005)
When a child becomes a victim of bullying, his or her first instinct is usually to try to handle the situation alone. A youngster may rightfully fear retaliation if they tell an adult, or may not want to be known as a “snitch” who cannot handle his or her own problems. Also if a child is very young, he or she may not be able to communicate their experiences in a way that you as a parent can understand.
Peter Sheras, author of Your Child: Bully or Victim — Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny, has listed a number of signs to look for if you suspect your child is being victimized. These warning signs may include:
- Acts reluctant to go to school.
- Complains of feeling sick; frequently visits the school nurse’s office.
- Comes home hungry (because bullies have stolen his or her lunch money).
- Often arrives at home with possessions missing.
- Experiences frequent nightmares, bedwetting, or insomnia.
- Refuses to leave the house.
- Waits to get home to use the restroom.
- Acts nervous when certain children approach.
- Shows increased anger with no obvious cause.
- Shows a sudden drop in grades.
- Makes comments about feeling lonely.
- Has difficulty making friends.
- Acts reluctant to defend himself when teased or criticized by others.
- Has physical marks — such as bruises or cuts — which may have been inflicted by others.
If your child exhibits some of these signs, he or she needs your help. The best way you can provide the needed assistance is by figuring out exactly what is happening. The way to approach this problem is to ask your child’s teachers, bus driver, neighbors, other adults, and children in the neighborhood if they have noticed any incidents involving your child. Ask your child’s teachers if anyone has been disciplined for harassing your son or daughter. Try to determine if your child is being teased or taunted on the way to school, or on the school bus. You may ask teachers or other school children if they see your child sitting alone in the lunchroom or playing alone during recess.
You need to be sensitive to the effects of your questioning on others. Use an information-gathering approach and avoid overreacting or blaming others as you sort through the details. Peter Sheras recommends that you keep the subject matter general when talking to your child’s peers. For example, you may ask, “Does Roger seem to get along okay with other kids at school?” Also avoid naming any culprits who may hear about your questioning and retaliate against your child.
Another way to determine if your child is being bullied is to observe your child interacting with other children. When you watch your child in a social context (e.g., at soccer practice, at a scout meeting, playing on the street) see if he or she behaves in a way that makes your son or daughter vulnerable to bullying. When “picked on,” some children don’t know how to defend themselves — through their actions or words. Therefore, they are likely targets of bullies.
If you suspect that your child is being victimized, the best thing to do is to talk about it with him or her. Use specific questions to get to the truth. Your questions will depend on the age of your child. Here are a few questions that may be helpful:
- How has the ride on the bus been lately? Who do you sit with? Are you ever scared on the bus?
- I noticed that you don’t want to go to school. When I was your age I felt that way too because other kids pushed me around or teased me. Has that ever happened to you?
- Do you ever get in fights at school?
- Are there some places on the school grounds that you do not want to go to because there are bullies there?
- Have other kids ever teased you or made fun of you? What do they say?
- Have you ever felt so mad that you wanted to hurt somebody at school?
- Have other kids at school ever called you bad names? If so, what do you do when this happens?
When discussing the issue of bullying with your child, let your son or daughter know that you are in their corner, and that you will help them find a way to handle a very troublesome situation. It is imperative that you just listen and not try to come up with all the answers. In order to maintain open lines of communication, it is most important not to become judgmental or critical. Knowing that your child is being bullied can bring up all kinds of painful feelings and, consequently, it is easy to get too emotional.
Prior to starting a conversation with your child about this issue, remind yourself to “Listen, listen, listen.” If you find yourself getting too upset or critical, or wanting to provide the solution during the conversation, again remind yourself to simply listen and provide support while reassuring your child that the two of you will get through this together.
In my practice I have counseled a number of children — both males and females — who have been bullied and tormented at school. Most often, school personnel are unaware that this is occurring. This is consistent with a recent study conducted by Dorothy Espelage in several midwestern schools. She found that teachers were only able to identify 10 percent of bullying victims and that classmates were equally or less accurate than teachers in determining which children were victimized. Most often the energy of the staff — when they do notice and react — gets focused on the bully, and the victim suffers alone.
