For anyone watching the news in the past few weeks, these allegations come in the wake of the Notre Dame child sex abuse scandal that rocked the country. People have once again been reminded about the dangers of sexual abuse. The ways sexual predators operate were best exposed, in my opinion, during the recurring MSNBC special known as “To Catch a Predator” by Chris Hansen. In it, Hansen documented how sexual predators lured child victims online and came to their home to engage in sexual relations, thinking that the children’s parents were gone.
Regardless of whether the allegations against Bernie Fine are true, people must be wondering what they can do to keep their children safe some sexual predators. A few suggestions are listed below.
1. TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN: If a child is inappropriately touched, he/she needs to feel comfortable discussing it with you. It is an uncomfortable topic for sure, but if you have an established relationship with your child such that the child can feel free to come to you and discuss any topic, good or bad, the child is more likely to come forwards if something inappropriate occurs. From a young age, children need to be told that if anyone touches their private parts or touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable that they need to tell you about it as soon as possible. Make sure your children know never to go somewhere with a stranger and that if a stranger grabs them, that they should try to scream, get away, and run to an area of safety. Let your child know in advance that if a predator threatens to harm the parent if he/she tells of any abuse, that the parent will actually be ok and to tell someone anyway.
2. SEARCH ON-LINE SEXUAL OFFENDER REGISTRIES: Check your state’s online sexual offended registry, such as this one in New York. These registries allow you to see if there are sexual offenders living in your area, what their names are, where they live, and what they were charged with. Once you know where they are, you can make sure your child knows not to go there.
3. BE VIGALENT: Be mindful of where your children are. Do not let them stand at a bus-stop alone. Do not let them spend alone time with adults you do not know. Do not let them veer away from you in public places, such as the mall.
4. COMBATING GETTING LOST: If your children get lost in a public place, they can become easy pretty for a sexual predator. Make sure they know what to do if lost, such as seeking out a cashier or police officer and providing that person with a name, address, and phone number.
5. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN: Sexual predators try to prey on the most vulnerable children, which includes people who do not see their parents much. Thus, if you spend frequent time with your child, that is time that no one else will be doing so.
6. COMPUTER AND PHONE USE: Be aware of what websites your children are viewing (e.g., check the history log), install filters that prevent visits to adult websites, limit, ban, or closely monitor participation in social media sites (Facebook, Google+, MySpace, Twitter) based on the child’s age, and tell them to not develop relationships with strangers on-line, give out their phone number/address, or meet strangers from on-line (or the newspaper) in person. Make sure your child knows that strangers on-line may pretend to be people they are not. Monitor text messages and pictures your child sends for inappropriate content.
7. DO NOT GET OVERLY COMFORTABLE WITH STRANGERS: Sexual predators are typically charming. You may believe that you know the person and feel comfortable because he/she is nice, but neighbors, babysitters, priests, teachers, coaches, and even family members can be sexual predators in your midst. Do not let your guard down and be very careful who you chose to leave your child alone with. Do not allow taps on the buttocks, touching of the legs, tickling, or other inappropriate touching to go on if your feel it is inappropriate.
8. USE FEMALE BABYSITTERS: Sexual predators are almost always men. Thus, your child is likely to be safer with a female babysitter.
9. TEACH SELF DEFENSE: Teach your child some self-defense strategies to use if a sexual predator makes threatening physical advances to a child.
10. SECURE YOUR HOME: Keep doors and windows locked. This is crucial. Many sex offenders state after being caught that if a door entering the house was locked that he/she would likely have moved on. If you can, have a dog or dogs that bark when strangers come.