This is not another blog on creating an impractical bubble of safety precautions to protect children from sexual predators. As a sexual abuse survivor, I believe that parental vigilance must be coupled with properly equipping children to self-advocate. Empowering children not only aids in protecting them against sexual predators but also produces well rounded and emotionally healthy individuals. This is a three-part series with a heavy emphasis on empowering children, but also some practical everyday things parents can do. The series will be divided as follows:
- Four Biblical Truths to Empower Children Against Sexual Predators
- Empowering Children to Take Action Against Sexual Predators (forthcoming)
- Practical Tips for Parents to Help Protect Their Children Against Sexual Predators (forthcoming)
Why Biblical Truths Matter When Protecting Children From Sexual Predators
Most predators follow very predictable MOs (modus operandi) and they tend to target the same types of victims. After considering my own experience, reading testimony after testimony and article after article, it became clear to me that children that are the most susceptible lack basic truths about their identity, their bodies, and sex in general. There are always exceptions of course, but empowering children with knowledge is a foundational weapon against predators.
The Truth About Sexual Predators
When we hear stories of children being snatched from the front yard, it produces irrational fears. I get it. It happens to me too. And although it can happen, the real danger, however, is closer to home.
Most juvenile victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. It isn’t some random stranger in a white van that snatches a kid. It is a relative that comes to visit often. It is a healthcare provider. It is a child’s coach. It is a teacher. It is the camp counselor. And as much as it hurts my heart to say this, it can even be a pastor or a Vacation Bible School volunteer.
Let me give you the cold hard numbers. Statistics tell us that 93% of juvenile victims know their abuser: 59% are acquaintances and 37% are family members. Our kids are the most vulnerable amid people we know!
The Mind of a Sexual Predator
Most sexual predators are con artists. They target their victims and then they begin a very intentional process of grooming the victim and their parents. Even though their intentions are evil, they are still rational thinkers and they want to minimize the risk to themselves.
These predators will come across as very caring, quality individuals who love and care for your child. Many will seek to win your trust first so that you will be more willing to leave your child alone with them. If it is a family member, they may already have your trust.
They will work to build a strong connection with the child in various forms: favoritism, buying them gifts, being a confidant, etc. After winning the child’s affection, they start testing boundaries by asking increasingly inappropriate questions, “harmless” touches or caresses, or showing kids increasingly inappropriate images. They are probing to see how far they can take their behavior.
Relevant Article: The Evolution of a Sexually Abused Child
Predators prefer victims who are vulnerable and easy targets. They look for kids that are often loners, neglected, or who are desperate for connection and attention. They also look for children who are least likely to speak up or question their intentions. And they look for children they can easily manipulate into believing their lies. For example, I was the perfect target for my abuser. I was all these things and he exploited that well. I never said a word.
Why Isolation Is Not an Option
Knowing that predators are people we know puts us, parents, in very difficult positions because there are genuinely good-hearted people out there who truly care for our children. So what do we do?
Honestly, it just not practical to shut ourselves off from society and those that we know and love to keep our kids safe. It is even more impractical for those of us that take our Christian faith seriously. Christ compels us to form new relationships and welcome new friendships. We cannot walk around believing that every person we meet is a pedophile if we are seeking to build Christ-driven connections. How then can we tell the real from the fake?
We can’t always at first, but there are precautionary actions we take as parents. We will discuss many of them in future articles, but we will start with lessons on empowering the ones who are the primary targets-our children.
Four Biblical Truths That Empower Children Against Sexual Predators
A lack of self-worth, misguided guilt, and a misunderstanding of authority not only made me an easy target, but it also kept me quiet for years about the abuse. Hence, I believe it is important to teach children their God-given value starting at a very young age. For the sake of self-preservation, they need to grow up having a healthy respect for their bodies and their self-image.
While “stranger danger” lessons are not irrelevant, lessons on how to identify inappropriate behavior from “friends” and “family” are more relevant. That begins with defining baseline truths about the self, our bodies, and sex.
(1) Created in the Image of God
Children need to understand that their bodies are sacred because God created them in His image. What a powerful and empowering message to send to children and it is rooted in Biblical fact. God created both males and females in His image and for that reason, we have intrinsic and insurmountable worth.
“You were created in the image of God.”
