Silence is a child abuser’s best friend.
You name it. Any kind of abuse… physical, sexual, emotional and even neglect… flourishes under the cloud of silence. Child abusers know this… and use this to their advantage.
To ensure silence, abusers will often implore children to keep the abuse “our little secret” and encourage them NOT to tell anyone what’s happening to them.
Sadly, this tactic often works. So, why in the world would a child honor that request and keep such a secret? Primarily, there are 3 reasons children keep abuse a secret…
1) Children want to please. Over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone a child knows, loves or trusts. Children are taught to ‘behave’, so they may abide by an abuser’s wishes to keep the abuse “just between them.” In many cases, children love their abusers… parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, close family friends… and don’t want to disappoint them. In some cases of child sexual abuse, the child victim may actually be “in love” with the abuser and want to protect that person; case in point — a teenager in love with an adult.
2) An abuser (or accomplice) may coach a child to stay silent. This is a heartbreaker… I can’t even tell you how many child forensic interviews in which I’ve personally participated that involved a parent telling a child to deny that he/she was being victimized. The rationale for this is: 1) That one (or both) parents/guardians are perpetrating the abuse, or; 2) A parent relies on the financial or emotional support of the abuser. For example, mom knows her boyfriend is sexually molesting her daughter, but tells the daughter to keep it a secret, as the boyfriend is paying the bills and providing food and housing for them. Sadly, this scenario is far too common.
3) Children may be scared. It’s also common practice for abusers to make threats against a child, a member of the child’s family or even a beloved pet. Threats come in all shapes and sizes, and abusers have a way of knowing what motivates their victims and will use those motivators as weapons of submission and secrecy. Abusers often place the “blame” for the abuse squarely on a child’s shoulders, telling them they’ll “get in trouble” if anyone finds out… yet another compelling reason for a child to remain silent.
Teach kids the difference between a “Secret” and a “Surprise”.
When educating kids about child abuse prevention, an important point to stress is the difference between a “secret” and a “surprise”.
noun: something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. (e.g., “a state secret”)
noun: an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing. (e.g., “the announcement was a complete surprise”)
When talking with kids, share with them that a surprise is supposed to be about something fun, like a birthday gift or special party for a sibling. On the other hand, secrets are something kids shouldn’t keep to themselves, especially secrets that involve touches to private body parts or any activity that makes them uncomfortable.
When addressing the issue of secrets with your kids, here are some talking points you may wish to use…
- Encourage your child to NOT keep secrets from you.
- Discuss how touches to private body parts should NEVER be a secret.
- If someone asks your child to keep a secret (especially someone older than them, including adults OR older/bigger children), they should immediately come and tell you or another trusted adult.
- If a friend tells your child a secret he/she was asked to keep, your child should also confide in you (so you, in turn, can take appropriate action).
- Assure your child that it could NEVER, EVER be his/her fault if someone touched a private body part… and that he/she would NOT get in trouble for telling you (or another trusted adult) about it.
If we choose to NOT have this conversation with our children, how can we possibly expect them to know what to do if someone tells them to keep abuse a secret?
So, talk about it. Keep communication lines open with your child so they feel safe coming to you with things that may be uncomfortable or “icky” for them. Understanding the difference between a surprise and secret can be the difference between stopping abuse and suffering in silence.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has released a guide for parents and other caring adults, “10 Scary Apps”. Click here for your free copy of this informative 12-page report. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.