Teenage Girls as Sex Offenders

Although there’s very little literature and research on this group (girls 13-17), they do exist. Key differences from other groups:

  • They aren’t pedophiles, strictly speaking; their sexual attraction is widely variable and sexual activity/offenses may include different ages, from children to adults.
  • They typically have a more severe (and of longer duration) history of having been sexually abused themselves than comparable male offenders.

Beyond that, we can only speculate. Current limited research points in certain directions, but we can’t be sure until more and larger studies are done, and so far, that hasn’t happened. That’s one of the things this important paper calls for.

Most Read Post, Most Commented Post and Worst Response Post

Stylized red drawing of a person with upraised armsBy far the most read post is Profile of a Child Molester. No other post has even come close to it in terms of unique viewers. It’s no surprise that that post is also the most commented on the blog. For any period, by any measure, this is the most popular post.

Surprise? The second most commented post on this blog is Marital Rape. This, too, has held consistent over time.

The worst response was to an early post, Street Harassment on Public Transport. As an inexperienced blogger, I got into a fruitless discussion with a reader who was irate that some countries were considering and implementing separate transportation for women since women, of course, are the source of all evil in the universe. I didn’t know then that whether male or female, such readers only feel encouraged by any response you make, and they don’t read anything you write. After learning valuable lessons from the exchange, I ended up deleting the whole conversation from the comments section. Let’s just say it started negatively and went downhill from there. Whee, that was entertaining.

I’ll post occasionally about the most popular topics. Use this as a springboard to suggest ideas or send in questions.

 

What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child, Part IV

My Child is Safe Now — How Do We Deal With the Aftermath?

This is the final post in this series on child sexual assault.  Here we’ll talk about what to do for recovery — your child’s treatment, your own processing of the events, and some of the logistics.

I mostly use “them” and “they” when talking about a child because it’s awkward to read “him/her” over and over again. I also tend to use “he” when talking about the abuser, not because women don’t abuse, but simply based on statistics. If you are a male victim of a female abuser, switch these pronouns around and the information will still be accurate.

(Last, and still least: I’m often a fan of readability over grammar. There will sometimes be dangling participles and such, and we will leave them in peace.)

The legal system

Talk to police and social services about whatever legal actions they are taking against the abuser. If you have access to a lawyer — either formally or informally — call them up and ask for a consultation. Having access to a child services lawyer is especially valuable for answering questions, and it’s good to have someone on your team who’s focused on your child.

Police will focus on catching the molester, and the legal system will focus on prosecuting the molester, which is how it ought to be — we want the molester caught and prosecuted. That does mean that the lawyer may be the only part of the legal system whose primary focus and goal is looking out for your child. Ask about the legal process. Ask all your questions.

Child Protective Services (CPS) may be involved if it is determined your child may still be in danger — for example, if the abuser is Mom’s boyfriend, or is a family member, or is someone who lives in the same house with the child. If the abuser lives elsewhere, though, and CPS is confident you will protect your child, they may be involved very little.

A child’s therapy

We discussed in the previous post how to choose a good therapist for our children. Once in counseling, your child (and you, as you may also need and want counseling to work through this experience) will be working through feelings like guilt, fear, feelings of betrayal, lack of trust, being too much into sex too early, body image problems, and more.

Continue to believe and support your child in this. Sessions with the therapist and your child will be confidential so that your child can feel safe expressing anything they may be feeling. Respect this confidentiality in the interest of helping your child work through what happened to them. Do ask questions, gently, to make sure nothing is amiss in the therapist-patient relationship, but don’t push your child to tell you details from therapy.

Rebuilding boundaries

A child who has been sexually abused has had their personal boundaries violated, by force and/or by adult manipulation. These healthy boundaries need to be rebuilt, and you play the largest role in that.

Give your child emotional and physical privacy. Keep the lines of communication open by conversing with your child, but don’t press them. Give your child the right to say Yes or No to what they want and don’t want, what they like and don’t like. Give your child choices about what to wear and what to do, and remember that they have a sovereign right to think what they think.

Encourage your child to make plans and carry them out and to take action on what they want rather than waiting for it or waiting for others to give it to them. (These are all good skills for any child — much more so for a child who has been molested.)

