Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Community

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1 Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Community

2 Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Community: A guide for parents & carers Introduction Parents and carers often worry that their children may be sexually abused by someone living in the local community. This leaflet gives simple information and advice to help you keep your children safe from such abuse. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that most sexual abuse is carried out by someone well known to the child. What is child sexual abuse? Child sexual abuse is the use of children for the sexual pleasure and gratification of an adult, though occasionally children may also be sexually abused by other children. Both boys and girls can be vulnerable to sexual abuse from a very early age. Child sexual abuse covers a range of sexual behaviour including: Vaginal or anal intercourse Sexual touching Masturbation Oral sex Flashing The use of children in pornographic video or photographs Involving children in prostitution What kind of people sexually abuse children? People who sexually abuse children are commonly known as paedophiles. It is impossible to describe a typical paedophile. They do not look different to other people and they operate in a variety of ways. Some paedophiles in the community may also be abusing their own children, step

3 children or other children in their own families. Some may also have sexual relationships with adults. And some will sexually exploit children for financial gain through pornography or by offering them to other adults for sexual purposes. Paedophiles may act alone or organise themselves into groups which may operate within a local community, nationally or internationally. In such groups, children and child pornography may be passed between members. Paedophiles can be found in all professions at all levels of society and can sometimes hold respected and powerful positions in the community. They can come from any social, cultural, racial or religious background. He, or less commonly she, could be a parent, relative, friend, acquaintance or, more rarely, a stranger to you and your family. Paedophiles are often very good at making friends quickly with children and can appear warm and approachable. They often come across as nice men. This enables them to get close to children. A paedophile may have a preference for children of a particular age, sex, ethnic background or physique. They are attracted to places, professions and activities which allow them easy access to children. How do paedophiles operate in local communities? Paedophiles can outwardly seem extremely trustworthy and parents may be convinced that the interest they are showing in their child is totally innocent. Paedophiles will go to great lengths to get close to children and are often well organised, manipulative and sophisticated in the ways they attach themselves to families. Paedophiles may often befriend hard-pressed parents who are facing difficulties. Single parent families are particularly at risk. Gradually, paedophiles may start to offer help with money or with looking after the children. They may offer emotional support or start a relationship with the parent or carer which could lead to them moving into the house. Access to children Paedophiles gain access to children in all sorts of ways. They often take up positions and/or activities which give them easy access to children. For example:

4 A leader of a children s youth group A coach or volunteer in children s sport A worker in a school A worker in a caring profession Targeting children Paedophiles rarely pick children at random. They can be skilled at identifying children who may be vulnerable to their approach. They may choose a child who is: Too trusting Seeking love or affection Lonely or bereaved Lacking in confidence Bullied Disabled or unable to communicate well In care or away from home Already a victim of abuse Eager to succeed in activities such as sport, school or other interests which may allow him/her to be manipulated by a potential abuser Grooming children Paedophiles will often carefully introduce or groom children into a sexually abusive relationships. They frequently use a progression of activities including introducing children to pornography. Innocent cuddling may turn into sexual touching or masturbation. This, in turn, may lead to sexual intercourse. Paedophiles may groom a child by: Forming a friendly relationship with the child and his/her parents or carers Taking a strong interest in the child or his/her activities Offering the child gifts, money or favours such as sweets, video games, day trips and holidays. Illicit gifts may also be offered, including alcohol, cigarettes or drugs Telling the child that what is happening is not wrong Making sure children keep the abuse secret Paedophiles will use many different ways to ensure a child remains quiet about the abuse. They will frequently use a child s natural fear, embarrassment or guilt, as well as threats of punishment, to stop him/her telling anyone about the abuse.

