“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.” We all know the song but have we ever stopped to think about the implications attached to family gatherings?
It’s rare I hear of a healthy functioning family so if you are from one…congrats and may it ever be so! Most families have a lineage of dysfunction somewhere in their background or in current relationships.
For people looking to offend; holiday gatherings provide a bountiful, unsuspecting selection.
Please don’t ever think you know a person well enough to know they would NEVER harm a child. I lived with a man who was a senior pastor/evangelist and I had NO idea he was a pedophilic offender.
If you think: “My son…My husband… My brother… or…My friend would never do that.” You don’t know it! Not unless you live inside their mind or are with them every second of their entire life. (For the record there are female offenders, but the majority are male).
During this season we are busy with shopping, food preparations, and packing. Once the family gatherings commence we enjoy spending time catching up with loved ones while the kids play. Are we remembering that the children still need us to look out for them and protect them? I’m including children from infant to 18 years old because we have no way of knowing what age or sex a molester or a pedophilic offender prefers.
Child molester –an individual who sexually molests children.
Pedophile – has a sexual preference for children and fantasizes about having sex with them, but if he does not act on that preference or those fantasies with a child, he is not a child molester.
Pedophilic offender – has a sexual preference for children and acts on his preferences and fantasies by victimizing children.
I don’t mean to be negative. I mean to be helpful. I want you and your children to have a safe and happy holiday celebration. My background and studying reminds me that children are targets for molesters and pedophilic offenders. I’ve taken the approach, when in a crowd; regardless of size, that there is likely an abuser in our midst and unfortunately, statistics our on my side. Depending on which stats were looking at; 1 out of 4 girls are sexually abused and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused. These stats are from reported abuse. Most abuse doesn’t get reported which likely makes the rates higher. With the rise of internet pornography I believe we are only beginning to see the tip of the sexual abuse iceberg.
With over 90% of abuse being perpetrated by someone the child knows, it is often a family member or close family friend. And surprisingly as much as 40% of abuse is perpetrated by juveniles – yes, often siblings and cousins. A family gathering can and does create opportunity for abuse – while we’re thinking of what’s in the oven or keeping heated family debates to a simmer, we’re often not thinking of what our children are up to. A house full of family and friends should be the safest place for our children, but in reality that is not always the case. ~The Mama Bear Effect
Are you aware that children can be ‘groomed’ or molested right in front of your eyes without you being wise to it?
- Abusers can be touching a young child’s genitalia while the child sits on their lap at the dining table (you can’t see what’s taking place under the table-top), or while snuggling under a blanket next to them on the sofa.
- I knew a man who, every time he picked up a 4 or 5 year old, would hold the child in his arms with his hand under/on the child’s crotch. What preschooler needs to be held that way? I later learned, he was doing it to clearly show what he was doing to the child when the parent wasn’t around.
- Bathroom stalls are a favorite place for abusers to target children in public; including in church restrooms.
- Relatives who insist all the kids bathe together (boys & girls), or dress in front of all the relatives. This can be seen as different perspectives in parenting, but I’ve spoken to Focus on the Family about this and they encourage these practices to stop around age 2 to 3.
- Playing tag or other games. Parents have to be vigilant to see this take place. Often kids don’t know what took place and it can take them years, into adulthood, to realize what happened. Touching that takes place on the genitals, butt, or breasts is exhilarating to a sexual abuser who enjoys a sick and twisted thrill of touching kids and not getting caught by anyone.
The Larry Nassar case has been in the news for months. He was molesting hundreds of gymnasts, including Olympic gold medalists. He abused children in the confines of a small room in front of the parents and the parents didn’t know. The couple of parents who wondered if he was doing something inappropriate thought there was no way this nice guy could be doing what they thought perhaps they saw. It was what they saw…and more.
Is there anything we can do to prepare our kids to stand against abuse?
Have conversations before the gathering takes place. Several short conversations will help cement the safety precautions in their mind.
- They can respect and be kind to everyone without compromising their boundaries.
- Don’t force them to be affectionate with extended family members if they aren’t comfortable with it. Allow kids to set their own body boundaries.
- No closed doors while playing; not even if an adult is in the room with them. Any adult should know better than to do this with children who are not their own. If an adult discreetly wonders off while everyone else is talking, playing a game, or watching T.V. and closes the door to hang out with the children; kindly open the door and explain your no closed door policy. (This can be a textbook clue of a child predator).
