If you are like many parents, you have warned your children about strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Don’t get into a car with a stranger,” “Don’t go into a stranger’s house.” These are some of the messages we give our children to keep them safe.
Most parents also teach their children that policemen, doctors, teachers, and coaches are people that they can trust and can turn to in an emergency.
Although stranger danger is real, children often have more to fear from trusted adults in their lives.
In recent news, a Colorado high school principal turned himself in to the police after his wife discovered that he had been sexually involved with a child who was his student. The girl was in 7th grade when the alleged abuse began.
Also in the news, former Delaware pediatrician Early Bradley was sentenced to 14 life sentences without parole and an additional 160 years in prison. Bradley was convicted on 471 charges involving 86 child victims over an 11 year period including 14 counts of first degree rape. Most of his victims were his toddler-aged patients.
You might think that these two men are just bad apples but there are stories like theirs in the news on a daily basis. A Connecticut pediatrician who was arrested on child pornography charges, a former California child psychiatrist who was accused of sexually molesting his patients, and a former Illinois police officer who pleaded guilty to predatory criminal sexual assault of a child were all in the news in the past few weeks.
Closer to home, Parry McCluer High School coach Matthew Wheeler was arrested for involvement in an international child pornography trading ring.
Statistics show that most child molesters know their victims. Many of the perpetrators are trusted family members, friends, teachers, or other adults in a position of trust. Who can you trust with your children? How can you protect them from predators?
Knowledge is the key. Don’t just warn your child about “strangers.” Teach your daughter that nobody, even a doctor or parent, should touch her in private parts of her body. Teach your son that nobody should touch him or talk to him in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable or afraid, even a stepparent or teacher. Talk to your child about the difference between good touch and bad touch. Tell your child that adults shouldn’t ask children to keep secrets from their parents and to trust their instincts if they feel uncomfortable.
Teach your child to call out, “This man is not my father” or “This woman is not my mother” if someone tries to take them.
Be vigilant about strangers too. Know your neighbors and stay informed about dangerous offenders in your area. The Virginia State Police maintain a sexual offender registry on the web at http://sex-offender.vsp.virginia.gov. Learn about convicted sexual offenders who live or work in your neighborhood.
Most importantly, make sure that your children know to always tell you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. If your child comes to you, listen to and act upon what your child tells you. You are your child’s advocate and protector.