Protecting Our Children From Predators: Action Steps
Now that children are at school again, parents are faced with a lot of anxieties. On top of the obvious fears related to COVID-19 we are also worried for our children’s safety. We are concerned about the adults our children come into close contact with. It is now a well-known fact that the majority of sexual predators that harm children are not strangers to them. A lot of the time it is the person a family trusts that will become a danger to the child: a neighbor, a babysitter, a teacher, a coach, a doctor, a family friend, or a relative; sometimes even a person that lives under the same roof.
Responsible and cautious parents will go above and beyond to protect their children from harm. We can buy our kids smartphones with GPS trackers, we can put them in private schools with high security, we can avoid school buses and we can ban sleepovers forever. The truth is, even if you choose to homeschool your child and isolate him or her from any social interactions outside your home, there are still plenty of dangers online and in the media. The only tool that will truly be life-changing and will help your child stay away from danger is EDUCATION.
Our children need to know their boundaries. They need to know the difference between appropriate touch and inappropriate touch, normal communication and verbal abuse. As children grow and experience relationships, the difficult but necessary conversations about proper physical interactions need to start in early years. By utilizing factual information and creating an environment where sensitive topics can be discussed comfortably, parents and guardians can take an active role in helping children understand the importance of knowing their bodies and establishing boundaries.
What Do We Say to Our Kids?
Keyana Hawthorne is an experienced facilitator and educator for a Mississippi resource called “Growing Up Knowing.” The organization brings adults and children together and disseminates information addressing tough topics, and families gain strategies for active listening and creating a culture of consent.
Keyana Hawthorne shared these words of advice with parents and caretakers:
Parents should always make themselves aware of what’s going on in their children’s lives. It all starts with opening the lines of communication and making children feel safe enough to open up and share. You are your child’s first line of defense. He or she has to trust you and the advice that you give. It starts with communication.
Things to Keep in Mind
Tammy Golden, the Executive Director of “Growing Up Knowing,” explained why having body awareness conversations with our children is so crucial for keeping them safe from predators. “Parents and caregivers need to open the lines of communication regarding safe touch, body autonomy, and risky and unhealthy behaviors. Young children should be taught the correct names for body parts and parents should use these at home, so that if a child needs to report inappropriate or uncomfortable touch, he or she can do so accurately and be clearly understood.”
Tammy Golden admitted that COVID-19 pandemic left their organization very concerned for the safety of children. “We are concerned about children who have been out of school for months and away from their safe place and trusted adults. The stressors of COVID-19 have had a far reaching effect. Families have struggled financially, and many parents/caregivers have been left with the difficult choice of whether to go to work, leaving children at home alone or with older siblings/family members, or lose their ability to provide for their family. The effects of the pandemic on children may not be fully seen for some time. Until students are back in the classroom on a regular basis, there may be no one to notice issues that have occurred during the stay-at-home orders.”
“Growing Up Knowing” program is taught by trained Facilitators, who work in their own fields of education, social work, and medicine. Programming is provided free of charge to participating families and community partners. More details on their website.
Child Abuse Prevention (For Parents)
If you suspect your child, your neighbor’s child, your child’s friend, or any child may be a victim of child abuse or neglect, it is your responsibility to report this suspicion to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services. Below is the information you need to know about reporting and procedures.
· Report all suspicions of abuse and neglect of a child that has not turned age 18.
· Mandated reporters may not use their own discretion in deciding what cases should or should not be reported to the appropriate law enforcement or state agency.
· The mandatory reporter may not delegate the responsibility to report sexual abuse to any other person but shall make the report personally.
· Reports are made to Child Abuse/ Neglect/ Exploitation Hotline 1-800-222-8000 or MS Abuse Hotline.
· Report to 1-800-222-8000 if it is an emergency, if you would like to remain anonymous, or if you do not have enough information required to complete the online reporting system.
Information to know when filing a report:
· Victim’s name, home address or location, school information, age, race, gender
· Description of the situation and marks or bruises that may be present
· Person responsible for victim’s care (parent/legal guardian)
· Alleged perpetrator name(s), and any witnesses to the situation
· Any other relevant information that would help expedite the investigation
· If the child is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately
Helpful Resources for Parents and Caretakers