I wrote an article recently in the Daily Times – Looking Out for Our Children (http://dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/looking-out-our-children) – about the legal regime for sexual abuse of children and the distribution of child pornography and our personal responsibility to create safe environments for our children.
Sexual abuse of any persons, men, and women, but especially children can have severely damaging effect on the physical and emotional and mental health. It is therefore a public health issue that must be taken very seriously by governments but also by individuals.
At CHELD, we promote health literacy and education as an empowerment tool. In addition to strengthening and enforcing current law, in my article, I stated that parents and guardians must take an active, vigilant, discerning interest in creating safe environments for their children. How can they do this? As a follow-up to that article, in this week’s blog, I present here some tips kindly provided by Dr Anita Umebese, a medical doctor with experience in pediatric medicine, in an enlightening blog on her site. We hope that it is helpful to those seeking specific ways to protect their children.
Some facts about child molestation (culled from Don’t Harm My Children, by Dr. Anita Umebese (http://chocolatechutzpah.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/dont-harm-my-children/)
1) Handsome, rich men molest children. Beautiful, talented women molest children. Ordinary people you laugh with every day molest children. Family members molest children. Church members molest children. Parents or siblings molest children. Hired helps and neighbors molest children. Married people molest children. You simply cannot tell a child sexual predator by looking. (But do pay attention to your instincts, which see deeper than a person’s surface appearance). Most child molesters are known and liked by others and they cultivate certain relationships in order to gain access to children. Whether or not a person twangs your intuition, observe the person closely and don’t let him/her have your child alone until you’re satisfied they are completely safe. Talk to others about them. Find out all you can.
2) A child molester may hug and cuddle your child in healthy ways right in front of you and your child doesn’t resist or fuss. This doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Molesters themselves say that they deliberately do this so that your child, the victim, thinks you approve of the way the molester touches them. A child assumes his parents know what’s going on, so when the molester hugs him in front of you and you’re fine with that, the child thinks you’re OK with what happens in private too.
3) If your child develops changes in behavior such as having big-time mood swings, withdrawal from everything and everyone, fearfulness and crying on a regular basis or starts bed-wetting or changes toilet-training habits or starts having nightmares or if he or she is scared to go to bed or develops fears of certain places, people or activities then know it is time to do some investigating. Consult your child’s school and find out if your child has problems in school or with his or her behavior such as acting out sexual activity or being curious about certain sexual matters. Inspect your child’s body and look for unexplained marks such as bruises, rashes, cuts, limping, multiple and poorly explained injuries and observe your child’s private areas and look for certain things such as pain, itching, bleeding, fluid or rawness.
4) Observe the child’s behavior how he/she is with the other parent. Fathers have been known to molest their children and this usually happens whilst the mum is asleep or out. If your child never likes staying at home alone with the other parent or insists on following you every time you step out, it’s an inclination that this child feels safer with you. Find out why.
5) Teach your child that NO ONE should be touching their private areas. That it is not ok for anyone. That if someone does, your child should tell you and NOT be afraid. Make yourself a safe person for your child to talk to. If you get angry whenever your child fails or misbehaves, or you get upset a lot in general, be certain he/she will learn never to tell you anything. Molesters know this. They watch for this type of relationship between a parent and a child so they can exploit it and gain the victim’s trust with patience and kindness.
6) Listen to your instincts. If you feel a deep disquiet or unease around someone, simply don’t let that person have access to your child–especially not alone time.
7) Don’t put your faith in the presence of a group. A child molester can and will single out a child while on group trips or during group play. Child sexual predators like this because they know they can get alone time with their victims.
8) Make sure your child gets plenty of healthy attention, love, and physical affection at home. This prevents your child from having the vulnerability that predators look for in potential victims. A healthy, well-loved child with good self-esteem is less likely to be targeted. In a sense, molesters are looking for victims who are already victims.
9) Let your child know that he/she can say a strong “NO” to a molester and you will back him/her up completely. Let them know that they can fight or run away or tattle and you will stand by them 100 percent. Molesters make threats about what parents will or won’t do to a child if he tells, so you have to have that trust with your child.
10) If your child spends a lot of individual time with someone, ask your child carefully phrased questions about whether the child has been exposed to any sexual material of any kind. Kids are curious. If it’s presented to them, they’ll probably watch and listen.
11) If you suspect your spouse may be molesting your child, watch closely. Do you feel like somehow, subtly, you’re being cast as the bad guy to your child, while your spouse is the good guy? Abusers gradually block communication between their child and the other parent, and damage the trust in that relationship.
12) If you’re a parent married to a step-parent, be aware that all the statistics show a significantly higher incidence of child sexual abuse among step-parents than among birth parents. You may be thrilled with your new spouse’s interest in your children but ask yourself; is he gaining their trust while undercutting you or your relationship with your children? While you want to back up your new spouse, you also want your children to know they haven’t lost you to your new spouse and that you trust them and support them.
13) Children often keep molestation a secret because the molester has threatened that they will be taken from their family if they tell or that he will be violent to them or to their family or he has manipulated the child into thinking it’s his/her fault and that if anybody gets punished, it will be him/her or he has won your child’s love and trust with treats, attention, and “love”.
14) If you suspect that your child has been molested sit your child down and ask these questions GENTLY and without any show of emotion that may distress the child. We recommend the mother does this alone as sometimes fathers may be the culprits and that this is done in complete privacy so that your child feels secure. Also make sure they understand that while you’re asking them questions, they are not in trouble in any way whatsoever. You may need to continually reinforce this, as children have a tendency to take any serious comments from an adult as meaning that they have done something wrong. Here are some questions to ask:
“You do know that between your legs is a private area, don’t you?”
“Has anyone touched you in your private area besides yourself or stroked your chest or bottom?”
“Has anyone asked you to show them your private parts?”
“Has anyone asked you to look at their private parts?”
If these questions are not asked in a proper manner, they may lead to an innocent victim being accused falsely of child molestation, a crime punishable by prison. If it turns out that no one has touched them, or asked to be touched, be happy and show them that you love them. Do not be over enthusiastically relieved, because if you do and you have cause to ask them again at some time they will simply answer in the negative to please you.
15) If your child has been molested, do not confront the person who has done anything to them. Immediately contact the police and do not speak to anyone else about it whatsoever. This is very important. The police will pick up the suspect and get a child psychologist to question the child again. If you are a health personnel dealing with a case involving molestation, immediately admit the child and report to the necessary department, do not release the child to the parents. This is essential in Nigeria because many parents due to the shame take their children home and simply do nothing about it, eager to forget it happened. Some beat the children and blame them for the molestation and the child predator continues this act on the child or another child. Other times, a member of the family may be responsible for the abuse and the family may seek to protect the person. As a parent try to remain calm and make sure your child understands they have done nothing wrong and they are not in trouble in any way. Make sure to smile a lot at them, they need you to be strong and comforting. Even if your child has answered in the positive, it is still possible that nothing untoward has happened. This is why it is very important to get a skilled child interrogator to find out the truth.
Statistics show that the effects of sexual abuse can prove to be traumatic to a child and lead to serious mental problems during adolescence and adulthood. It’s important to mention that most kids who were abused grow up to become abusers and dysfunctional themselves in some way, shape, or form. Please protect our children. They are our future. We hope the above tips are helpful to you in providing safe spaces for our children to live in.