Because teachers are often not aware when a child is being bullied, it becomes the responsibility of the parents to determine if their child is being victimized. If you suspect your child is being bullied, investigate the circumstances, and listen to your child with an open and non-judgmental attitude. It may take time, patience, and persistence to get your child to open up to you.
If you discover that your child is being bullied, there is some good news. With appropriate interventions and training, a child can learn empowerment strategies and no longer be a victim.
Sex Abuse Prevention Tips for Single Parents: Warning Signs
(From Virtus.org, January 2006)
In the Protecting God’s Children awareness session, we talk about the five steps involved in preventing child sexual abuse. Each of these five steps is vital to breaking the cycle of abuse and helping a community purge the opportunities for abuse to occur. In this article on Sex Abuse Prevention Tips for Single Parents, we’ll begin with Step 1: Know the Warning Signs of potential abusers.
Step 1: Know the Warning Signs discusses 10 basic signs to watch for in adults so we can avoid potential abuse before it happens.
WARNING: Discourages other adults from participating or monitoring
This warning sign may be a little harder for a single parent to recognize from others in the same situation that they are facing. It is a double-edged sword — first, from the perspective of trying to take on more tasks than one person can possibly juggle at the same time, and second, from being groomed by a seemingly heroic well-wisher who steps in to help solve all the world’s problems by taking over many of the parenting responsibilities while providing some much-needed relief to the single parent. It may be hard to tell that this hero is someone who is trying to isolate your child by discouraging others from participating and spending time with children in environments where their activities cannot be monitored.
Single parents and guardians often rely on others to help with the everyday tasks that an additional parent or guardian would share. The schedules of single working mothers or fathers is an enormous undertaking when combined with sports schedules, rehearsals, and other school commitments, in addition to community and church activities that children participate in today. And there are those incidental things that come up from time to time for parents — such as meetings with teachers, doctor’s appointments, car problems, and other unscheduled but highly time-consuming events.
A single parent must first avoid trying to be a “superhero” who says he or she can handle a group of children on their own — without the assistance of another adult. All too often, a single parent falls into the trap of becoming a “super mom” or “super dad” who tries to handle a birthday party with 50 children, a clown, and a pony, without so much as even one helper. Yet, this can be very dangerous in many ways. What if a child gets hurt? Who will call for help? And, while the lone parent is helping the injured child, who will be keeping an eye on the other children? This is often an issue for single parents who want to make up for the lack of the other parent’s presence by compensating for the void. Single parents need to be aware of this issue and protect themselves by always having another trusted adult present when there are children in their charge. Likewise, they need to be certain that whenever their children are involved in an activity outside of the home, more than one adult will always be present. This applies to all sports and extracurricular activities.
Second, single parents must be wary of those parents who discourage other parents from participating in children’s and youth activities. There should always be an appropriate mix of adults (based on the age of the children) to supervise children’s and youth events and activities, and no adult should ever be alone with a child in a secluded area. Because child molesters are keenly attuned to the attributes that make each potential victim vulnerable, the molester may actively target the child of a single parent to begin the grooming process, and may start by grooming the single parent. After all, the overworked and underappreciated single parent is an easy mark for someone who is willing to keep a close eye on “little Johnny” or “little Suzy” for a few minutes, while mom takes a badly needed break. That’s why a single parent can benefit from the support of a mix of other adults to help supervise his or her child — but must be keenly aware of anyone who uses that need for support to put distance between the child or the parent or seclude the child somewhere beyond the watchful eyes of other responsible adults.
WARNING: Always wants to be alone with children
Because they go home at night to a child (or children) and no spouse, single parents, most especially, understand the need for adult interaction, conversation, and communication. They understand the value it plays in developing, nurturing, and maintaining relationships. These natural human traits expose the warning signs that point to the adult who always wants to be around children and to be alone with them.
All parents and all children are potential prey for predators who would do them harm physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually. A single parent, however, has only one pair of eyes. Therefore, the single parent needs to be particularly careful when screening potential activities for his or her children. Communicate often with the parents of the other children involved in programs with your children. Listen carefully to what the other parents say, and pay close attention to what they don’t say — their non-verbal communication. Sometimes you may ask a question or make a statement about another parent or a program leader, for example, and the other parents’ facial expressions and body language may provide you with a wealth of unspoken communication about their level of trust regarding the person being discussed. Pay careful attention to your own instincts and don’t worry about hurting another person’s feelings if he or she makes you feel uncomfortable — especially in the way that person behaves around children or the way they act when other adults show up to join in the fun.
