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Chapter Seven: What is Molestation and What are the Warning Signs?
Child molestation occurs almost every second of every day, yet it is far too underreported by both children and adults alike. It is important to know exactly what molestation is and its warning signs so that if you do suspect your child is being sexually molested by anyone, you can be better prepared and can alert authorities immediately.
Molestation is a crime that involves "sexual acts with children up to the age of 18, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children, and variations of these acts by pedophiles. Molestation may include incest or unwanted sexual acts by a relative, but is short of rape." Molestation is of course not limited to incest or relatives; strangers and pedophiles are likely suspects as well. In the United States, it is thought that "95% of child molestation can be prevented." For this reason, it is important to be aware of your children’s actions and the behaviors of those around your children. Strangers are just about as likely as relatives and friends to sexually molest or engage in sexually fueled acts with your children. Though it may be "easier" for the predator to engage in sexual acts with a child that the predator knows, strangers have no reservations in doing just the same. They carefully construct devious "grooming" processes that "increase…access to [their] victims and decrease the likelihood of discovery.
Grooming is an intense, carefully planned out process that begins when the predator chooses a target: an area or a specific child. If the predator is a stranger, they will visit places where children are likely to go such as schools, parks, shopping malls, or playgrounds. Others can be those who work at businesses or districts that cater specifically to children. The groomer most often targets children burdened with obvious vulnerabilities. Children from single parent families are extremely vulnerable, and groomers often target these types of children more often than not. In these situations, the children become comfortable with the groomer and are less likely to alert an adult or any authorities because the child feels like nothing is wrong. Children often don’t talk about being molested because they believe they are protecting their abuser. They might do this because they feel comfortable with the abuser or because it is a family member and they are afraid to "out" the person. Another mistaken belief amongst children and adults is the mindset that this type of issue would never happen in their own family.
A common belief amongst parents and children is that child molesters are scary "monsters," but perpetrators can attempt to be charming and seemingly harmless. It is estimated that as many as 15 of every 100 Americans "have been either a molested child or a molester." With such high numbers, it is possible that there could be at least one molester and/or child molested in each American family. It is for this reason that it is extremely important that parents teach their children about molestation so they get acquainted with the language and techniques, such as "grooming" and the significance of age differences. For example, be wary of adults or older children who are overly interested in spending time in your home and with your children, with or without you. "Older" usually means an age difference of five or so years, although it is based on the idea that there is a lack of equality between the two individuals. Though the medical definition states five years, a third grader and a sixth grader touching each other inappropriately would be something of concern because of the clear difference in emotional and physical maturity.
In the next section, we have broken down some of the warning signs and how to determine if your child is being molested. Catching these warning signs and talking to your children about them can be a very sensitive subject, but can save their lives. As always, establishing an open relationship and comfortable communication between you and your child is the first and most important step in not only preventing potential attacks, but also in helping them cope and talk to you about their thoughts and feelings. This importance of this step should not be underestimated, because child molesters tend to favor shy and naïve children who will be either too timid or too scared of alerting anyone. A majority of child molestation cases go unreported, so it is crucial that you watch for these 11 signs, or others.
11 signs that your child is being molested
- SLEEP DISTURBANCES: Watch to see if your child has issues when they sleep, such as bed-wetting, nightmares, if they are afraid to go to bed.
- This is a major sign of trauma and fear of anyone touching them again while they are alone.
- BEHAVIOR CHANGES: Keep an eye out for sudden changes in your child’s behavior – big mood swings, withdrawal from everyday activities, fearfulness, and crying often.
- This could be a sign of something deep going on with your child, but doesn’t know how to express it except for feeling guilt and shame.
- TOILET TRAINING: Pay attention to changes in your child’s toilet habits.
- If your child changes their bathroom habits, it could be a sign of some issues going on with their private parts, or new and unchartered exploration of their bodies.
- FEARS: If your child begins to develop fears of particular places, certain individuals, or activities they once enjoyed, try to get to the root of their anxieties.
- Watching for this kind of sign is extremely important – it is an indicator of something going on with your child, such as trauma, abuse, or molestation. If your child begins to develop fears of certain people, there is usually a reason for it.
- TROUBLE IN SCHOOL: If your child begins to have trouble in school, whether they are struggling with academics, acting out, or engaging in inappropriate acts having to do with sexual curiosity, consult your child’s school and get to the bottom of their issues.
- It’s best for parents to stay in touch with their child’s school in regards to their kid’s performance and behaviors. If you learn that your child is acting out in a sexual manner while at school, this could be a sign of potential unwarranted sexual curiosity and activity at their young age.
- MARKS & INJURIES: Inspect your child’s body and make sure they don’t have any marks or bruises that they can’t explain.
- This is by far one of the most prominent signs of abuse or molestation. Children tend to hide these types of marks out of shame or embarrassment. Periodically checking up on your child for these types of injuries, such as rashes, cuts, bruises, or limping, is crucial and something that must be done to help protect your child.
- PRIVATE AREAS: Make sure that your child’s private areas don’t have any issues – look for signs such as pain, itching, bleeding, fluid, or rawness.
- Remind your child that you and only you and their doctor are allowed to look at or touch their private parts. If you notice anything peculiar about their genitals, it could be a serious warning sign of molestation.
- MASTURBATION: When your child discovers masturbation, observe its intensity.
- Though this is a normal stage of curiosity and development, especially in teenagers, pay attention to whether your child is excessively masturbating to the point of it interfering with their daily lives. If you discover that your child has sex toys or if you find them using methods children don’t usually know, delicately find out where they got that information, as it likely could have been given to them by a molester.
- RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS: Pay close attention to your child’s behavior around the other parent.
- Far too often, a parent or stepparent in the household is the molester. This type of molestation happens while the other parent is away or asleep and will never be discovered unless you notice the signs and talk to your child about it.
- PHYSICAL AGENCY: Teach your child about their bodies, including private parts, and make sure they know that nobody should touch them inappropriately.
- Letting your child know that it is okay for them to say "no" to someone when they want to touch their body or private parts is a good step in educating your child to prevent molestation.
- SEXUAL GAMES: A major warning sign is if your child begins to want to play sexual games with their friends or any adults.
- If your child exhibits this type of behavior and you have no knowledge of teaching your child these types of things, be wary of where they learned it. It could be from a close friend or adult that could be potentially molesting them.
Educating your child on sexual molestation, maintaining an open dialogue, and being alert for potential warning signs your child is giving off are all good steps to take to prevent or put a stop to sexual abuse. Many children do not tell others of their molestation, so as a parent it is crucial to always keep an eye on your child to check for these types of behaviors and actions.