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Safety Discussions With Your Kids Should Include Protection from Sexual Predators

Children must feel safe to live healthy, engaging lives. During the child’s early years, the parents and caregivers are fully responsible for keeping the child safe from harm. But, as they become more independent, children need to be prepared for situations when they must make decisions and act to protect themselves. How does one prepare a child to meet up with a possible sexual predator without making them afraid in all new situations? This is not a subject that caregivers want to contemplate or talk about, but we can get ideas from the experiences of others and from professionals about how to teach our kids to recognize unsafe situations and how to handle the intolerable.

Keywords: safe, stranger, sexual predator, groping, luring, touching, fondling, con-artist, randy, rutting, rape
A child's need to be prepared

Recently I was in the waiting room at my dentist's office when a little girl, awaiting her mom, turned to ask me, a stranger, "Have you heard about the man who is driving around?" I asked her what she meant, and she explained that there's a man driving around, and he asks kids to come to his car to see his puppy. I exclaimed my concern and asked what she had been told to do. "Never go with a stranger you don't know. Never." I asked if she was told to scream if the man tried to get her to go with him, and she said, "Yes." Obviously, she was severely frightened and wanted to talk about safety and strangers in her community. She volunteered that she was nine-years-old and that her teacher had told her about this man and her mother knew about him too. Groping, fondling, touching and luring of children likely occurs around the world. I was made aware of these happenings when I lived in the U.S., Japan, China and Canada. Most people would not hurt children in any way, but we caregivers need to prepare our children for such a possibility without making them feel constantly afraid and unable to go about their daily lives with confidence that they can meet new situations. So how do we broach this subject with our children?

Interview with Linda (names changed) about her conversations with her daughter Tracy

Tracy is a slim, pretty, red-head who has just had her twelfth birthday. She lives with her mom and dad in a small village situated in rural Ontario, Canada, and is driven to and from school by one of her parents. With people she knows, Tracy's eyes twinkle; she is happy, cheerful, self-confident, and inquisitive. With people she doesn't know, she is quiet and observant. She has wide interests and is particularly fond of working with goats on a neighboring farm and has the responsibility to "show" one of the goats at the local agricultural fair.

The subject of child predators "is a difficult one," Linda said. She doesn't want Tracy to be fearful. Until this year, they have made sure that Tracy is with one or both parents or an adult supervisor at all times, but this fall, for the first time, Tracy will be working at the County Fair with four or five other girls about her age. She will not have an adult caregiver at hand.

Through the years, Linda has used books like the Berenstain Bears series to teach Tracy about her body, about strangers, about being safe in her community. (See reference list for examples) She used apples as an illustration. "If I show you two red apples, are both apples good ones? They look the same, but when you cut them open, one looks tasty and crisp while the other has turned and looks spoiled and bad." She explained that it's the same with people. "People may look like they can be trusted to keep you safe but some are not safe to be with. You have intuition. Your intuition will tell you when you should not trust a person." Linda remembered an experience she had buying gasoline at a gas station. She was using the nozzle to fill the tank of her car with gasoline. Five men from the truck at another gas pump were eyeing her and making rude gestures. Linda was very uneasy. She paid with a credit card at the pump so that she didn't need to leave Tracy alone in their car while going inside to pay. When she got back inside her car, Tracy said, "I don't like those men. They make me feel bad." Linda replied, "I don't like them either. They make me feel that they could hurt us. That's our intuition--our gut feeling." Linda explained that intuition works to warn us not to trust some people.

About touching. Linda discussed with Tracy how nice it is to be hugged and kissed and teased by someone you love and trust. But sometimes you don't want to be touched by a stranger or by someone you know. You don't have to let them touch you. Say "no." Tell us, your teacher or someone in charge that you do not want to be touched by so and so.

About sex. Linda said they were fortunate to have the goats as an example. The male goat reaches maturity at age seven months. They become randy. Sex is all they have on their minds and they are rutting all the time. Linda asked if Tracy had noticed how the boy goats behave when they became aware of their sexual urges. "They go mad. They can't stop," Tracy said. "Right," Linda answered. "Sex is all they think about. It's the same with young boys and some young girls. All they think about is sex. You know what happens when the goats have sex?" Linda asked and Tracy replied, "They get babies." "Yes," Linda continued, "and the same happens with people if they don't use condoms when they have sex; they get a baby."

About who is a stranger. Hank, a single middle-aged man down their country road often used his snow plow to clean their end of the street. He'd usually carry a bag of candy to offer to the local kids. One day, Tracy asked if Hank was a stranger and could she take candy from him. Linda complimented Tracy for asking. She explained that Hank is a stranger. We don't know him very well. We don't go to his house, but I think he is well-intentioned. "Yes, you can take a piece of candy when you meet him outside." Then she reminded Tracy of a story they'd read. Two sparrows were flying side by side in the air. They had been told never to go anywhere with a stranger, but one day the brother sparrow suggested that they accept an invitation to visit a bird they didn't know. The sister sparrow reminded her brother that they should not go anywhere with a stranger.

