protecting your child from sexual predators

So many of us prefer to live in the “hear no evil, see no evil” world: “Land of the Ear Muffs,” I like to call it. But as parents, our job is to protect and inform our children so that when they go into the world, they can make safe decisions.

If you strapped on matching ear muffs to your children, time to take them off. The only way we can beat the bad is to educate ourselves and train our children to be warriors – and we have to start now.

It isn’t easy. I found myself in tears and with a stomach ache after listening at a MOPS meeting to former private investigator, Grace Castle, talk about children’s safety issues in relation to sexual offenders and human trafficking.

Myself, along with Castle, agree that throughout the recent horrific child abuse and murder on the news in the past weeks, we console ourselves by noting that is has brought knowledge, a face and more realization of how extensive the problem is.

Now, along with your ear muffs, please be gone with your “It won’t happen to me or my family,” attitude.

With statistics showing that one-in-four girls are sexually abused before the age of 14 and one-in-six boys before 16-years-old, it most likely is bound to happen or already has to someone within your circle of friends or child’s classroom.

As of March 2011, there are a total of approximately 131 sex offenders currently under supervision in Douglas County. That leaves many more that have registered since then or have not been convicted at all.

While parents are naturally good at teaching their children not to talk to strangers, more than 90 percent of all sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator – meaning that mom and dad most likely know and trust them too.

49 percent of victims under six-years-old, not only knew the offender, but they were family members.

“When people are visiting in your home, keep track of the little ones. Do spontaneous checks of all rooms, watch where the adults go when they leave the room you’re in, and if something doesn’t seem right – don ‘t deny it! Check it out and deal with it,” said Castle.

Castle also presses how important it is for parents to know who is caring for your child and know them well. She said we should always know who has access to our children when we’re not there.

In addition to our neighboring sexual offenders, Interstate-5 is now known as one of the most common routes used in human trafficking, with the rural areas off the corridor largely targeted for taking victims.

I didn’t even know what human trafficking was, therefore was shocked to find out that it is one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world that involves the recruiting, transporting, selling, or buying of people for the purpose of various forms of exploitation.

Traffickers generally target woman and girls who are a part of a vulnerable population or who suffer from low self-esteem. Much of the time, these victims are forced or coerced from local malls, bus stops and even schools, but a larger percentage are runaways or homeless.

Oregon police said that nearly one-third of all children who runaway or end up on the streets in Oregon are lured into prostitution within 48 hours. They also reported that they encounter three to five victims of human trafficking per week – 50 percent of those being children.

Castle says that educating yourself and your children has to begin when the child is a baby and continue until adulthood. “It does no good to suddenly tell a child, at age 10, ‘Oh, by the way, there are bad people out there and you should be careful,’” she added.

The pastor of our church a few weeks ago made a very good point: Why is it that we are educated from such an early age on things like Algebra that we may never use or trained endlessly for a job, and don’t receive the same preparation for parenting or how to protect ourselves as children?

“The main safeguard is good communication between the child and the parent beginning before birth with the necessary training continuing throughout the stages of the child’s life,” said Castle.

It is time to start doing your homework because the lives of our children are at stake. Start educating and begin communicating.

If you’re in Oregon, go to: www.oregon.gov/OSP/SOR/faqs.shtml for details of who must register as a sex offender in Oregon and more information.

You can search nationally here: http://www.nsopw.gov

Go to sexoffenders.oregon.gov to search by name, city and county

Helpful Hints on Protecting Your Children by Grace Castle
  • Do not force children to give hugs and kisses to all the adults in their lives. Hand shakes and high fives are sufficient unless the child initiates a hug or kiss, but makes sure you know all about the adult.
  • Don’t be a friend, be a parent!
  • Begin quiet/talk time with your child to open a good repoire.
  • Always be available when your child wants to talk. They will usually open up once and if you turn them down because you’re busy, they most likely won’t talk again.
  • React calmly no matter what your child tells you.
  • Teach children the correct names for their body parts and teach the older children about names they may hear others call those parts.
  • Two is not a crowd; Send your teenager out a larger group or a parent goes with.
  • Don’t teach your children to keep secrets even if it is the mother saying, “We won’t tell Daddy about this.”
  • Teach your children that it’s OK to say “no” to an adult.
  • Dress children age appropriately; we are sexualizing them by dressing them as adults.
  • Don’t allow personal information to be published, including the school or church directory.
  • Take family rumors regarding sexual abuse seriously and protect your children against the accused.
  • If you are a single parent and dating, keep those men out of your homes and away from your children! Don’t let him move into your house and don’t move into his!
  • Don’t leave your child alone in the car.
  • Don’t let your child run loose in a store.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings while putting the children in the car.
  • Stay awake and aware in parks.
  • Don’t send older children with the little ones to a park or store. Even older teenagers have a short attention span.
  • Always talk to children in age appropriate language.
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