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Stopping Predators

By Joelle Casteix
OC Family
November 28, 2016

http://www.ocfamily.com/articles/one-869-advocate-shaped.html

I am many things. I am a wife and a mother. I am a writer and an advocate. But there is one thing that shaped the adult I have become more than anything else:

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.

A teacher at my well-known Orange County Catholic high school sexually molested me for two years when I was a young teen. He left me pregnant and with a sexually transmitted disease.

The crime was pernicious, but it was only the beginning. School administrators knew about the abuse and did nothing, even though they knew he had molested other girls.

What wounded me the most, however, wasnít the actual abuse. It was the cover-up by school officials. It was the fact that my parents and many of my peers blamed me for what happened. The adults who were supposed to protect me instead threw me to the wolves. They protected a school instead of a child.

I left my teen years isolated, depressed, ashamed, self-destructive and hurt. Very, very hurt. I spent years wanting to die. I trusted no one, because to me, friendship meant betrayal. I didnít know how to have a healthy romantic relationship within my peer group, because my predator had isolated me and flung me into a manipulative and abusive world.

And I didnít have the tools or the maturity to fight back.

I spent the next two decades healing and fighting to make sure that what happened to me didnít happen to another child. It can be a discouraging battle. If you have seen the movie ďSpotlightĒ or followed the local news, you know that sex abuse scandals in schools, churches and other institutions are still making headlines. Men and women in power still cover up crimes. Children are still at risk.

But now, I have a son. And the game has changed. Itís become personal.

I was devastated the day my husband and I found out I was pregnant. I equated pregnancy with shame and abuse. I thought that I was incapable of love or nurturing.

But after my son arrived, that began to change. I wonít lie: It was hard at first. I suffered from horrible post-partum depression. But unlike the depression I had battled most of my life, my healing wasnít just about me anymore.

I realized that I had to do everything in my power to be the best person I could be for my son. I had to be strong and happy. I had to love and nurture. I had to raise a boy who was empowered and happy in his own skin.

I wasnít going to raise a child vulnerable to sexual abuse. I am not the only parent with that goal.

Parents are paranoid. Educators are on alert. Children are Ė many times Ė overprotected, oversupervised and overscheduled in the hopes that they wonít cross paths with a man or woman who wants to hurt them.

And I get it. Every time my 10-year-old son wants to have a sleepover at someone elseís house, my heart aches. Every time he earns new freedoms, I worry. When I mess up as a parent, I have a hard time forgiving myself.

I canít keep him in a cage. I canít wrap him in bubble wrap and expect him to be able to handle sticky situations. I canít pretend that the world is a perfect place, because it isnít.

But the world is a beautiful place. A place full of joy and exploration. Restricting and limiting my son Ė or filling him with irrational fear Ė will not help him grow into a healthy man.

I needed to give him what I didnít have as a child: tools. And he wasnít the only child who needed them. I found myself surrounded by parents who had no idea how to protect their children from sexual predators.

I was in a special position. I knew from working with thousands of victims that making your child safer from abuse is easy. There is a side benefit Ė your relationship with your child is strengthened.

Every victim I have worked with took similar paths toward abuse. All of us could have been saved had our parents, teachers and leaders known what to look for and how to help us be strong.

Itís a lifelong educational process: Your child needs to know age-appropriate strategies throughout his or her life. A one-time talk wonít cut it.

Some good places to start

Teach your children the proper biological names of genitalia from the time they begin talking. This shows your child that his or her genitals are important (not silly or embarrassing) and reinforces when you tell them that no one is to touch their genitals and they are to touch no one elseís (except in cases at the doctor when a parent is present).

Donít let children under 13 be on any social media. After that age, use discretion. I believe that many high schoolers donít have the maturity to handle the complexities of social media. Predators know that. In fact, they bank on it. Regularly monitor any internet-capable technology your child uses, especially those with cameras and chat features.

Tell your child that it is always safe to talk to you, even if your child is scared and/or has broken rules. Many children who have been abused are scared to report it because they think they will get in trouble. Tell your child that you are always there to talk.

Adopt the ďno secretsĒ rule. Predators love secrets. One of your childís peers may disclose abuse to your child and ask that he or she ďkeep the secret.Ē No child should have to bear that burden.

Donít force your children to hug or kiss anyone if they donít want to. There are plenty of other ways for children to show healthy respect for adults without being forced to give up control of their bodies.

Listening is key

But the most important tools you have are your ears. Listen to your child. Ask him or her open-ended questions every day. Be curious about their interests. Let your child earn your trust. Let your child know he or she can trust you.

My greatest goal for my son is for him to be emotionally healthy, aware, compassionate, empowered and armored. Every child deserves to be safe.

 

 

 

 

 




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