Protect Your Kids, Whether from Ph.D., Pauper or Priest
As the Catholic Church abuse crisis has entered a new international phase, it is clear that the church’s response has been, in the words of Ireland’s top Catholic cardinal, “hopelessly inadequate”. In one case, a priest was convicted of abusing three boys and yet was allowed to resume work in the church and with children, and it is no surprise that he continued to victimize children—showing boys pornography and then abusing them. He was suspended, but then was allowed to continue his work with alter boys and other children.
If you don’t feel outraged, then something is wrong with you. That being said, I am not writing to single out the Catholic Church or to target Pope Benedict. I am writing to remind you that you must be on your guard as a parent. Earlier this year, we saw the case of a Deleware Pediatrician convicted of hundreds of accounts of sexual abuse of children. In our Internet Safety 101 series, we interviewed a convicted sex offender in a high-security prison who, before his conviction had been a well-respected teacher and trusted community leader.
This week, Oprah featured a story on convicted sex offenders, and Lisa Ling interviewed a woman who said she had victimized over 100 children. The woman interviewed said that she targeted children whose parents seemed too busy for them, parents that were uninvolved or didn’t take “good care” of their children. She also went after single family homes and homes where parents were abusing drugs or alcohol.
In my own work with an area youth group, I was shocked by the general disinterest many parents had in where and with whom their children were going. The youth group where I served has carefully trained its mentor/leaders in sexual abuse prevention, but the parents didn’t know that. We were advised to avoid one-adult/one-child situations and to limit those interactions to public spaces, but once again, the parents never asked me a single question about our policies to prevent sexual abuse. I never met or spoke with many of the parents of the children I mentored. When the kids were too young to drive, I would often pick them up from home. A parent never came to the door, and with cell phones, email and Facebook, it became highly unlikely that I would ever speak to parents directly.
With the advent of the Internet, there are now more opportunities to groom and abuse children than ever, and as the on-and offline worlds continue to blur, the impact of sexual abuse can be magnified through the creation and distribution of child pornography. Unfortunately, no child is immune to sexual abuse, and parents cannot trust the school, the church or the computer to babysit their children—they simply must get involved with their kids. Some simple steps from our site and also from our friends at Darkness2Light include:
- Minimize the opportunity for abuse by eliminating or reducing one-adult/one-child situations. Organizations that your child is a part of should have a policy about this and should train their staff and volunteers to recognize and react to child sexual abuse.
- Meet the adults in contact with your children! Even if you have heard good things about them—abusers are incredibly manipulative and are often times well-respected members of the community. They will become friendly with your family and try to earn your trust.
- Talk with your child when they return from spending time with any adult—pay attention to your child’s mood and note whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
- If you do allow your child to spend along time with an adult, drop by unexpectedly—this applies even to trusted family members.
- Talk to your child about sex and their bodies. Ask specific questions and understand how children communicate. If they do tell you anything alarming or even joke about something inappropriate, do not overreact and take them seriously. (More information on communicating with your children here.)
- Monitor your children’s online and mobile interactions—know whom they communicate with, and install filtering and monitoring software on your computers, gaming and mobile devices (See our list of monitoring and filtering software).
- Be aware of warning signs of Internet grooming.