Though media coverage and the rhetoric of "stranger danger" may lead us to believe otherwise, an estimated 60 percent of child molesters are known to the victim. Find out what you can do to protect your children.
According to the American Psychological Association, most children are abused by a person they 'know and trust.'

With the emphasis on "stranger danger" and the media frenzy over stranger child abductions (which actually happens very rarely), you might think strangers are the biggest threat to your child, particularly when it comes to sexual molestation. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), however, most children are abused by a person they "know and trust." Here is further data from their website:

  • An estimated 60 percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, childcare providers, neighbors.
  • About 30 percent of perpetrators are family members, e.g., fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins.
  • Just 10 percent of perpetrators are strangers to the child.
  • In most cases, the perpetrator is male regardless of whether the victim is a boy or girl. Heterosexual and gay men are equally likely to sexually abuse children. A perception that most perpetrators are gay men is a myth and a harmful stereotype.
  • Some perpetrators are female. It is estimated that women are the abusers in about 14 percent of cases reported among boys and 6 percent of cases reported among girls. (Source)

The Crimes Against Children Research Center found that approximately one in five girls and one in 20 boys is sexually molested before they reach age 18, but sexual crimes against children are widely under-reported, so victim numbers could be higher. Further, people may not know an act is molestation. For a list of acts considered sexual molestation, please see the APA link above.

If 90 percent of child abusers know the child, parents' focus should center on acquaintances and family.

If 90 percent of child abusers know the child, parents' focus should center on acquaintances and family.

But how is that possible?

The Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center provides an excellent resource for parents to learn how sexual predators "work," and lists signs and behaviors that warrant your attention. They also list the "tricks" used by predators to gain a family's trust and lure children.

You must define and explain the boundaries to every individual in your child's life. Since most abuse begins with a crossed boundary, you, your child and the other adult must understand the boundaries of the relationship.

First and foremost, the website states, you must define and explain the boundaries to every individual in your child's life. Since most abuse begins with a crossed boundary (e.g. a baseball coach driving a player home after practice), you, your child and the other adult must understand the boundaries of the relationship. It's up to you as a parent to decide whether these boundaries may be crossed, but your child needs to know what the person's role is, so he or she can determine whether boundaries have been crossed.

In short, your child needs to know exactly what this person is supposed to be doing, so if they do something else, the child will know to alert you, and feel confident in his/her ability to assess appropriate/inappropriate behavior. It is up to parents to model relationships with clear, defined and defended boundaries.

According to the same website, some of the "red flags" to notice are:

  • Someone who wants to spend more time with your child than you.
  • Someone who manages to get time alone with, or attempts to be alone with your child or other children.
  • Someone who insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding a child, even when a child doesn't want this affection.
  • Someone who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child or teen and asks either the parents or the child sexually-oriented questions.
  • Someone who relates extremely well to children and spends most of his/her spare time with them and has little interest in spending time with individuals their own age. (Source)

Though we cannot protect our children 100 percent of the time, as parents, we can educate ourselves and actively work to empower ourselves and our children.

Read this now, and start acting now. Talk to your kids. Teach them to "follow their gut" and immediately respond to uncomfortable feelings. Empower them with the knowledge of what should and shouldn't happen to their bodies.

Consider all the people close to them. Make hard choices and decisions. You are the person who can keep your child safe.

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