5 Paedophiles may: Make a child believe he/she invited the abuse Threaten or use violence towards the child or make threats about someone close to the child in order to intimidate him/her Force children to abuse other children. In those rare cases where there are large numbers of children involved, the abuser may use the older children to exert peer pressure and ensure the group s co-operation and silence. How do I know if someone is likely to abuse my child? There is no easy answer to this question. However, you should be alert to any adult who pays an unusual amount of attention to your child, for example: Giving your child gifts, toys or favours Offering to take your child on trips, outings and holidays Seeking opportunities to be alone with your child Always carry out a careful check on anyone who is to have unsupervised contact with your child. Find out as much as you can about baby-sitters and those who you ask to look after your child. Ask crèches and activity groups about what checks are made and about their procedures for protecting children and dealing with abuse. Don t leave your child with anyone you have reservations about. Some employers carry out checks with police and other agencies on people who apply for jobs involving unsupervised contact with children. However, we know that paedophiles continue to develop ways to get round these procedures and many paedophiles have not been identified or convicted. It is important that parents and carers look out for signs of worrying behaviour from any adult looking after their child. How do I know if my child is being abused? Indications that your child is being sexually abused may surface as physical, emotional and medical symptoms. Your child may also tell you about the abuse and, possibly, test your reaction by giving hints or clues about the abuse. For example, they may talk about being asked to keep a secret. It is important to recognise that changes in behaviour do not necessarily mean that your child has been sexually abused. There may be other causes. But children who suffer sexual abuse may:

6 Show aggressive behaviour, disturbed sleep or bedwetting Refuse to attend school or lack concentration (often linked to suddenly doing badly at school) Show unexpected fear of an adult or refuse to continue with his/her social activities Display sexually explicit behaviour or language previously not used by the child Have new relationships with other adults and children which are secretive and exclude others Appear depressed, withdrawn or suffering from physical ailments without supporting medical explanation How do I keep my children safe? Below are some basic rules for parents and carers to follow. The rules build upon your existing good parenting skills and your knowledge of your own children. Make time for your children it is important to build up an open and trusting relationship with your children. Always listen carefully to their fears and concerns and let them know they should not be worried about telling you anything. This is just as important when your children are adolescents. Remember the 3 W s know where your children are, who they are with and agree a time when they should return. Ensure that your children know where you are at all times and where you can be contacted. Be alert to any adult who is paying an unusual amount of attention to your children or buying them sweets, expensive gifts, video or computer games etc. Be cautious about anyone who has unsupervised contact with your children and find out as much as possible about anyone who is looking after them. Your children need to know what is and what is not appropriate touching. Do not be too embarrassed to talk about this. You must help them to understand what unacceptable behaviour is and that they must always tell you if anyone, including a relative or friend, is behaving in a way which worries them. Most important of all Teach your children to feel confident to refuse to do anything which they feel is wrong or frightens them. Explain to your children the difference between good and bad secrets. Tell them,

7 for example, that it is OK to have a secret about a surprise birthday party, but not about anything which makes them feel unhappy or uncomfortable. What do I do if my child tells me he/she has been abused? Listen to your child. You will be upset by what your child has told you, but do not react in a way which may add to your child s distress. Your child needs to know that he/she is not to blame and you should make it clear that you do not doubt what he/she says. Allow your child the opportunity to talk about what has happened, but do not put any pressure on him/her to do so. Tell your child that he/she was right to talk to you. Don t tell him/her off if the abuse occurred because he/she disobeyed you if, for example, your child was walking in a place which you had told him/her to avoid. What should I do if I suspect my child has been abused? You may wish to talk through any initial feelings of shock, embarrassment or anger with a trusted relative or friend. However, in order to protect your own child and other children, further action will be needed. You can: Report your concerns directly to your Local Social Work Department and/ or local Gardaí Phone the ISPCC Supportline (Mon Fri, 9am 5pm on ) to talk through the options, which include seeking help for your child and reporting the abuser However, do not seek to confront the abuser by breaking the law yourself Remember, although you always need to be aware that there may be paedophiles operating in your local community, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. The vast majority of people do not sexually abuse children, so you do not need to frighten or worry your children unduly. By following the advice contained in this booklet you will feel more secure in your abilities to protect your child. At the same time you will be able to help your children to benefit from developing safe friendships with adults without fear of being abused.

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