April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month and so I thought it fitting to address this issue, but specifically as sex abuse concerns children.
This isn't the first time I've written about this topic, but it is importantly to constantly revisit it. It is an understatement to call for action to keep kids safe from being sexually abused.
It is critically important that we separate fact from fiction and do so in a dispassionate way. Emotion is good to raise awareness of an issue but anger and hating offenders isn't a good solution to keeping kids safe. A lot of people look to the government to keep kids safe from predators. "Lock them up and throw away the key" is the sentiment. But consider that if we are looking to the government to keep kids safe from predators through harsher penalties for offending, it is going to be after a crime has been committed. That is not good enough. Also consider that not all sex offenders are pedophiles and not all sex offenders target kids. But it is offender who targets kids who we are talking about here. And as odd as it may sound, not all people who commit a sex offense on kids are pedophiles; they are still criminals. A pedophile is someone with a diagnosed DSM clinical psychiatric disorder. And we know that deterrence through increasingly strict laws and punitive consequences hasn't been shown to be all too effective. Because of all these nuances, I want to take a different more effective approach to keeping kids safe.
I started working with children for seven years 20 years ago at the Attleboro YMCA, and 10 years ago for four years I started working in jail and prison. In my opinion, and that of many experts on this issue, the best way to keep kids safe is through parents and caregivers, not the government. I include caregivers because sometimes a parent may be the abuser. A caregiver can be a teacher, coach, babysitter or someone else who is a trusted position of authority.
- First, it is important that kids know what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviors directed towards them.
- Second, they need to recognize when boundaries are crossed.
- Third, they need to know that they must report when boundaries are crossed.
- And fourth, they need to know that they won't get in trouble for reporting someone else's inappropriate behavior.
Parents need to recognize that the research on sex offender registries finds that they don't reduce recidivism. Registries weren't designed to reduce recidivism, per se. They are designed to notify a community of the presence of a past sex offender living nearby, which is fine but that isn't necessarily going to keep kids safe. The rate of sex offender recidivism for people on the registry for a sex offense is fairly low. It is in the single digits. With the exception of the subpopulation of pedophiles that have a clinical disorder, people on the registries aren't likely to reoffend. A parent telling a child to stay away from a known sex offender found on the registry may be important, but only a tip of the iceberg.
The person who is likely to abuse your child isn't likely someone who is currently on the sex offender registry. It is someone you and your child know and trust. It is that trusting relationship that is exploited and taken advantage of that leads to sex abuse. This is why parents who equip their children with the tools I described above about: knowing boundaries, knowing when boundaries are crossed, when to report, and knowing they won't get in trouble for reporting is critically important.
There is a lot more to keeping kids safe than these four points. If parents are looking for more advice about how to protect their children against sex offenders, they should reach out to local organizations who specialize in this line of work.