- You cannot make any one respect your open door policy. If they won’t respect it, you can politely remove yourself and your children from the gathering. You are not being rude. You are being thoughtful and protective while teaching your kids how to set boundaries.
- Explain to your kids no touching or showing body parts, or showing pictures of people’s nakedness. Name the parts. They are a fact of life and we need not be embarrassed about it. The more comfortable we are talking to them about sex and anatomy, the easier it will be for our kids to approach us with concerns and questions. It’s our responsibility and privilege to teach our children and answer their questions.
- If cell phones become a problem at a family gathering you can request that children use technology at the kitchen table (not during the meal) while an adult is present. Cell phones with internet access, apps, and/ or stored photographs/videos are almost guaranteed to have inappropriate content on them. You don’t want children having opportunities to act out what they’ve inadvertently seen on the internet.
- After the day, or weekend, is over ask open ended questions to give your kids an opportunity to process their answers. Examples: Did you have fun? Did anything make you uncomfortable? Did anyone try to do anything inappropriate to you or to someone else? Is there anything else you want me to know about?
Those who may sexually abuse children often try to break down a child’s personal boundaries regarding touch, and they’ll do this in front of other people. A family member that touches, tickles, or wrestles children even when they don’t like it. A teen or adult that is way more interested in spending time with younger kids than their peers should send up a few red flags that we need to pay more attention, not less. If we witness someone that is not respecting a child’s bodily autonomy we have a right to speak up for that child and tell the person in question to stop. Everyone has a right to not be touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable. That’s not to say that we can’t have tickle fights or become a human jungle gym, but set an example for proper consent, ask permission before picking a child up and checking to make sure they’re still having fun, especially if they’re not talking.
~The Mama Bear Effect
Many child molesters use tactics like those above to break down the defenses of their victims. After all, when they invade a child’s personal space to touch, tickle, or wrestle in front of the parents, they are showing the victim that the parents know they are touching their child. This works to the abusers advantage when they have the child behind closed doors. This conveys to the kids that the parents already know the adult oversteps boundaries by annoyingly touching their body. This can cause the child to believe there is nothing wrong with the annoying sexual touching taking place behind closed doors.
How to respond if something bad did happen:
- Don’t get upset, cry, or ask you child questions about why they allowed that to happen to them. This causes the child (regardless of age) to feel responsible for what happened to them and for your reaction.
- Sit down and write out what you child told you after you finish the conversation with them.
- DO NOT CALL OR TALK TO THE PERSON. They WILL explain their way out of it and you WILL believe them.
- Do not call the host home, church, or event location where it happened and do not call other parents to compare accounts or to ask questions. This can cause major problems for law enforcement’s investigation.
- CALL LAW ENFORCMENT. (Even if it’s your relative or spouse). Allow the authorities to investigate. Do not worry about someone’s reputation. If they are innocent the investigators will come to that conclusion. It’s extremely difficult to prove allegations, but worth the time to pursue it. You may save your child or another child from future victimization.
And…for the relative who says, “How can you call yourself a Christian?” when you dare to set a difficult boundary. Don’t buy into it. It’s nothing more than emotional manipulation. The Bible is full of examples of boundary setting. We can speak gently, firmly, and kindly while being protective and proactive. Even Jesus set boundaries while on earth.
- Demands. He withdrew from the crowds who wanted him, for one-on-one time with the Father (Luke 5:15-16).
- Abuse. He fought his way through the crowd that was trying to throw him off a cliff for claiming to be the Messiah (Luke 4:28-30).
- Entitlement. He didn’t give in to his mother and brothers who tried to use their relationship with him to pull him away from the crowd he was ministering to (Matthew 12:46-50).
- Baiting Questions. When the religious leaders asked him baiting questions to make him look foolish he answered with incisive questions of his own (Matthew 21:23-27, 22:15-22).
- Cynicism. He said no to Herod’s mocking demand, “Show us a sign that you are the Son of God.” (Luke 23:8-9).
- Manipulation. He said no to Peter and the disciples who had an inappropriate agenda for Jesus to a political king or military warrior rather than a sacrificial lamb. (Matthew 16:23).
- Exploitation. He used a whip to clear out the temple of the vendors and money changers who were taking advantage of the poor and turning God’s house into a marketplace (Matthew 21:12-17, John 2:12-16).
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6