Preventing Child Sex Abuse Begins at Home

By Jerry Demarco (Cliffview Pilot.com)
July 24, 2010

If you're headed up Route 17 toward Monticello, you might notice a curious sign: A billboard urging parents to teach their children what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. Go into town and you'll see a similar billboard -- in Yiddish. It's a progressive approach that experts agree can be extremely effective, especially at a time of year when more kids have less supervision.

"Adults must exercise an affirmative responsibility to safeguard children from sexual abuse," says Prevent Child Abuse America, an advocacy group.

The primary reason: Children may retain the message from school only temporarily. What's more, they may feel intimidated by someone bigger, older and stronger.

"Efforts must be made to create programs that shift the responsibility of child sexual abuse prevention to adults and public institutions," the PCAA says. "An example of such an approach is widespread and intensive public education of the warning signs of child sexual abusers and how adults should act to safeguard children from sexual abuse."

The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, founded two years ago to help protect children from abuse, has taken out two full-size billboards in Sullivan County. Originally known as the N.Y.S. Yeshiva Parents Association, the group successfully lobbied for a state law that requires all non-public schools in New York to fingerprint and background-check their prospective employees.

It makes a difference to countless families in North Jersey who send their children to schools just across the border in Rockland County or across the river in New York City.

"Unfortunately, there are strange people in the community who want to harm our children. We have to stop them," JBAC President and co-founder Elliot Pasik said. "Child abuse thrives in darkness. The more people talk about it, the greater wall of safety we are creating around them.

"Particularly during the summer, when children are at play, there is less supervision. Child abuse is a sickness. If you have a sickness you go straight to a doctor. These billboards are part of our medicine."

"There are many things that parents can do to protect their children even when they are not watching them," said Rabbi Dr. Asher Lipner, the JBAC Vice President. "Talking to children openly and calmly about abuse is one of the most important things parents can do."

The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder pulls no punches:

"Tell the child that if someone tries to touch his or her body in their private areas or do things that make the child feel unsafe, he should say NO to the person. He needs to tell you or a trusted adult about it right away.

"Let children know that their bodies are private and that they have the right not to allow others to touch their bodies in an unsafe way. Let them know that they do not have to do EVERYTHING the babysitter, family member, or group leader tells them to do."

But here's the positive news: Recent research shows that parents and caregivers are more aware of the potential for child sex abuse and what to do to try and prevent it than ever before.

In fact, the results of a poll released just last week revealed:

# 95% of adults surveyed believed that children who are sexually abused are most likely to be abused by someone they know.
# 64% agreed that many children who are sexually abused are abused by other children or teens.
# 68% agreed that some people who sexually abuse children would like to get help to stop.
# 53% believed child sexual abuse is a major problem in their communities.

"The findings are encouraging because they suggest that lack of awareness and knowledge is not as great a barrier to prevention as assumed," said Deborah Donovan Rice, Executive Director of Stop It Now!, which commissioned the study: HERE'S A COPY.

Some more suggestions for keeping your children safe:

Avoid public displaying your kid's name in print on the outside of clothing or backpacks;

Make your own personal assessment of the "level of opportunity" a molester may have given the particular circumstances;

Monitor relationships your kid has with adolescents and adults;

Let your kid know that abusers troll the Internet -- then keep an eye out whenever your child is online;

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Provide a safe, caring setting so your kids feel comfortable enough to talk to you about sexual abuse.

... and know they love you.