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Recognizing Adults Who May Abuse

By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent


We now know that child sexual abuse is much more prevalent in our society that anyone would like to believe. The most effective way of stopping child sexual abuse before it happens is to eliminate the opportunities and situations that the abuser needs. No matter how vigilant we are, it is impossible to eliminate every threat. The next most effective way we can stop child sexual abuse is to recognize the signs that it might be happening, and intervene. Here are some guidelines:

a. Take note of an adult who always seems to want to be with children more than they want to be with other adults, or who attempts to isolate a particular child such as asking the child to remain after school or attend special coaching sessions. There are few if any situations that demand that an adult have alone time with a child. Bring your concerns to the attention of the adult in question; if the behavior continues, take your concerns to the principal or supervisor.

b. Excessive touching, tickling, wrestling, or physical affection from an adult other than the child’s parent is not appropriate. That does not mean that a teacher or coach can never pat a child on the back or hold a child’s hand during a circle game. Use common sense when defining excessive touching, and let your children know that they do not need to tolerate excessive touching or physical contact from anyone. Teach them to say “Stop that!” whenever they feel uncomfortable with a touch.

c. Abusers often groom families for months or years in order to gain their trust and eventually, access to their child. Be wary of an adult who wants to give your child expensive gifts, take them on trips, or gives them excessive or special attention. Again, use common sense when defining these limits and have a frank discussion with your child and with any family friend or relative if you become concerned about excessive attention or gifts.

d. Abusers are often people who feel that rules do not apply to them. Although this warning sign may not be as obvious, take notice of people who always seem to think they do not need to follow the rules. Failure to obey obvious rules is easy to identify. Ignoring social amenities may be more difficult to identify. Notice, for example, people who are chronically late and think the group should catch them up or start over, and those who refuse to turn off cell phones and pagers upon request. These adults are among those who deserve special attention when they interact with children.
These basic warning signs are not the only risky behaviors that potential predators exhibit but they are among those that predators tell us are part of the process. Paying attention to these behaviors and interrupting them any time they are present can make a real difference in the health and well being of children in our environments.

Contact the Safe Environment office at 712 233 7517 or e mail Colleen at colleens@scdiocese.org

(Sulsberger is the Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of Sioux City. Contact the Safe Environment office at (712) 233-7517 or e-mail Colleen at colleens@scdiocese.org.)

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