Safety skills for children

Teach your child:

  • …That people in general don’t have a right to touch the child’s private parts (teach what those are) without their permission.
  • How to say No to an adult, and assure the child you’ll support them when they set this personal boundary. If they think they’ll get in trouble for saying No to an adult, they likely won’t, and they’ll be back where they started with the molester (adults have control of my body and I don’t).
    • I can remember being chided for not wanting adults to hug me or kiss me, and the message was very clear: That adults’ social needs took precedence over my bodily sovereignty. That if an adult felt like touching me, they had the right to touch me at will, and I had no rights over my body at that moment.
    • Understand, these were very normal social values at the time, but it also helps explain why I put up no resistance when I was molested in childhood. I had learned that children don’t have rights to their bodies when adults want to touch them. Teach your child differently.
  • To trust their instincts.Children often sense when something is not quite right. They don’t know what’s wrong or how to explain it, but they may feel hesitant, uncomfortable, or fearful. Encourage them to pay attention to these feelings. There’s no reason to force them into the company of people who twang their instincts and make them worry, at some level, about their safety.
    • I can say from my own experience that when my family put me in the company of people I was uncomfortable with, I felt twice as scared — I thought they were not looking out for my safety and that I was on my own. This is a very scary prospect for someone in the single digits in age who already feels powerless in the world of adults.
    • We don’t want our children to be crippled by a naturally shy personality, either, so pay attention, talk to your child, and find out what’s really going on inside them. If they trust us, they’ll tell us.
  • General safety rules. Don’t answer the door when home alone. How to answer the telephone. How to call 911 and tell the operator their home address, phone number, and parents’ names (and workplaces).
  • Whom to go to for safety. Is there a neighbor or close friend who’s safe? List those people and their phone numbers by the phone as a support system for your child in times of need.
  • How to take action if someone approaches them in an uncomfortable way. They can run, scream, yell “This is not my mom!”, any number of options. Assure your child of your support in doing this.
  • To know that some people will do nice things only for the purpose of getting the child to trust themand go with them. Have practice conversations with your child as a way of communicating to them some of the things that predators might say:
    • “Your mom got hurt, she’s in the hospital, and she sent me to come pick you up.”
    • “Your dad is running late today at work and asked me to come get you.”
    • “I’m [other child]’s dad and we just forgot to invite you to the party this afternoon. Come on, you can still come.” And so on.
  • To have a safe wordthat’s private between your child and you as parent(s). You can also have a safe word with friends who are authorized to pick your child up from school, and this “approved list” and safe word can be arranged with the school.
    • If someone shows up to pick up your child and doesn’t know the safe word, even if it’s someone you or your child knows, teach your child to absolutely refuse to go with them.

Molesters make excuses…

…It’s a law of nature. If the molester is a family member, a friend, or someone living in your home, the excuses will begin immediately. They may include, but are not limited to:

  • I was drunk (or high).
  • She came after me, not the other way around.
  • I was abused as a child.
  • I just did it, before I even knew what I was doing. I’ll never do it again, I promise.
  • I was only trying to show him what to watch out for.
  • What am I supposed to do? You never want any!
  • Look, we’re family. You’re not going to turn me in, are you? I’m your [brother, father, husband, fiancée…]!
  • What, you believe the word of a kid over your own [brother, etc.]?

No matter what the child did, no matter any other factors, molesting a child is entirely the molester’s fault. Blame for molesting the child can’t be laid at the child’s feet, the non-abusive parent’s feet, or bad circumstances of the molester’s childhood. Guess whose mind made the decision and whose hands carried it out. That’s where the blame lies. (Incidentally, this also applies to the rape of adults.)

If the molester is your spouse, family member, friend, or fellow church member, it may feel overwhelming to actually hold that person responsible. Historically, people have thrown their children under the bus (figuratively speaking) and let the adult go in order to save his marriage, his career, his ministry, or whatever. Today we as parents know we have a higher responsibility to our children.

This is where you as a parent may feel the need for a therapist and/or support group to help you get through this extremely hard time. Keep in mind that whatever you do or don’t do, your child is watching and will remember and be grateful for your protection and love in a time of intense vulnerability, betrayal, and need.

Abusers don’t molest once and then quit

The average child molester has molested dozens of children over a period of years before being caught — and that’s just the ones who get caught. Sexual attraction to children is a totally separate thing than a normal sexual attraction to adults. People don’t go back and forth between them.

