Time to tackle a tough subject: how to protect our sons from sexual predators. With this issue so much in the news, it seems our boys are more vulnerable than ever to deviant behavior by trusted adults. GCP recently attended a seminar on child sex offenders offered by child and adolescent psychotherapist Alicia Henderson, Ph.D. to find out more about this disturbing but important topic.

First, a few sobering facts:

Experts estimate that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays.

The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old, and approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight. Most child victims never report the abuse.

As many as 60% of these victims are abused by people the family trusts–abusers frequently try to form a trusting relationship with parents.

People who abuse children look and act just like every one else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children.

Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools.

Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who tell and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.

Sexual abuse happens in all social and ethnic groups; no children are exempt.

Darkness to Light (www.d2l.org), a non-profit organization which seeks to protect children from sexual abuse by educating and informing adults about how to “prevent, recognize and react responsibly to” child sexual abuse, has created a booklet of the “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children from Sexual Abuse”, which can be found here. Briefly, the 7 steps are:

Step 1: Learn the Facts. Parents should be guided by realities, not trust, as they make decisions regarding their children.

Step 2: Minimize Opportunity. Parents can lower the risk of child sexual abuse by reducing, monitoring or eliminating one adult/one child situations. Since one-on-one time with an adult can be healthy and valuable for a child, however, there are ways parents can protect children in these circumstances, like dropping in unexpectedly on the visit, making sure others can observe the outing, and ensuring that the adult has specific details for the planned activity.

Step 3: Talk About It. Talk openly and honestly with your sons. Teach them that it is against the rules for anyone to touch particular parts of their body. Tell them to say NO and to tell you right away about any inappropriate touching. Let them know that respecting adults does not mean blind obedience to them, and under no circumstances should they agree to keep any activity a secret from their parents.

Step 4: Stay Alert. Physical and psychological signs of abuse are not always obvious. However, there are red flags, like age inappropriate language and behavior, which can indicate a problem. If you suspect sexual abuse, immediately have your son examined by a professional specializing in abuse.

Step 5: Make a Plan. Learn where to go, whom to call, how to react if you suspect any abuse has occurred.

Step 6: Act on Suspicions. Suspicions are scary, but trust your instincts.

Step 7: Get Involved. Darkness to Light encourages parents to become advocates for all children, and get involved in organizations that fight child sexual abuse.

Much more detail is provided in the 7 Steps booklet, which GCP urges you to download and read.

If you take just one concept away from all of this information, let it be that you should talk to your sons about saying no and telling you if any adult behavior makes them uncomfortable. Establishing open and honest lines of communication with your sons on this topic can be the key to keeping them safe.