This simple, but constant message can help children develop a godly sense of self-worth. A child with a strong sense of self and who is aware of their own importance becomes a more difficult target for a sexual predator because it is a riskier target. They are more likely to resist and tell.
Relevant Article: Created in His Image, An Important Truth for Women
(2) Bought With A Price
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (ESV)1 Corinthians 6:20
Paul wrote this verse in the context of sexual fornication. And while a child is not at fault for the actions an adult takes against them, a child must understand that anyone inappropriately touching them is not okay. The message is powerful because it can help a child develop deeply rooted respect for their bodies. Of course, the verse has to be explained to a child in an age-appropriate way. You can say something like this:
“Jesus died for you Addison. He loved you so much, that He died for you. That is the price He paid for you. That is why every part of your body is special and it sacred to him. We must all protect our bodies and mommy and daddy are here to help you protect yours. If someone touches you in your private areas or in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is not okay with God. If that happens you must tell mommy or daddy right away.”
(3) Jesus Holds Adults Accountable For Abusing a Child
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.Matthew 18:5-6 (ESV)
These are very hard words from Jesus to a child molester or any adult that would drive a child to sin. And although we do not want to introduce the idea of throwing someone into the sea with a millstone to a four-year-old, there are helpful concepts here that we can reword. We can tell children that it is not okay when adults want to touch their bodies and that Jesus would be very angry with the adult.
The Boundaries Set By Jesus is What Matters
Children must learn from an early age that even adults have authority over them, and the ultimate authority is Jesus. Sexual predators use their position as adults to dissuade a child from resisting or telling anyone about it. So it is crucial that children understand the standard set by the ultimate authority, Jesus, and that no one–not even an adult–has the right to break it.
Children are NEVER at Fault in Abuse Cases
Matthew 18 is also a key verse in this discussion because it teaches us that the ultimate responsibility for causing a child to sin falls on the adult (or teenager when a teenager is a predator). When a child is enticed to do something wrong by someone much older than them, the child needs to know it is NEVER their fault. I cannot stress this enough.
The initial touch and attention may feel good to the child and it can create confusion. I was abused between the ages of two and three. Despite my young age, I still felt guilt and shame. I believe that played a big role in why I endured the abuse multiple times without saying anything. But if the child knows that it is never their fault, they won’t be scared nor embarrassed to tell their parents or guardians when they know something is wrong.
(4) God Designed Sexual Boundaries
God created sex. He designed it to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage and it is mentioned several times in the Bible. And yet we avoid the topic like the plague with our children.
Children who do not know what sex is are at greater risk of being victims for several reasons. Curiosity can lead them to follow a predator’s lead. They may also not be able to identify inappropriate behavior until it is too late.
Kids need to grow up with a healthy godly view of sex and their bodies so they can have clear definitions of what is right and what is wrong. I introduced the idea that private areas of the body were to remain private to my daughters when they were two years old. We went through various scenarios of appropriate versus inappropriate touching in a way they could understand. Here is an example.
“When it is okay for a doctor to touch you there?”
Answer: “When Mommy is with you and the doctor is doing a check-up. He/She is just making sure there is nothing wrong with your body.”
“Is it okay for a doctor to touch you there if mommy is not with you?
Answer: “No, it is not okay.”
“When is it okay for someone to touch you there?
Answer: “When it hurts and mommy or daddy or the person watching you need to put cream on. It is okay when you need help cleaning or washing.”
“Is it okay any other time for mommy or daddy, or any uncle, or aunt or grandma or grandpa or the babysitter to touch you there?
Answer: “No, it is not okay.”
I introduced the topic of sex to my oldest at eight-years-old. I might have started earlier if I was not a stay-at-home mom and if my kids spent more time outside of the home under the care of others.
In the overly sexualized world we live in, the earlier we talk about it, the better. Every book and article I have ready from experts on the subject agree with me. It does not have to be weird, you just have to be factual and make it age-appropriate. ( I have put together a resource to help parents introduce puberty and sex to their children for ages 8-11, “Preparing Our Daughters for Puberty.” You can access it here.)
Educating our children is just the first step. We are creating more difficult targets for potential predators. In future articles, we will discuss proactive measures to teach children as well as some practical measures parents can take.
I am interested in your thoughts! Please comment below!