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Christian Living

Family

Keeping Our Children Safe from Sexual Abuse

Daniel Gorski - Author

From Penn State to the Catholic Church scandal to Hollywood, stories of sexual abuse are covered in the national media, but news reports do not reveal all the facts of how prevalent abuse is among males. The standard statistic is that one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. However, Male Survivor recently reported one in four men has been sexually abused.

Given these sobering statistics, what are some of the signs you should look for? How can parents protect their children from abuse? How should parents respond to the news their child has been abused?

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

Some signs to watch out for in children include a noticeable mood or personality change. Often this sign is dismissed as pre-adolescent or adolescent hormonal changes. The child may become withdrawn and isolated. Self-harm including cutting, pre-occupation with death, severe loss of appetite, or violent behavior may emerge. The child may destroy or want to discard previously prized possessions, remnants of a world he can no longer enjoy. He may act out in ways that are uncharacteristic. Grades may plummet, and he may lose interest in school, church, or family life. He may cry out and beg you not to take him to visit that person. These are but a few indicators that ought to raise your suspicion that your child may be a victim of an unwanted advance or sexual abuse.

Sexual Abuse Prevention

So many of our homes are fragmented. Moms and dads are tired, even in intact and cohesive households. But vigilance is needed to protect our children. "Stranger Danger" is a motto that fails in this arena since the vast majority of perpetrators are family relations or are people known and trusted by the family. The ubiquity of the Internet exposes our children to people we'd never allow in our home. Many online predators pose as children to slowly initiate and groom our boys and girls.

React and Respond

As parents, when we hear our child recount an experience, we tend to listen through a filter that presumes some degree of exaggeration, embellishment, or misconception. We do so because we don't want him or her to live in a delusional world and we recognize the importance of telling the truth. I look back with embarrassment on the occasions I doubted my son or daughter, using my skeptic's filter, only to discover their story was completely accurate. How humbling and appropriate it was to ask for forgiveness!

Now raise the stakes. It is critical that a child claiming to have been sexually abused be believed. Parent, imagine the regret and the permanent damage to your son or daughter otherwise. Surround the child with affirmation, reassurances, professional help, and loads of patience. This will communicate to the child that what happened was in no way his or her fault.

Immediately report the abuse to law enforcement, but take steps to shield the child from unwanted attention. Find a trained and experienced therapist – immediately. This may not be desirable to read, but the best therapists are not necessarily Christian; make no assumptions. Interview the therapist candidate before exposing him to make sure they're experienced, credentialed, and seems like a good fit for your child. Early intervention is critical.

Contact your pastor. If upon reading this you might have reservations doing so, consider what this means about the pastoral competence of your current church. In fact, if you have opportunity to talk with your pastor before an abuse situation occurs, ask the pastor – and elders and church board – what is the church's pastoral action plan for dealing with child sexual abuse in a member family or if an allegation were brought against a church member or leader.

Do you know if any members of your church are sex offenders? As a parent, should you be privy to this information, particularly if there's a chance this person might have access to your child? It's not an easily addressed matter but, in general, the welfare of the child must take priority.

Move to Action

The statistics of reported victims of child sexual abuse are staggering. Sadly, it has long been known that many (perhaps even most) cases go unreported and, of those that do, the stories don't come to light until many years later. These stories often test the family bonds, particularly if the perpetrator is a family member. The weight of guilt and shame is overwhelming on both the child, who often feels responsible for his own abuse without understanding why, and on the parents, who constantly wrestle with feelings of failure despite their best efforts to provide and protect their children.

Our churches are generally poorly equipped to deal with child sexual abuse. Our pulpits are filled with messages that command us to love and forgive one another, often as a precondition to receiving God's love and forgiveness. This is an incomplete hermeneutic, and one that is injurious and dangerous for the abuse victim – and enabling for the abuser. Our worship is filled with lyrics of praise, redemption, and deliverance. Yet the Psalms are filled with laments and God saw fit to inspire the prophet Jeremiah to write the book of Lamentations. We need to understand that the God of the Bible weeps and He tells us to weep with those who weep. This is a deeply vulnerable place to go and it requires courage among people filled with the Holy Spirit.

If you know a family that has been touched by abuse, pray for them by name. Weep for them because, though you may not see it, they are surely weeping. Offer them small comforts and reminders that they are not alone. This can come in the form of a short note, a meal or dessert, or the propriety of a listening ear.

There are also some actions we can take in the civil realm. Lobby your representatives to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes against children, both in the criminal statutes and for civil liability. Institutions should not be shielded from civil liability by using their leverage to "run out the clock" on their jeopardy to legal action. Understand that the Bible teaches clearly that the courts exist to provide justice for the victims of child sexual abuse. The Scriptures should not be misused to manipulate or to dissuade victims from seeking justice and reparations.

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