To protect children from sexual abuse, parents should keep some specific things in mind about how adults interact with their children, particularly in youth-service organizations largely staffed by volunteers, experts say.
Parents should be “attuned enough” to notice if “the kid who was happy and engaged until last month … starts breaking things, crying, being moody” -- and should try to find out why, said Dr. Jonathan Slavin, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School who works with adult survivors of trauma and sexual abuse.
Slavin said it’s not clear if increased outreach and education within youth groups and schools about sexual abuse recently has made it easier or more likely that children will report sex attacks or attempts.
Allegations of sexual molestation should always get a supportive, caring response from the adult a child confides in. Experts say kids need to be told they’ve done the right thing in telling, that they’re not to blame, and that they’re going to be protected.
Sexual predators seek out children who lack close parental ties, particularly those from single-parent homes. They’ll often befriend parents to gain access to the child.
Pedophiles mostly use affection and attention as their currency, devoting extraordinary amounts of time to the youngsters they target.
“The successful perpetrator has a very good way with kids, they’re not the scary guy in the raincoat, they’re very engaging,” said Dr. Judith Cohen, medical director at the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Cohen said many parents don’t provide enough “nitty-gritty details” about safety and healthy sexuality. “They need to explain that this kind of touching is wrong, that being alone with so-and-so is not OK. You need to tell (children) these things before you send them to preschool or to a coach or camp, and you need to drill it and practice it so they’re confident in saying no or telling the parent” about a problem.