Due to a discussion that I stumbled upon, I thought this topic needs to be discussed and shared. With so many stories of sexual abuse making headlines naturally many parents are on high alert and concerned for their children.
Parents want to know:
- How can I protect my child from becoming a victim
- If my child can’t come forward, How can I detect if abuse has taken place
- If abuse has occurred, How can I help my child
Before I go into detail, please take a moment to click the link above and read through the Safety for Parents section and the Warning Signs section. RAINN is a great resource to help answer your questions.
It’s often difficult to get your message across when you’re limited on character spaces and it’s easy to misinterpret the tone of the message. I’ll do my best to clarify any misunderstandings that may have taken place on another social media platform.
Sadly, there isn’t a foolproof way to prevent your child or anyone for that matter from being a victim of sexual abuse. There isn’t one sign or one behavior that is a clear indicator that your child has been abused or that someone you know is a sexual predator.
When I say behavior (which seems to be the term people are getting stuck on) I don’t mean your child’s everyday demeanor/how they behave, but rather the subtle changes, the out of character moments that are odd, but can just as easily be dismissed. Again, not all children will exhibit the same signs. Some will display several, some just a few, some none at all. Based on the age of the child, certain age groups can display similar warning signs.
The best example that I can provide is my experience * spoiler alert if you haven’t read my book*
I was a well-behaved child, my mother was a single parent and my younger brother was a handful, so she never worried about me in the same manner that she did my brother. My abuse started at age 8 and continued for 14 months (9 encounters during that time). My grades were the same, a solid B+ student. What did change when I went back to school, was that I no longer wanted to sit with my friends during lunch, I often faked being sick so that I could be alone in the nurse’s office. Perhaps my reputation as a sweet, quiet, well-behaved girl is what made it easy to dismiss the odd behavior. Perhaps it was the time period and things were different in the mid-1980’s. I remember the nurse wanting to call my mother to come to get me, but I was able to convince the nurse that she was working (which she was, no cell phones at that time) and that I felt well enough to go back to class.
I think at the time my kid logic was to avoid being questioned and feeling scared that somehow my peers would find out the truth about what happened over my summer vacation and I would break down, lose my composure. My abuser had threatened me, he made me believe that my mother wouldn’t believe me, nobody would believe me because he would deny everything and I would risk my mother not loving me and be forced to not live with her anymore. That was a lot to carry around, he had nothing to lose while I had everything to lose. The only option that I felt I had was to keep my mouth shut and go on as if nothing happened.
A few months would pass before more encounters took place. Each time going forward the scenario set by my abuser was the same. My mother would visit her boyfriend at work (junkyard security guard) and we’d have to tag along. A few hours in, the boyfriend would send my mother out for food, cigarettes, beer sometimes all three to buy himself more time. He made sure she took my brother with her and leave me behind so he wouldn’t be “lonely”. My mother never saw this as odd.
I saw exactly what he was doing and I began spending time in my mother’s car “studying” always “studying” as to not be left alone with him anymore. If she was being sent out, I was going with her. On weekends we’d often arrive at the junkyard in the late afternoon and leave around 1:00am, so many nights I spent locked in my mom’s car with the keys (my choice as a means of protecting myself) and still that behavior didn’t seem odd to my mother. My strategy worked for a bit until he changed his.
Since I denied my abuser access to me at his place of work (for the most part), he began snatching me out of bed in the middle of the night. Of course my mother was never around for this, she was sent out for food after he got home from his shift. My brother was there, but he was a sound sleeper that had no idea what was taking place in the next room.
There was one occasion where I thought I was being clever and left my underwear (soiled with obvious signs that trauma had occurred) and placed them in my room as to look like I was trying to hide them in hopes that my mother would question me about it. I had not started my periods (at the age of 9) I thought she would confront me, give me the “talk” and when she realized that I had not entered the womanhood stage, she’d know what was happening and I wouldn’t break my promise to keep quiet……. That backfired.
My mother did find the “hidden” underwear but never talked to me about it. She assumed I had started my period and I was too embarrassed to talk to her. So she never approached me about the types of feminine products or birth control or offer advice to help deal with cramps/bloating. Just more odd behavior that was dismissed and ignored.
As many sexual predators do, he also gave me a gift, something that had sentimental value to him that he wanted me to keep safe. He offered this in front of my mother and brother, to which appeared as a nice gesture. It’s not a nice gesture, it’s part of the grooming process. Gift giving from the abuser to the victim happens often and is often overlooked. In some cases, the “gifts” are not age appropriate, for example when the other kids in the family receive toys, games age appropriate gifts from Uncle Gary except one special 12-year old that receives an expensive gold/silver/rose gold braided necklace, THAT’ S A RED FLAG!
When your child that was once comfortable around Uncle George, showing affection, sitting on his lap is now showing signs of fear or anxiety, or now wants to keep their distance, THAT IS A RED FLAG and should not be dismissed as just anti-social behavior. Start questioning WHY?
When kids reach the stage of having to change for Gym class and shower, watch the kids that are uncomfortable beyond the normal level. Kids that avoid changing, kids that sit out, kids that don’t shower in close proximity with their peers. Please don’t take this as a blanket statement. I realize that some kids are more shy than others, but it’s better to question and be wrong, than to ignore signs of abuse if you suspect it’s taking place.
I also realize that many parents may not witness these odd changes, but perhaps teachers, coaches, neighbors, the parents of your kids’ friends might notice and it’s worth bringing it to your attention.
My long winded point is that there are plenty of resources available if you want to learn more and I encourage you to read and learn what you can to recognize these warning signs/odd out of character behaviors should they appear before you. Learn how to protect a child that may come to you to seek help and safety from their abuser. Listen and Believe.
It takes a village.