Posted by: gljcm2 | May 10, 2004

PREVENTING CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT

Chrysalis – An Online Journal PREVENTING CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT

In the wake of the recent Lethbridge abduction and murder of five year old Jessica Koopmans, we are faced with the reality that our children are at risk of being horribly traumatized, injured or killed by pedophiles. This week all over Alberta parents stepped up their campaigns to teach their children NOT to talk to strangers. At the same time, Ralph Klein and our Alberta government fast tracked plans to create an Alberta Registry for Pedophiles.

Is this enough though? Do our children know just who those strangers are? Recently upon entering a public washroom, I found a young girl alone and in the process of drying her hands. I said, “Hi,” as I entered and she responded. Suddenly she looked at me and announced, “My mom says Im not supposed to talk to strangers.” But, it was her next words that astounded me. Following a pause just long enough to consider what her mom said, she asked me, “Are YOU a stranger?”

Her total innocence made me smile and yet it brings home the need for better safety education for our children. Registries and teaching our children of stranger danger are important, but they need all the specific skills and tools that we can offer them to really feel confident and safe.

Do we realize as we teach our children about stranger danger that they might not know who the strangers are? Do we acknowledge that 90% of child sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the child knows or has seen before – NOT by a stranger! Perpetrators are skilled people. They know how to gain a child’s trust. They don’t appear strange or different. Our children will not always recognize them! And nor, do we as parents. The provincial registry will help us keep track of pedophiles and let us know the obvious people to keep away from children, but at the same time it can also lead to a false sense of security. Someone already in our lives or living down the street may be an unidentified perpetrator. A recent study showed 2/3 or assaults aren’t even reported! This means there are many perpetrators who are not yet identifiable.

We need to teach our children three very important words: NO, GO, TELL. Any time they feel uncomfortable in the presence of an older teen or adult who approaches them they should know how to say a firm NO, LEAVE the scene as quickly as possible, and TELL an adult immediately what has occurred. This tool can protect them from both stranger AND acquaintance assault.

As adults and parents we have the responsibility to follow up on their information by notifying police of suspicious incidents and by telling our children that we are proud of them for being strong capable children who can make wise decisions and act on them.

Stranger abductions are uncommon. However, we know they do occur. Empower your children by assuring them they have your permission to walk quickly away from a scary situation.

Teach your child to yell to attract attention. A perpetrator doesnt want to be noticed. Encourage walking with a buddy, not alone, and ask your children to phone you when they arrive at a friends house and call you before they leave for home. These are only a few of the many tools we can offer our children.

The need is not to create an air of fear but to educate and empower our children so they can be just that — children, who are able to play and be safe in an ever changing world.

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