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Becoming a Protector of Children

By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent

Most of the articles published in the mainstream media about the issue of child sexual abuse are related to reporting of a criminal case, such as an arrest, indictment, or conviction. This type of story is newsworthy to be sure, but few articles are published that discuss how child sexual abuse could be prevented. The national media should focus less on sensationalism, and instead, become a better source of information for the average American who might find themselves in the position to rescue a child from an abuser, or to identify an abuser.

Child sexual abuse is a societal issue. Abusers come from all income levels and all walks of life. There is no reliable way to recognize a person who commits this crime, and in the vast majority of cases, children are abused by persons that they and their families know and trust. Child sexual abuse is an extremely uncomfortable subject for most people to discuss, and our natural tendency to avoid uncomfortable subjects causes us to deny that someone we know may be abusing a child. We tell ourselves not to get involved, that we don’t really know what is going on, and that it’s not up to us to confront the person or the situation. The abuser depends upon this indifference or hesitation in order to continue abusing.

Recently I read a transcript from a police interview with a person who had been arrested for abusing a child. When asked why he committed the act, the abuser actually blamed the child victim, saying that “she sat close to me and was wearing a short skirt. She kept smiling and winking at me, and I could tell she really liked me. She was really coming on to me…” The girl this abuser was talking about was five years old! As shocking as this sounds, it gives some insight into how abusers think. For whatever reason, the abuser sees children as potential sexual partners, available for their personal use to provide sexual gratification. They often do not see their actions as criminal, but they are usually very aware that they must not get caught. The abuser’s need for privacy is key to stopping abuse before it starts.

With this in mind, parents should caution children about anyone who wants to “keep secrets”. Abusers often threaten children with dire consequences if they tell what is happening to them, but they also manipulate children into thinking that what is happening is good and right. There are few good reasons for keeping a secret from parents. Other than a birthday present or a surprise party being planned, children should feel that they can and should tell their parents anything, especially if the secret causes the child to feel uncomfortable or frightened.

Adults should also take note of any situation or person who often seeks to be with children privately. Areas where a child could be taken alone, such as an empty classroom or a secluded area in a church or school should be made off limits. An adult who recognizes a situation where someone is often found alone with a child in an isolated area should confront the person directly, or at least tell the person’s supervisor. Expressing a concern is not the same as making an accusation. Tell the person that, for their own protection, they should avoid situations where they are alone with someone’s child. Tell the child’s parents that you are concerned for the safety of all children, and that their child should always stay with a group of kids, or with two or more adults when they are alone.

Above all, if you witness an act of abuse (which is very rare) or you suspect that a child is being abused, because you see bruises or some other evidence, do the uncomfortable thing and make a report to the Child Abuse Hotline at 1 800 362 2178. Don’t participate in this crime against children by looking the other way. We are all responsible for the safety and welfare of God’s children.

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