One of the themes for this year’s ”Child Abuse Prevention Month” is “Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and loved.” While many children do grow up in homes, schools, places of worship and communities where they are safe and loved, many do not. Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 4 children have experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives and 1 in 7 experienced abuse or neglect in the past year. Child abuse and neglect are preventable. We all play a role in creating safe, stable and caring relationships and environments that are the foundations of the kind of childhoods all children deserve.
Becoming aware of the signs of child sex abuse and knowing how to respond when you suspect abuse is occurring is something most adults can do with education. Because abuse thrives in secrecy and community denial, anti-sexual violence and child advocacy organizations such as RAINN and CornerHouse have created educational guidelines to teach adults how to identify the grooming behaviors involved when an adult is preparing to engage minors sexually. CornerHouse describes grooming as taking deliberate action to select and build an emotional connection with a minor, and often their family to engage the minor in sexual abuse and/or exploitation, as well as maintain the abusive relationship in secrecy.
Grooming is a series of tactics that can include the following:
- Taking an interest in a minors by paying extra attention to them, buying them gifts or seeking opportunities to spend time alone with them;
- Seeking peer relationships with minors (groomers prefer the company of children to people their own age);
- Continually violating boundaries: unwanted hugs, kisses, or tickling, “accidental” sexual touching, sexual jokes, walking in on a minor when bathing, or showing a minor pornography.
If you think you have witnessed grooming behaviors, listen to your instincts! If you see someone making a minor uncomfortable, or if a minor tells you that someone has made them uncomfortable, set a boundary with that person: name the behavior, ask the person to stop the behavior, remove yourself and the minor from the situation and report any suspected abuse to your local law enforcement or child protection agency.
Together, through awareness and education, we can help to keep kids and our communities safer.