About con-artists and luring children. Linda related the essence of a documentary about teaching children to avoid con-artists and luring by possible predators. In several scenes children were alone at home. A police car parked in front and a man dressed like a policeman knocked on the door. The children had been told not to let anyone inside the house. In all cases but one, the children did not admit the faux-policeman, but in one incidence the children did admit this man. He could have been a predator or a thief or a kidnapper. This illustrates that children need role-playing or several lessons to learn never to admit a stranger when they are alone in the house. What if someone asks your child to help them carry purchases and place them inside their car? What if someone says that they are feeling sick and would like help carrying parcels inside their house? What if someone wants to show your child a kitten or a rare pet that's in their car or apartment? What if you meet someone online and they want to meet with you? The documentary stressed that one should prepare your child for such scenarios.

Suppose that a person who should be trusted is a predator. Maybe the person is a relative, appears to be a nurse or a policeman. Linda knew that Tracy needed a strategy to deal with that possibility. Suppose the person arrives at Tracy's school or church and says: "Your mom sent me to get you"? Linda, her husband, and her mother share a secret word with Tracy. Let's say it is "cinnamon." Tracy knows that if her parents send someone, they will have been given the secret word. Tracy is to ask, "What is our secret word?" And even if she knows the person, or the person seems to be a person of authority, she is not to go with them unless that person knows their secret word. Instead she is to tell her teacher.

Advice from RAINN professionals

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest U.S. organization dealing with sexual violence, teaches how to avoid sexual violence and offers help to survivors. Below are procedures parents and caregivers can use in order to teach kids about sexual predators.

  1. Make time for your child; listen and show him/her that you care about what is happening in his/her life. A strong bond enables the child to learn from your teaching and example about what is allowed and what is inappropriate. Address your child's concerns fully so that they will gain confidence in their ability to handle untoward situations and not be frightened by new encounters. When your child is young, begin to include conversations about predators along with other safety teachings such as the safe way to cross the street, poison ivy, sunburn, etc.
  2. Teach children the names of body parts thus making it easier to describe what you mean and easier for them to ask questions.
  3. Teach children that it's okay to say, "no" to hugging, touching or going with people when they do not want to comply. Children who have become obedient often find this confusing since they want to please the adult.
  4. Teach children that keeping secrets may be a way of manipulating them to cover up unhealthy requests or practices. Ask them to tell you when they've been asked to keep a secret about a request or an auction between the two of them. Reassure your child that he/she will not get into trouble for telling you the secret.
  5. With teens talk about happenings in the social media: movies, TV shows, news-reports. Watch shows with them and ask your teen for their opinions. Talk directly about sexual assault and kidnapping. Talk about dangers of solicitation via the internet. Teens understand statistics that apply to them. RAINN says that 93% of victims are minors who are molested by people they know. Express that you trust them to do the right thing without making reference to specific personal behaviour.
  6. Tell them about your experiences or those you know about.
  7. Know your child's friends. If you are concerned about the life-style of families your kids hang with, ask your kids to bring friends to your home. Scrutinize your baby-sitters carefully. (3)
Vulnerable children

Children who are under stress need special care. They are children who have experienced family deaths or disruptions, see themselves as not deserving of care, feel emotionally isolated or are neglected, are victims of physical and emotional abuse, witness violence, sex or pornography, or are expected to fulfill intimate needs of adults. These children may be "less able to see a sexual violation as unacceptable, may be less able to find resources to get protection, or perhaps are even more willing to tolerate sexual interaction in exchange for something they desire such as protection, love, privileges, treats, friendship or money." (4)

Games that teach kids about protecting themselves from sexual predators

Polly Klaas and Megan Kanka suggest that you test yourself and your kids. See for quizzes devised by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. (5)

  1. Does your child know their address and or phone number? Does your child know where to go for help if he/she is lost? If a nice person invites them to their home? If someone unexpectedly comes to pick them up from school?
  2. Practice scenarios. E.g. Be the child left behind when the bus departs. E.g. Be the child lost when you are with your mom in a department store. Be the child who gets invited to a party where pornography is being shown or there is illicit sex talk. Be the child who is taken away from the group to a private place by an older person. Be the child who is offered food from a stranger in a public place. Be the child who goes to a party with a friend who departs leaving you alone with people you are uncomfortable with.

Children need to learn to recognize possible unsafe situations and learn what to do in order to avoid harm. Children need time and conversations with their parents and caregivers who demonstrate sincere interest in their wellbeing and concerns. From an early age, they need to be taught safety measures including the possible meeting with sexual predators. Children under stress, because of aspects of their lives, are vulnerable and fall prey to predators easily. They need special attention. Quiz your child to see if he/she knows what to do in unusual circumstances and play scenario games that demonstrate how to react when the unusual happens.

Librarian at Orangeville Public Library shows books about child safety


Marlene_Ritchie.jpg Marlene Ritchie
For her writing Marlene Ritchie (née Archer) calls upon her experiences of teaching in the U.S., Japan and China, as a nurse and assisting-founder with Emma N. Plank of the Child Life and Education Program, which addresses the non-medical needs of hospitalized children, as a cofounder of Ritchies, a Toronto auction house, about growing up in a small Ohio town and about being a mother. Currently Marlene is a freelance writer and tutor living in Toronto, Canada. For the past 10 years she has contributed to CRN.
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