The question is: if one in three children is sexually victimised, will all the children you know escape?
It was once believed that the stereotypical paedophile was a raincoat clad "dirty old man" lurking near the neighbourhood primary school. As awareness has grown, the facts have revealed that a paedophile can come from any walk of life, any economical background, religion or race. A paedophile could be as close as the guy next door or the "grandfatherly" man down the street. There is really no stereotypical type.
Paedophiles prey on the innocence of children. They feed on the thrill of violating trust. Their aim is to find the perfect "game" and capture their victim. They are child-orientated, to the point of obsession. Such deviates spend their time watching children, talking to them and evaluating their mind frame. They watch their every move and observe their feelings. As they see each mood, they watch for what activates the change and use it to play upon children's emotions.
They play the game slowly. They are masters of patience. They befriend the child, play with them and get to know them. They see their chance to advance the "game" and they take each calculated move as it comes. Each step is carefully planned to draw the child closer to them. They gain trust, reinforce it, then eventually violate it.
Looking at the world differently
A child's mind doesn't travel in the direction that a paedophile's does. Children and adults look at the world differently. They only see a new friend, who understands them and likes to be with them. That's why it's easy for deviants to find ways to enter into a relationship with a child.
What you can do to protect your child
Wo+men Against Child Abuse ask you to make time and talk to your children and tell them that such people exist.
- Education should begin with children as young as three or four. Teach them their body is special. Teach them that all areas of the body covered by a swimming costume (for example) are private.
- Teach them they must never allow other people to touch their body.
- Teach them not to undress in front of anyone once they are old enough to undress themselves. Teach them to tell a parent immediately if someone asks them to undress, tries to undress them, touches them or tries to touch their private parts.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of positive attention at home. Victims are often children who feel lonely and lack attention and support. Spend time with your child. Talk to them. Play with them. Make the most of the time you spend with them. Get to know your child's personality traits, and mood swings. You'll be surprised at what you will learn from them.
- Teach them not to give out any personal information if someone they don't know asks them for it. This is a difficult thing for children to understand. They have hopefully been taught these details and can give them to the police when they are lost, or to teachers. Try to help them understand in which types of circumstances they can give out information and in which they shouldn't. Praise them when they get it right, and explain again why they should or shouldn't if they answered incorrectly.
- As parents, the best thing you can do is to educate your children about the world they live in. Not everyone is good and not everyone is bad. The bad, however, does exist and children need to know that. A child won't be frightened if the subject is approached as a fact of life. Education is the key for all of us and children are eager to learn.
- When it comes down to what you should teach your child and what you believe, your child should know we realise everyone's views will differ. However, please keep in mind that the more information and understanding a child has, the better kind of judgements they can make. We would all like to believe that our children will use their own instincts. However, a child does not think that anything bad will happen to them. This is their innocence.
- It is your duty as parents to be sure they understand the severity of this problem and that they be educated and aware without scaring them.
Some safety tips
- Parents can help protect their children by teaching them awareness of dangerous people and the lures used to entice children. Children should be aware of the dangers, but shouldn't feel afraid all the time.
- Set aside time to talk to your children about dangerous people and strangers. Gear the talk to your child's level of understanding. Be straightforward, without frightening the child.
- Paedophiles usually select a child they think will be an easy target. They look for children who walk alone, take shortcuts, or seem to be alienated from other children. Quite often they watch playgrounds and observe children's play habits.
- Be cautious when you select someone to care for your children. Meet them and check their references.
- Teach your children their full names, telephone numbers and physical address. They should know how to make calls to the police or other care professionals, i.e. Childline.
- Never leave children unattended in public places, a car or in shopping centres. Be sure your children know what to do if you are separated while shopping.
- Explain who a stranger is. Children should never enter a stranger's home, get into their car, or take gifts from them. Explain when a child has a right to say no to an adult.
- Be aware of anyone who pays an unusual amount of attention to your children.
- Listen to your children if they don't want to be left alone with someone.
- Ask your children to tell you about anyone who asks them to keep a secret.
- Encourage your children to use a buddy system. Advise them what to do if a stranger follows or approaches them.
- Get to know your neighbours and establish "safe homes" where children can go for help.
Written and researched by Rana Eschur, Wo+men Against Child Abuse. Contact number: (011) 789-8815