The molester will tell you otherwise, but based on what we know from sky-high recidivism rates (the rate at which a criminal coming out of the legal system commits the same criminal act again) and from therapists who treat offenders, this attraction doesn’t change, and it seems to be very difficult for offenders to stop offending. In an overwhelming majority of cases, they re-offend.

“I don’t know what happened” (yes, they do, they did it on purpose) — “and it’ll never happen again” (yes, chances are excellent that it’ll happen again, and equally excellent that it has happened before too).

Child molesters interviewed in prison have told their interviewers what they’re looking for when they’re out trolling for children, and how they prepared the children to not protest or resist being molested:

  • Ready availability — a child they already know or have access to.
  • Emotional need. They looked for children who had been taught to be compliant to adults, and children who were emotionally needy.
  • Establish a relationship. The predator took time to get to know the child, bought presents, listened and showed caring behavior.
    • At the same time, the abuser emotionally manipulated and set up the child by subtly encouraging trust in himself and distrust in the child’s parents and other adults.
    • This way, if the child ever protested, the abuser had an array of strategies: He blamed the child. Or he told the child that if anyone found out, he’d go to jail, or that the child would lose her family, or that everyone would blame the child.
  • Condition a child to touch. With the caring relationship in place, the predator would start touching the child, first in innocent ways, then gradually sexually. This included wrestling, tickling, hugging, stroking the child’s back, etc.
    • Because of the friendship, when touching turns sexual, it’s confusing to the child. This is someone who cares about them, so it must be right, right?
  • Get the child alone. It’s obvious why the abuser would want to do this.

Resources

What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child: Part III

When and How Should I Intervene?

You may remember the final tip in yesterday’s post:

If your child confides in you that he/she has experienced any type of sexual or physical assault, call the police and take your child away from the care center. Don’t discuss anything with the center at this time; law enforcement can give you some guidance there. Report the information to social services and take your child to the pediatrician for an exam and checkup.

Don’t let all this activity scare your child, and don’t blame your child. Thank the child for telling you, and take action. Explain as much as you can of what you’re doing that’s appropriate , telling your child that you’re protecting him/her and other little children. For a child to confide scary information like this to any adult is a brave and courageous act, particularly if the child was threatened in some way.

In this post we’ll talk about watching your child for signs of abuse and getting professional help for your child.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Here is the shocking truth. Percentage of sexually abused children who knew their abuser: 90. Child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by people who already know the child, such as family members, church members, school staff, Scout leaders, and so on. So it’s very likely that if your child ever comes to you with a story of abuse, it will be about someone you know. Be prepared for that.

These signs can’t be taken as guarantees that sexual abuse has occurred, but when several of these signs appear as a cluster, that’s a red flag. (Because a child could display even just one sign, keep the lines of communication open with your child all the time. Ask questions if you see a new behavior. Discuss various situations with your child.) Some of these behaviors can appear in children who are just being children, so know your child. Watch for a child who:

  • Can describe sexual activity in specific terms.
  • Has nothing to gain and much to lose by accusing someone falsely (this is just about every victim).
  • Continues to say “dirty” words or jokes even after experiencing consequences over time.
  • Clothing issues — refusing to wear any, public exposure, or dressing in too much clothing all the time.
  • Hates his/her body or sexual organs.
  • Forces peers to “play doctor” and remove clothes, touches them, forces them to touch or look at genitals.
  • Is very negative about sex, “making babies,” or babies.
  • Violates others’ sexual and personal privacy by routinely barging into bathrooms or bedrooms and refusing to stop doing so.
  • Sexually assaults other children.

This is not an exhaustive list, but gives you an idea of the types of things children may do after being sexually assaulted in some way.

Getting Professional Help For Your Child

Let’s say you’ve discovered — heaven forbid — that your child has been abused. How do you find the right therapist? Social services can probably give you several references to therapists. The Internet, the local phone book, other parents — there are many resources. Once you have a list of possibilities in hand, here are some ways you can screen therapists to find the right one for your child and his/her situation.

