(Certain words in this post have been altered to prevent google search engines from picking up this article.)
Recently, some things have come up involving friends that have led to my desire to write about something very personal, something I have absolutely no desire to share with the world, but something I feel, and hope, might give parents something to think about and, perhaps, protect someone eles’s child.
Without going into too much detail, two friends of ours have recently had experiences within their own families involving s*_xual p*rpetration. In both cases, an older sibling p*rpetrated a younger sibling and in at least one case, p*rpetrated another child who was spending the night in their home.
The horrible reality is that this kind of stuff happens all too often – perhaps more often than parents even want to think about. How do I know? Because it happened to me. Once before the age of six, and again before the age of ten, I spent the night with someone who coerced me into s*_xual activities. In one case, it was a female friend and in another case it was the older sister of a friend. At the age of 12, I was f*_ndled by a distant adult relative while in a room full of other adults. Later during the week, my parents allowed me to spend the night with this man’s younger sister (he was at home during the time.) I’m thankful that nothing happened to me that night, but I can’t help but wonder about my brother, who slept in the same bed with him that night.
I’ve never considered what happened to me “m*_lestation” (although my husband, who works in a psychiatric hospital with underage s*_x-offenders, tells me this is exactly what it was.) And although I can look back and see some things about myself that are probably directly related to these experiences, I don’t feel I have any gaping wounds or major emotional issues stemming from this (my husband might disagree.) And, as is usually the case, I never told anyone about it. EVER. Until I told my husband, just a few days ago. In truth, I hadn’t even thought about it for years until recently, as we’ve been praying about and discussing the situation with our friends.
I write this for one reason: as a warning to other parents. The other day, I overheard a mother talking with someone about the sleepover her daughter was going to, and I felt sick to my stomach. It made me think of how many parents trust their little ones to sleep over at someone else’s house without their supervision. How many parents trust the relationships they have with another parent to be a protective umbrella for their own children?
My parents knew the parents of the girls I spent the night with. They trusted these parents to protect me. They trusted the sons and daughters of these parents. But it happened. Perhaps because of these experiences, and because of things my husband experienced and has been witness to in his own life, Jon and I take the position of No Trust.
Call it sad, call it reactionary, call it over-the-top… call it what you will, but we will do everything within our power to prevent our children from ever being m*_lested. If it means they never experience a sleepover, there are worse things in life that can happen to them. If it means they’ll never (during their childhood years) have an unsupervised day out with an uncle or cousin or a play date with an older friend, so be it. The truth is that no matter how much we trust our family, our friends, and our children’s friends and their parents, we only have to be wrong ONCE. We have simply made it a family rule that our children don’t have unsupervised (and by “unsupervised” I mean not supervised by Jon or I) sleepovers – period. And they don’t have unsupervised play dates with children – boy or girl – over the age of three or four. When friends with older children come to visit us, one of us is ALWAYS in the room where the kids are playing and none of them are ever allowed to go alone and play. They don’t sit in the laps of men or play tickling or wrestling games with friends. They’re not involved in boy scouts or girl scouts or clubs that would take them away from home on overnight adventures. (And as one commenter [who was molested by an “upstanding” church member more than once WHILE INSIDE the church building] pointed out – schools, church nursery’s and Sunday school are no more “safe” than anywhere else.) CDC research estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are s*_xually abused before the age of 18. An estimated one in 20 teenage boys and adult men s*_xually abuse children. In most cases, it’s early exposure to s*_x through p*_rnography introduced by friends or being the victim of s*_xual abuse themselves that has led to the perpetration. No matter how well I know a child and his/her parents, I cannot possibly know what that child has been exposed to and might expose my children to, if left unsupervised. We’re simply not willing to trust our kids to those odds.
Some parents will read this and think that we’re being over the top, but my husband sees these horror stories EVERY SINGLE DAY. In not one single case did any parent ever willingly put their children at risk. In virtually every case of p*_rpetration my husband has ever seen, the abusive child and his/her parents were trusted friends, family members, classmates and neighbors. If what happened to me could happen THREE times over the course of my pre-teenage life, each time with people my parents trusted, the odds are against our children coming out unscathed unless we, as their parents, put up the necessary barriers to protect them.*** We’re not willing to be wrong about someone we trust.
As I mentioned before, I write this extremely personal article in the hopes that parents will read this and consider the possibilities. I write this in hopes of saving even just one child from experiencing what so many children have experienced, what could have been prevented for so many.
Please don’t think you know someone well enough to be certain that they would never harm your child. As the Child M*_lestation Research and Prevention Institute writes:
If you are certain there has never been a child m*_lester or a m*_lested child in your family, You are probably wrong.
I’m not suggesting that everyone take the same measures we have taken, but please consider … Is that date night with your husband worth leaving your children in the hands of a babysitter you’ve only met a few times? Should you really trust that older boy from your church to take your son fishing? Can you spend the night with your child, at her friend’s sleepover party, instead of dropping him or her off? Consider the odds, and ask yourself what measures you can take to protect your kids. It’s worth it.
*** I don’t think avoidance is the only measure we need to take, of course. Our children are taught (in an age-appropriate way) about s*_xual abuse, and have been told what to do. Although my own parents did an excellent job of warning me against p*_rpetrators, I somehow always had in my head the image of an ADULT p*_rpetrator, someone who looked and acted evil, who told me they’d kill me if I ever told anyone. I was prepared for someone who would try to hold me down and force me against my will. I wasn’t prepared for the possibility of being persuaded. We’ve made sure our children understand that certain parts of their body are only for their future spouses and that they’re completely off-limits to absolutely everyone else (with a few exceptions, like when my son had a tick in a VERY uncomfortable place!) We’ve read passages of the bible that deal with these issues, and talk about them with our kids. At some point, we’ll probably purchase the Yell and Tell books and read them to our children. But no matter how much we talk about it, no matter how much they understand, my husband and I are convinced that the single greatest preventative measure we can take against s*_xual molestation is to keep them close.