Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Mark 13:33-34
As we drove past the elementary school, we noticed the long line of cars waiting to pick up the children who were finishing their school day. "Boy," I commented--half speaking to my wife and half to myself--"things sure are different from when our kids went to school." A generation ago, perhaps even a decade ago, few parents had much concern when kids walked home. After all, there were neighbors and it was generally safe.
Today, it's a different world. Sexual predators know where to find kids, and a youngster with a backpack walking by himself becomes an unsuspecting target, a potential victim. Dangers far more deadly than nerve gas or chemical warfare lurk out there, as predators target our children with sexual violence.
How do you, as a parent, protect your child from sexual predators? How do you warn your kids that everybody can't be trusted at the same time you emphasize family solidarity and respect for elders? It's not easy, but if you don't teach your child to be heads up and perceptive, it can be the gravest mistake you ever make. In some cases, a parent's negligence can be fatal; in others, a parent's failure results in emotional scars to a child that are there for life.
Step #1: Know who is apt to take advantage of your child. The most likely predator is not the notorious ex-con who has just been released from prison, whose picture has appeared in your local newspaper. It's someone you, and probably your child, already know. The fact is that 80% of all sexual predators are acquaintances or friends of the family, and that fact in itself disarms the youngster, who reasons, "How could this nice person--daddy's friend, Uncle Paul or Grandpa--do something bad?" He's apt to be a nice guy--a step-dad, a distant relative, the brother of your baby sitter, a scoutmaster, the single young pastor, or the parish priest.
Step #2: Educate, teach, and instruct. Make sure your children know what's proper and improper, that it's OK for a family member or close friend to touch a shoulder but not any part of a body that would be covered by a swim suit.
Step #3: Be perceptive without being paranoid. This is for both you and your child. Many children become victims when a stranger asks for help, or someone shows up and says, "You mom wants me to take you home," when you are the one who normally picks up your child. In a non-frightening but firm manner, you must teach your youngster that if someone tries to grab him or her, bite, yell and scream, run, but don't get in the car and go with the stranger.
Step #4: Know the symptoms of abuse. In an article entitled, "Sudden Mood Swings Called Clues to Abuse," Carolyn Poirot says, "If children have been sexually abused outside the home, they may not want to go to school or the day-care center and may cry and cling to mother. Or they regress…"
Step #5: Never give anyone a second chance. Forgiveness is not the issue; the safety of your child is. In all probability, your youngster is not the first victim taken by a sexual predator.
Step #6: Always believe your child when he or she tells you about inappropriate activity. Your child has no cause for deception or dishonesty.
Step #7: Realize there is healing and help if you have been a victim. This applies not only to your child but to you as well. The dark sin we thought wasn't there a generation ago, was there. And for you who were victims long ago there is healing and help. But God forbid that by indifference or neglect we should make it easy for anyone to be a sexual predator.
Resource reading: 2 Timothy 3:1-9.