  • Ask about the therapist’s training.
  • Sit down with the therapist and your child to discuss possible treatment. While there, observe the interpersonal connection between the therapist and your child. Is your child intimidated by the therapist? Does the therapist genuinely like your child?
  • Ask the therapist up front who is to blame for the assault. Child sexual assault, like any other attack, is solely the responsibility of the attacker; if the therapist expresses any “gray area” about blame and responsibility, such as placing part of the blame on the child, find another therapist.
  • Ask how many survivors or how long the therapist has worked with child sexual assault survivors.
  • Ask about regular communications from the therapist to you, and watch the therapist’s reaction. A good therapist will of course have a plan for regular reports and opportunities to ask questions. The process should be open and healthy.
  • Ask how the therapist views your child’s sexual assault. The answer needs to make it clear to you that the therapist takes the assault seriously and considers it a main therapeutic topic, not a minor or side topic. “The abuse is just a symptom of an unhealthy family system, and we’ll focus primarily on the family system, not the abuse” is not a therapist who is going to focus on your child’s being attacked and on his/her suffering and healing from the attack(s).
  • Does the therapist partner with you in helping your child?
  • Does the therapist treat you and your child with respect in general?

Many therapists have a sliding scale of fees to help clients of varying incomes.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child: Part II

How Can I Work to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse of My Child?

We can’t absolutely guarantee our children’s safety unless we’re personally with our children 24/7, and maybe not even then. So these suggestions are not ironclad — but they’ll help us keep our children safe in general.

Please note: This information, while general, applies to your significant other/family member as well. Whatever screening and teaching you would normally do goes double for any family members who come in contact with your child, since — unfortunately — most sexual abuse happens within families.

Home Life: Foundation for Safety

  • Be a safe person for your child to confide scary secrets to. Maintain self-control, especially when disciplining. Discipline will teach a child how the real world works, but anger will teach a child that the angry person is not a safe person. Children aren’t stupid and will close out an angry or out-of-control adult. This includes anger, screaming, crying, exaggerated shock/disbelief, or doubt of the child’s word when the child is being serious.
  • Treat your child’s concerns with respect. If we laugh at a child’s fears, minimize a child’s experience (“Oh, that’s no big deal”), or discredit a child’s feelings (“You’re not really angry” or “You shouldn’t be scared”), the child probably won’t confide more serious things to us for fear of being dismissed or embarrassed.
  • Proactively talk to your child about dangers and how to be careful. Be certain to add that anything bad that someone does is not your child’s fault in any way, and that he/she can tell you anything that happens and count on your support, your love, and your protection. Safety measures will help, but a child simply can’t go up against an adult.
  • Make sure your child can’t be picked up at school by anyone you don’t personally authorize, and teach your child not to go with anyone else.
  • Teach your child how to call 911, what questions they are likely to ask, and how to answer. Children should memorize their parents’ names, their home phone number, and their address and be able to tell it to a 911 operator. Choose the age wisely since some small children will dial 911 for fun, and some emergency services levy fines for non-emergency calls.
  • Teach your child to say “No” firmly. Children simply can’t match wits or wills with an adult — certainly not with a wily, experienced child abuser — but children can learn to set a firm, unmistakable verbal boundary, and that may help save them one day. (Just so it’s understood, nothing that children do or say makes them responsible for child sexual abuse. They can’t protect themselves from adults, so if someone overcomes them verbally or physically, there must never be even a thought in my mind as a parent that my child “should have done more” or “should have done differently.” If a child abuser can fool me and everyone else — and chances are it’s someone I know — what chance did my child have? It is never, ever, ever the child’s fault.)
  • Teach your child to be more and more autonomous as well as interdependent with family. Help him/her to learn to make a decision and act on it. Help your child practice saying “No” and speaking up in uncomfortable situations. Have your child practice telling you if something bad has happened, so your child can see you responding positively and learn that you are trustworthy to tell big, ugly secrets to.