More than one adult should always be present. And, if a single parent can’t always be there, he or she should enlist the help of not one but two parents of children in the program to “keep an eye out” for his or her child. All it takes is a simple request such as: “My work schedule doesn’t allow me to be here for every practice. Could you please keep an eye out for my little Cindy?”
WARNING: Is more excited to be with children than with adults
This warning sign is very obvious, and sometimes so obvious that we overlook it. Perpetrators mimic the good behavior of the very best coaches, teachers, church volunteers, etc. and use this behavior to get close to children — both physically and emotionally. An enthusiastic coach, dance instructor, or drama director is almost prerequisite to the success and enjoyment of the children involved in their programs. We need to be very careful by regularly asking our children about what takes place during these times away from home. If the child seems to be spending all his or her time with one adult, find out what’s going on. Make sure that other adults are involved in activities and — when parents and children are together — notice whether the enthusiastic adult who pays so much attention to the children is also comfortable talking with the adults in the room.
WARNING: Gives gifts to children, often without parents’ permission
Teaching your children the importance of what a gift is and what it represents is crucial here. Teaching them that they should accept gifts only from persons and for occasions designated by you is a rule that every family should employ. Teaching your children to say “no thank you” to generous offers of food and other gifts is an important way to keep your children safe. Train your children to let you know when anyone tries to give them a gift, and praise them for not taking it without your permission. Call the gift giver and tell him or her that while you are grateful for the gesture, the practice of not accepting gifts without advance parental permission is a family rule that you expect your children to live by — for safety reasons. Tell the gift giver you are certain that he or she will understand. Anyone who doesn’t understand and respect your wishes is exhibiting yet an additional warning sign that should be noted and carefully monitored.
WARNING: Goes overboard in touching
The word “uncomfortable” is a good place to begin with regard to this warning sign. There are adults who touch children far too much, and you must inform your children that they have the right to say “Please stop. That makes me feel uncomfortable. My mommy and/or daddy said I shouldn’t let people make me feel this way.” The adult with only good intentions who is told this will take it seriously. Watch for the ways that your children interact with adults with other adults in their lives. Watch and pay careful attention to those who are your children’s babysitters, coaches, and other caregivers who provide a closer or more rigorous level of contact. If you use the services of a babysitter, make a list of the touching rules and what you expect from the babysitter with regard to his or her interaction with your children. By being very clear and declarative about your expectations, you will place any potential child abuser on notice that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.
WARNING: Always wants to wrestle or tickle
Very often a single parent feels guilty about not having another parent present for their child or children. Parents worry about the role that gender plays in the absence of a father or mother figure. A single mother worries that her son will not know enough about sports or have a strong sense of masculinity. Likewise, a single father worries that he will not be able to provide the feminine role model and advice his daughter needs as she grows up.
While a parent has the desire to have a child have a very well-rounded approach to life, he or she must pay careful attention to those who touch their children in any way. Especially in a single-parent household, children may be needier for attention and affection than their peers from dual-parent households. This makes children of single parents particularly vulnerable to anyone who gives them the attention that they are craving, and impromptu wrestling and tickling are easy ways for child molesters to disguise their behavior while having actual physical contact with a child. When a third party — that is an uncle, cousin, coach, teacher, etc. — gets involved in the life of your child, you must pay careful attention to touch. Appropriate touch is critical. Touch should not be lingering, forceful, or inappropriate in any manner. The adult who always want to wrestle or tickle should be told that that is against your family rules.
WARNING: Thinks that the rules do not apply to him or her
Rules are the social construct that gives order to our society. Without rules (and laws), there would be social chaos. Yet, everyone likes to have the rules broken for them … at least to some degree. It makes them feel special, wonderful and important. For this reason, we all must be careful to obey the rules that we establish for our own families so that we do not send mixed messages to our children. Plus, we must pay close attention to those who consistently think the rules don’t or shouldn’t apply.
