I typically don’t comment on current news items, but when I saw Randall Margraves on TV go ballistic in a Michigan courtroom a few weeks ago, I had to speak up for fathers.
Margraves had just endured listening to two of his daughters provide accounts of how Larry Nassar, a once-prominent physician, had sexually assaulted them under the guise of medical treatment for sports injuries. The shell-shocked father asked the judge for a few minutes alone with Nassar during the defendant’s third sentencing hearing on sexual assault charges. When the judge denied his request, he lunged at the defendant and was tackled and restrained by two sheriff’s deputies. Faced with the same set of circumstances, I think I would have acted out just as he did. It’s a natural response for any dad.
It was heartbreaking to witness this and so many other instances where parents of Nassar’s victims expressed feelings of incredible guilt. They all worked hard to protect their children. Sadly, they put their trust in a well-respected physician who turned out to be a demon.
Sexual Predators Are Usually Not Strangers
How can we learn from this tragic story and be more vigilant about protecting our own children from sexual predators? I am drawing from the experts who offer a lot of sound advice, and it starts with arming yourself with the sobering facts:
- An estimated 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
- 30 percent are abused by family members.
- As many as 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts.
- Roughly 35 percent of victims are age 11 or younger.
- Nearly 40 percent are abused by older or larger children.
Other statistics show even greater prevalence. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Roughly 90 percent of offenders are relatives or acquaintances, such as neighbors, family friends, teachers or coaches.
And, the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be long-lasting. In adulthood, victims are four times more likely to develop drug abuse problems or experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and three times more likely to experience depression.
Be Involved in Your Child’s Life
The more you know and the more actively engaged you are in your child’s life, the better your ability to protect him or her from sexual assault. So, ditch the blind trust and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Be a visible presence.
- Get to know any adults and kids that your child is spending time with, including friends, coaches, church leaders, friend’s parents, etc.
- Screen caregivers carefully.
It’s also important to show interest in your kid’s daily life. If you ask supportive questions rather than resorting to lecturing or scolding, your child is much less likely to shut down.
Encourage Your Child to Speak Up
Experts warn that predators tend to build strong relationships with victims before they do anything sexual. They start by manipulating their victims into keeping secrets, ultimately scaring them by making them believe something bad will happen if they tell.
To arm yourself against these tactics, create an environment where your kid is comfortable sharing information and talking with you – no matter what the subject.
- Establish boundaries early. Use proper names for body parts (straight talk) and establish what’s private and what’s appropriate.
- Be a good listener. Let your child know he or she can always come to you to talk about anything. Consider using language similar to this example: “Even if you make a mistake or did something wrong, I will love you and help you. Please tell me about anyone whose behavior makes you uncomfortable even if we really like this person so we can figure out what to do to keep everyone safe.”
- Discourage un-safe secrets.
Know the Warning Signs
Many victims wait years to report or talk about the abuse they suffered, and some never disclose their story. As a result, it’s important to be aware of possible signs of abuse.
- Physical signs, such as unexplained urinary infections, redness or swelling in the genital area, stomachaches, headaches or sudden bedwetting.
- Behavioral signs, such as angry outbursts, sleep problems, withdrawal or a decline in grades.
- Sexual precociousness where the child starts making sexual comments or showing inappropriate sexual behaviors.
Remember, symptoms can vary by age group. While none of these point specifically to sexual abuse, a combination of warning signs may warrant a consultation with a child psychologist or pediatrician.
Seek Help Quickly
If your child does disclose sexual abuse to you, remember that, as most experts claim, very few reported incidents of child sexual abuse are false. Don’t overreact. Try to stay calm and listen. If you react with anger or disbelief, your child will likely:
- Feel even more ashamed and guilty.
- Shut down.
- Change or deny the story, when, in fact, it’s true.
- Change the story to match your questions so it becomes too scripted, which can work against him or her in a court case.
Overall, be supportive and encouraging. Seek help from a trained professional who will likely play an important role in the child’s healing and any criminal proceedings that may result.
And finally, and most important, pray constantly for God to protect your children. We are not to live with a spirit of fear or timidity, but to boldly call upon God – our great protector.
I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. Psalm 18: 1-3 (ESV)
Dan Dolsen is the founder and director of The Fatherhood Project-Building Great Dads. The Fatherhood Project’s mission is to build great dads by equipping them with the tools to lead their families in the roles of provider, protector, partner and preparer. The Fatherhood Project is a Christian ministry and a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. The Fatherhood Project may be found at www.buildinggreatdads.org .
© 2018 The Fatherhood Project-Building Great Dads. Not to be reproduced or copied without permission of Dan Dolsen. PLEASE SHARE THIS MESSAGE WITH OTHERS! All Bible quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.