Child Care Screening

  • Visit any care location you’re considering. Tour it, ask about the routine, and observe caregivers in action.
  • Research the care location on the Internet. Has anyone reported this center to police, social services, or business licensing organizations?
  • Check the sex-offender registry for your state (list of state registries here). Other countries may also have sex-offender registries online.
  • Can you come by the center without calling first, and do you have access to the whole facility without off-limits areas? You should be able to have this access.
  • Ask about discipline.
  • Ask about staff members’ education and about the center’s requirements for staff hiring.
  • Teach your child some tips:
    • What “private parts” are, and that no one at the center is allowed to touch them.
    • How to say “No” if anyone wants your child to do anything that makes them feel embarrassed or hurts them.
    • Never to stay alone with an adult, but to go where the other children and caregivers are.
    • Not to let adults get your child to do things by giving him/her candy or gifts.
    • Not to let anyone take his/her picture if your child feels scared or uncomfortable about it. How to speak up if this happens.
    • To know that if he/she says “No” you will support your child, love your child, and protect your child. They need to know they have this backing from you.
    • To know that people will say mean things just to scare them into cooperating — it doesn’t mean those things are true. “If you tell, you’ll never see your mommy again,” “”Your parents won’t love you anymore,” or “If you tell, your family will get hurt” are the types of threats children may hear.
    • How to tell an adult they trust at the center, if another adult causes them to feel scared or uncomfortable.
  • If your child confides in you that he/she has experienced any type of sexual or physical assault, call the police and take your child away from the care center. Don’t discuss anything with the center at this time; law enforcement can give you some guidance there. Report the information to social services and take your child to the pediatrician for an exam and checkup. Try not to let all this activity scare your child, and don’t blame your child. Thank the child for telling you, and take action. Explain as much as you can that’s appropriate of what you’re doing, telling your child that you’re protecting him/her and other little children. For a child to confide scary information like this to any adult is a brave and courageous act, particularly if the child was threatened in some way.

There are no guarantees in life. But these steps should help. Stay tuned for more on intervening if it happens to your child.

New for January 2012

I’ve joined the Ultimate Blog Challenge and will be posting every day in the month of January. This means you’ll see shorter posts way more frequently. Follow me here or on Twitter to be notified of new posts.

This also means I’ll post a lot of resources I’ve gathered over the past year or so, but that I haven’t had time to write up yet. A challenge like this pushes me to prioritize getting the information to you, rather than creating a flawless, lengthy post. You probably like shorter posts better anyway — I do too.

There’ll be several more quick posts in this series on “What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member is Sexually Abusing a Child,” then we’ll move on to new resources.

If I could say any one thing to you as a child sexual abuse survivor, it would be this: You are never alone. At any given time there are thousands, or millions (depending on your country’s size) of people who would help you if they knew you were in trouble.

So please find someone you trust. Tell someone today, will you? A parent, a teacher or school counselor, a police officer, a teen hotline or rape crisis hotline… I promise you that there is someone, at least one person, around you who will listen and help you. And this will end. I know that right now it feels as though it’s going to last forever and that no one will save you. But someone will. Please talk to someone good today.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Significant Other/Family Member of Sexually Abusing a Child

Here’s Part I of the promised follow-up post to help the many folks who have been emailing in and asking questions about what to do if you suspect someone close to you of molesting your child/a child. I did meet with a professional at a local office of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, as promised some months ago — LCS provides (among other things) advocacy and prevention for child sexual abuse.

I will be posting 31 times in the month of January, an average of a post per day, so this information will be broken up into short daily posts. If people generally find this shorter format better, then I’ll probably change over to that in time.

LCS has so much great material that you’ll find it worthwhile to look up a local office so you can visit the child sexual abuse page for that office. You’ll find lots of national resources listed on those pages.

Part I: Warning Signs of a Possible Child Sexual Abuser

  • Spends a lot of time with children outside of work.
  • Seems to know more about the “in” thing for kids than about adult trends.
  • Is someone whom other parents or children have made comments about to you. These comments will likely be nothing exact, but listen to them. “Mr. Smith is weird. I don’t like him,” said by a child, is something to listen to. “That piano teacher never allows parents to be present or even in the house during piano lessons, and my kids don’t want to go there” — said by another parent, that’s a big red flag. No, we don’t convict people on gossip or slander them. But absolutely do pay attention to comments, especially when you’re hearing a trend of comments about the same person.
  • Is someone children avoid and act uncomfortable around.
  • Is a relative whom family children don’t want to be left with. “Mom, I don’t want to go to Uncle George’s house” may just be a garden-variety complaint. So sit down with your child and ask questions. Better yet, make other arrangements. If your child’s caregiver is a family member whom your child cries, protests, complains or gets sick in order to avoid, that can be a big red flag too.
  • Subtly undermines your child’s trust in you and tries to transfer your child’s trust to himself/herself.
  • Regularly suggests trips alone with your child.

To be clear, none of these signs say a person is guilty of sexual abuse. But they are signs, and we as parents must pay attention.

There will be one more post today since it’s January 2 and I have a day of catching up to do, if I want to average a post every day for January. Hope you all had a good holiday season and that this new year will bring you good things.