"I Had a Bad Feeling": The Rise of Sexual Abuse in Our Homes and Churches
At a recent homeschool convention, one of our NCLL attorneys spoke with two different homeschooling mothers whose children had been victims of male sexual predators. As in many cases of sexual abuse, both of these moms had increasingly experienced a “bad feeling” about the abusers before learning of their actions, but they had said nothing. Surely, they both felt, they were overreacting to innocent behaviors. Nothing inappropriate could possibly be happening. As we gently inquired into the identity of these predators, we were saddened to learn, through the many tears of these mothers, that one of the predators had been a child’s uncle, who repeatedly sought out opportunities to be alone with his nephew. The other was a teenage boy in charge of babysitting during choir practice.
Alarmingly, child physical and sexual abuse is raging rampant in our world—and Christian schools, churches, and homeschool groups are not exempt. Every parent and every ministry must awaken to this fact. Far too many are ignorant or naïve—or simply refuse to believe it could ever happen to their child. Think again. It happens. We see it regularly, and we want to prevent it from happening to the children in your care.
So what can we do about it? How can we as parents and ministry leaders safeguard our children against the threats of child predators in our families, our social groups, and our ministries?
In a ministry or group setting, you can take several steps to prevent child abuse:
- Have a written child protection policy by which all workers are required to abide and that they are required to acknowledge in writing. Train your workers on these policies and make sure they are implemented consistently.
- Properly screen all workers—volunteer or paid—who work with children or teens. Screening should include background checks, interviews, applications, and reference checks.
- Require that at least two properly-screened adult workers be present with children at any church, school, or co-op functions. Teens should not be considered an adult for purposes of child care. If there is not sufficient child care available, cancel the event or do not provide child care.
For parents, here are a few tips that we recommend to minimize the risk of abuse to our children:
- Limit, or better yet, eliminate sleepovers.
- Pay attention to your parental instincts. God gives parents those “gut feelings” for a reason. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to ask questions and do some investigating.
- Talk to your kids. Keep the dialogue open about all things, particularly about relationships and sexual issues.
- Make sure your kids know what is and is not appropriate physical and sexual behavior—both for them and for other people’s interactions with them.
- Keep your eyes open for any signs that someone is seeking to be alone with your child. Predators typically seek to isolate children so they can manipulate and act out their predatory sexual behavior.
- Seek to find the source of any unexpected behavioral, emotional, or physical changes that could signal abuse.
- Don’t allow your kids to be involved in any program—church, school, co-op, or otherwise—that is not properly staffed and in which child abuse prevention is not taken seriously (see section above on child abuse prevention in ministries and groups).
Let’s not be naïve. The children in our care may very well, at some point, become targets of a sexual predator. Don’t let your child be the next victim. Get informed, be alert, and stay involved.