It is very important to tell children and the other adults in their lives why we have rules and what they mean to us and to our children. We must explain how rules help keep children and adults safe. Plus, we must give children simple examples to further explain that people who break rules are not doing us a favor, even though it may look like they are. For example, if a child’s babysitter allows the child to stay up late — beyond the child’s normal bedtime — it may seem to the child that by allowing the child to break the family bedtime rule, the babysitter is doing the child a favor. However, when the child has a hard time getting out of bed the next morning and gets in trouble for being late to school, breaking the bedtime rule suddenly doesn’t look like such a great favor any more.
As a single parent, one must be sure to involve the extended family when it comes to rules. Grandparents, aunts, babysitters, etc., should be informed of family rules and instructed that nobody should break them — and that if rules must be broken for an emergency, the parent should be informed immediately.
WARNING: Allows children to engage in activities their parents would not allow
All children are special, wonderful and a gift from God. To see a child suffer in any way tugs deeply at the heart. Single parent families struggle with the same issues as those with two parents, and the love that is present from one-parent families is sustaining, secure and selfless. Often, other extended members are involved in raising children in single-parent families. At times a boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent is also involved. Well-meaning individuals often allow children to “break the rules” and “do things that their parent wouldn’t allow.” With the best of intentions — and often out of a desire to be accepted as a part of the family — these individuals cloud the child’s judgment with regard to which behaviors are appropriate and which are not.
Rules are rules are rules! Everyone in a child’s life should keep them and apply them consistently. As parents, we need to clearly see who is doing what to our children and for what reasons. By requiring all of those who interact with your child to follow your family’s established rules, you’ll be in the best possible position to discern whether anyone in particular is not following the rules — a sign that someone may be trying to groom your child for possible inappropriate reasons.
WARNING: Uses bad language or tells dirty jokes to children
Those who seek inappropriate relationships with children often use dirty jokes, adult humor, and other risqué language to break down barriers with children and to create the opportunity for additional types of inappropriate behavior. Of course this should never be allowed.
We must model good behavior for our own children by not making bad language, innuendo, or dirty jokes a part of our household. We must practice what we preach and maintain high standards of behavior in our homes. Likewise, we should insist on this behavior for those in our extended families and in our friendships. Don’t allow your child to be alone in the presence of anyone who lacks this discretion.
WARNING: Shows children pornography
Children are curious about what is kept hidden and secret from them. Any time an adult abuses this rule, he or she should be monitored very, very closely and not be left alone with children at any time. Teach your children that God created us as beautiful boys and girls and that abusing the body through any form of pornography is wrong. If any adult even tries to show them pornography they should say “No, I can’t see this,” and to tell you as soon as possible. Remind your children that telling you is important because, even though seeing pornography is wrong, children will not be in trouble because someone showed them the pornography.
As we have stated, these warning signs are intended for adults to better protect children by watching every adult who comes in contact with their child. By looking at how we can expand these in small ways for single parent families, we see that simple, small, and direct steps in education help to keep children safer.
Where can a single parent go for help?
Earlier in this article, we talked a lot about asking other adults to help you keep an eye on your child during certain events and activities. But, as an always-on-the-go single parent, where do you find other trustworthy adults?
Obviously, everyone has a different set of circumstances, and different family situation, a different circle of friends, etc. But, when we stop to think about it, each of us has a circle of people — resourceful people we can call on to help us work through scheduling conflicts and other problems while keeping our children safe. So, while some of this may not work for you, here are some ideas to consider:
- Start with trustworthy members of your family who live nearby. Because of their inherent empathy, other parents or grandparents are more likely to take a sincere interest in lending a helping hand.
- Get to know the parents of other children with whom your children interact in extracurricular activities. Your children will already share the same “practice” or “event” schedule as their children, which may at least lend itself to the possibility of sharing some parenting responsibilities with one or more other parents.
- Visit with others in your faith community — especially other single parents who may be facing many of the same challenges that you face. By making a few trustworthy contacts who can provide a little help with your schedule here and there, you will have a much better chance of making sure that your major obligations are met in a successful manner.
Bottom line: Never allow any individual adult to be alone with your child, or to become too close to your child, or to monopolize a significant amount of your child’s time. And, as a defense against potential child molesters, there is strength in numbers, so there’s great value in having several trustworthy people involved in the life of your child — each to a relatively modest extent, with you as the parent always playing the leading role in the child’s life.