How a Parent Can Protect Their Child
Parents often assume that there is nothing they can teach their children to prevent abuse. After all, how can a child be expected to stand up to an adult? Our natural tendency is to think of sexual abuse as something forced upon a child. We picture an adult in a dark room, threatening a child into compliance. Using their size advantage and intimidating their victim with bodily harm, scaring them into secrecy. Thankfully, this portrayal of sexual abuse rarely exists outside of Law & Order episodes.
Protection against sexual abuse is a multi-faceted approach, and there are various ways in which a child can be protected:
The first realm of protection: Prevention
Child molesters rely on child psychology. They rely on their natural ability to befriend and persuade children. They rely on their ability to recruit the child’s cooperation. They rely on the fact that many children enthusiastically cooperate, since children are born with the capacity to enjoy sexual stimulation. (See The Psychology of Abuse) And they rely on parents ignoring a child’s sexual nature, while making crucial mistakes which will leave their children vulnerable. Rarely do they use force or simply overpower the child, and few with such interests would ever resort to such tactics. As abuse researchers Roland Summit and JoAnn Kryso point out, “most pedophiles are gentile creatures. They cherish tenderness and innocence, and will back off from fear and resistance in their intended partner.” (Summit & Kryso, 1981, p. 121) The child rapist is as different from the average molester as a serial rapist would be from the average heterosexual. Most molestation doesn’t resemble a sexual “assault” in the least, but rather involve sexual affection and/or acts that originate out of play or exploration.
Therefore, most molestations are completely preventable, so-long-as parents combat the psychology that permits them. The only reason molesters are winning this game against parents is because they are the only ones who are playing. Despite best intentions, parents continue to ignore their child’s sexual nature, and continue to leave critical gaps in their child’s protection that molesters will easily exploit. When these holes are plugged, a potential molester is likely to run into a brick wall, unable to proceed with their intentions. When you sit down and think about it, children stand up to adults all the time, often when we don’t want them to. And they can be very effective at it. Just think back to the last fit your child threw. If properly trained, children can effectively stand up to a molester’s advances as well. The most difficult task in prevention is training them in these tactics while maintaining a sexually healthy environment and not shaming them about sexual expression, which is equally important.
So if you’re concerned about the thought of someone molesting your child, the million dollar question is this: When it comes down to the moment of truth, and someone is trying to initiate your child into sexual acts, will you have gotten to them first, giving them the know how to know better?
The second realm of protection: Disclosure
A child’s innocence isn’t whisked away because of a single isolated incident or even a few isolated incidents. In all types of abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, lasting harm comes form a child being subjected to abuse over a substantial period of time. (Sameroff et al., 1998; Heard, 2007, p. 437; GCF, 2009) Therefore, protecting children from harm isn’t dependant upon you shielding them from all things sexual. Your child’s life isn’t marked for doom should something happen, as long as you intervene and respond in the proper ways. Parents can keep their child from lasting harm by ensuring that if something does happen, you find out about it and interrupt any patterns of abuse before it causes serious problems.
So by defeating the secrecy that a molester relies on, you can offer a second type of protection for your child. You ensure that they won’t become trapped in an abusive situation that they feel they can’t talk to you about. The ploys molesters use to invoke secrecy can also be defeated; if parents take the time to go over these potential tricks and diffuse their power. By defeating secrecy and ensuring your children can talk to you about any abuse, you can prevent long-term harm from occurring.
The third realm of protection: Raising a Sexually Healthy Child
The third area of protection comes in creating a sexually healthy environment for your child. Every bit as important as preventing abuse to begin with, a sexually healthy upbringing removes the potential for damage from sexual abuse in all but the most severe of cases.
When a child is molested, the bulk of the harm has little to do with the experience itself. It occurs because negative beliefs, attitudes and perceptions towards sexuality in general (sexual neurosis) creates an environment of destructive psychology in regards to the experience, burdening a child with numerous psychologically destructive beliefs about what such an experience means. (Walters, 1974; Constantine, 1981; GCF, 2009a; 2009b) If it weren’t for sexual neurosis creating this added significance, 95% or more of all molestations would be little more than a mildly unpleasant experience that could be overcome before the day was through.
We have always promoted a sexually healthy environment as a way to prevent secrecy, and also because it’s the only ethical approach from a child development perspective. Yet it wasn’t until we sat down to work on materials to help children recover from sexual abuse that we realized just how important a sexually healthy environment truly is. As we started digging into case studies, research, and personal accounts, we found that combating the harm meant combating sexual neurosis and the damage doled out in relation to the event much more than it did any psychology in the experience itself. This is – and we are not exaggerating here – a minimum of 80% of all harm from sexual abuse, and in the case of most average molestations, sexual neurosis and negative parental responses create virtually all of the suffering the child endures. This is a bold statement, but it is also what the research suggests, and we are working on future publications that will demonstrate this principle in more detail.
If you remove sexual neurosis by raising a child in a sexually healthy environment, you remove nearly all of the potential for harm regardless of what happens, which is why we consider this aspect every bit as important as prevention.
The online materials we make available should help parents do all three. The steps for protection contained in this area should prevent abusive secrecy and give a child a great deal of protection in terms of preventing abuse before it occurs. The third aspect, raising a sexually healthy child, is more of a general philosophy that each parent must work into their overall lifestyle. We offer tools, resources, and guidelines for this in the aforementioned link.