I don’t have children of my own, but as an aunt of two toddlers, I get upset when I hear about people preying on children. My niece and nephew light up my world. Their smile, their innocence, their happiness brings so much joy to my life. To know that someone would want to shatter their world and that innocence angers and disturbs me.
I spoke to Pam Crabtree, the founder of Yell & Tell, which aims to prevent child abuse, about how my parents protected me, my sister Lorie, and my brother Michael from harm. They had a strict rule about sleepovers. We were not allowed to attend them. My mom and dad made one exception when I was in high school. That exception was made after they met my friend’s parents many times and had long conversations with them. They also judged my friend’s character and behavior.
My parents allowed my brother much more freedom than my sister and I, because he was a boy. Child abuse is not gender specific.
Mrs. Crabtree said that 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 16. The rate for girls is 1 in 4.
As far as sleepovers, she said, there is no need to be paranoid but be cautious. Her rule of thumb is “be sure as sure can be” when leaving your child in someone's care. If your child is attending a sleepover, get to know the parent, she said.
“Don’t just meet them once and then leave them with that person the next day,” Mrs. Crabtree said.
It would be easy if all abusers wore a big “A” on their back, she said. However pedophiles are also manipulators that count on silence, and groom their victims.
“We have to be proactive in teaching our children to be open and honest with their caregiver and parent,” she said. “Let your children know that they can tell you if something bad happens.”
One of the things parents can do is talk to their child about appropriate and inappropriate touches. “Let them know who can do the appropriate touching, like mommy and daddy, and a doctor when mommy or daddy is present,” she advised.
I had two parents to watch over me. But some single parents have to rely on outside help to watch their children.
Mrs. Crabtree said that single parents need to extend that rule of thumb “be sure as sure can be” when choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend. She explained that a high percentage of abuse is familial.
“The child usually knows the abuser, whether it be a family member or a friend of the family,” she said.
“Get to know the person you’re dating. Know their history before leaving your child in their care,” she said.
Visit Yell & Tell’s Web site www.yelltell.org for helpful links and information about preventing all forms of child abuse.