We all have that relative. The one who pinched our cheeks when we were children. Who hugged us a little too tight? Who transferred their perfume or cologne to our clothing, cloyingly sweet or musky, so we carried it with us the rest of the day.
It’s likely there was nothing wrong with that relative, other than they forced you to endure their affections whether you liked it.
As parents, we worry about our children. It’s part and parcel of the job at hand. We teach them about stranger danger and to look both ways before crossing the street.
In an age of sex positivity, we teach our daughters their manner of dress has nothing to do with their odds of being sexually assaulted. It’s not their fault if something horrible happens. Don’t blame the victim, blame the perpetrator.
In an age of sex positivity, we teach our sons not to be toxic in their masculinity. That it’s okay to be softer, it’s okay to express their feelings.
With that relative, some of us are still teaching our children they don’t have agency over their own bodies. And that’s not okay.
Ninety percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser, thirty percent of which are family members.
While we’re teaching our children to be concerned about strangers, we’re ignoring an insidious problem within our homes and families.
When we teach our children they must hug, kiss, or otherwise engage with family members and family friends, even if they aren’t comfortable, we’re teaching them they don’t have agency over their own bodies.
Growing up, each time I left the house on my own, my mother told me to watch out for strange men.
She regaled me with stories of little girls, lured into panel vans with promises of candy and puppies, never seen again. Stories of little girls who didn’t cross their legs, so perverts could see their panties on the swings.
Never did she warn me of the family friend, whose son would put his hand in my panties when I was wearing knee-length shorts.
Never did she warn me of the drunken uncle who snuck in my bed late at night and pressed his hardness against my buttocks.
The same uncle she forced me to hug when he came over for dinner.
Forty percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children.
The younger the child victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is a juvenile.
Typically, these offenders are not pedophiles and do not continue to exhibit sexually predatory behaviors. They are more responsive to treatment, if provided.
The family friend who molested me never received treatment. No one believed my story, so there was nothing to treat.
Although no child is immune, there are child and family characteristics that significantly heighten or lower risk of sexual abuse.
- Family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse, according to experts. Children who live with two married biological parents are at low risk for abuse.
However, each family situation is different. In my case, I lived at home with my biological parents and experienced two separate instances of abuse.
- The risk increases when children live with step-parents or a single parent.
- Children in foster care are ten times more likely to be sexually abused than children who live at home.
- Children who live with a single parent with a live-in parnter are the the highest risk, 20 times more likely than children living with both biological parents.
- Gender is also a major factor. Females are five times more likely to be abused than males.
- Age is significant, while there is a risk for children of all ages, children are must vulnerable to abuse between the ages of seven and 13.
- Race and ethnicity are important. African American children have almost twice the risk of sexual abuse than white children. Children of Hispanic ethnicity have a slightly greater risk than non-Hispanic white children.
- It triples the risk for sexual abuse for children whose parents are not in the labor force.
- Children in low socioeconomic satus households are three times as kikely to be identified as a victim.
- Children who live in rural areas are almost two times more likely to be identified as victims.
- Children who witness or are the victim of other crimes are significantly more likely to be sexually abused.
Perpetrators look for specific circumstances.
- They look for passive, quiet, troubled, and lonely children.
- They seek children who are trusting. Frequently, this means seeking friendships with the family.
When we teach our children it’s okay to say no when someone wants to be affectionate, we’re teaching them their body is their own. We’re showing them they have agency over what happens to them. If the unthinkable happens, they can use their voice to tell their story.