This article is about child abuse and preventing child abuse.

Source: Clarion, 1985. 3 pages.

Child Abuse

Some Statisticsโค’๐Ÿ”—

Child abuse and child molestation are issues not too frequently discussed among our people. Most of us seem to think that it does not happen in our circles. It might be a danger, threatening our youngsters when they travel or when they come into obscure and dirty places, but such things do not happen in the secure and protected environment of a Christian family or a Christian society.

However, this idea is not correct. Recently many cases were in the news. That does not necessarily mean that this phenomenon is on the increase. It can also be caused by the fact that people are speaking more openly about it. Especially the victims do have more opportunities to ask for help, to explain and discuss their problems with people who are willing to listen and help.

Child abuse and molestation is not something that is restricted to the socially lower class or to the "outcast." It happens among all kinds of people, even in the highest ranks. It also happens among Christians.

Recent publications have given us a grim picture of reality. Among the people convicted, we find doctors, teachers, company directors and other highly respected people. Many of them are financially well off, generally known as nice, well-behaving people and sometimes fathers of respected families.

According to statistics one out of five American children have been molested in one way or another before they reach the age of 18 years; 90% of them are molested, not by strangers, but by good friends of the family or by members of the family. Most victims are molested in their own home.

These things do happen among Christians. Although most cases will never come into the open, there is a lot of suffering because of this molestation. Children suffer the most because they cannot talk or do not dare to talk about it with anybody. Statistics show that parents as well as pastors, teachers and church officials have been convicted of child molestation. According to some experts, it seems that well-behaving and well-educated children are even more prone to become a victim. They say that especially the "good kids" are a rewarding target for child abusers. You might wonder why. We will try to explain this in the next section.

Who are the Victims?โ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

A police officer who is especially in charge of investigations in such crimes pointed to some very interesting and remarkable facts: In a Christian family children are taught to respect and obey adults. They are not supposed to "talk back." Younger children have the impression that what adults do, say, or ask must be right, especially when they are highly respected persons. This might be a proper attitude for children, but it makes them also more vulnerable as victims of molestation. These children most often have a highly developed sense for a code of honour: you are not allowed to break your promise. They can be put under pressure. The molester tells them I know what I am doing and you are not allowed to tell anyone about these things. They are forced to promise that they will never talk about it to others. They then feel obliged to keep their promise. That makes well-educated and well-behaved children an easier target for child molesters.

There are some other aspects, which have to be considered. A molester always looks for a victim who for one reason or another is "different" from others and therefore feels lonely, rejected, singled out or at least not completely accepted in the group of peers. Sometimes they are children who do not receive the love and affection they need and who are therefore eager to accept a relationship, which offers him or her special attention and something they feel as love and affection.

Other frequent targets are physically precocious children, who for that reason do not feel at ease among their peers. They look older than they are, although they mentally still need the contact with children of their own age. The older children do not accept them because of their age and the younger ones do not see them as their equals and do not fully accept them for that reason. The molester oftentimes knows exactly how to explore these feelings and offers the comfort, the affection and the personal relationship they are missing and looking for. Such children are sometimes willing to endure the suffering, the physical harm and the stress they have to go through, in order to maintain the relationship and to receive the attention from someone who seems to care for them. They will even protect their molester, rather than try to escape his attack.

Who is the Offender?โ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

Some people seem to think that a child molester is a "bad looking guy," whom you can recognize right away by the way he looks at you, the way he is dressed, behaves, and talks. However, this picture is not correct. They are oftentimes, well-behaving, highly respected persons. Babysitters, teachers, fathers, grandfathers, and other relatives were among those convicted. In most cases, no one was aware or would have expected such a relationship. However, that makes it even more dangerous. When children try to talk about it or to refer to it, they are not believed or taken seriously.

Another problem is that children oftentimes cannot escape the relationship. When they are abused by their father or by a brother, they might feel terribly scared, but still they feel they have to live with their "secret" because they have a place in the family. If they would divulge the matter, they might be caught up in a tight squeeze. It might create a situation, which seems to be even more embarrassing for them than the actual abuse. That is why so many children, victims of molestation, live with their "secret." They do not dare to speak about it, they do not want to divulge the matter and end the relationship, until it is already too late.

The relationship might end because they have come to maturity. Still the frustration lasts and the damage is done. I have seen too many cases of people who could never get rid of their frustrations, not even when they had talked it out later. Let us not underestimate the physical as well as the psychological damage caused. It happens quite often that problems arise in their own marriage because they have a completely wrong conception of what a real sexual relationship is all about. When a minister or another counselor is confronted with marriage problems quite often the origin appears to be molestation of one of the partners during childhood. It is not the exception when family members, either of the parents, or of the brothers and sisters, a grandfather or another close relative or friend, perform such molestation. It is extremely difficult to take away misconceptions and frustrations that have built up for many years, even from childhood until parenthood.

How to Prevent Child Abuseโ†โค’๐Ÿ”—

After what we have said in the previous sections, parents might wonder how they can prevent such things from happening. We have already seen that children are taught to respect and obey adults and to submit to authorities. That can make children more prone to become victims, but it would be a matter of putting the cart before the horse if we would try to avoid child abuse by teaching the children to disobey and reject the authority of adults. However, we have to teach them that there are limits on obedience.

We also have to teach children that they have to keep their promises, but that there are promises, which never should be made and therefore, if made, should not be kept. An important general rule, which parents have to instill in their children, is if someone asks you not to talk about something, and never to tell your father and your mother about it, it is probably wrong and therefore you should tell your parents.

Another thing is that the parents have to talk openly and frankly with their children about sexual matters. That does not mean that they have to discuss all kinds of details, which are not yet at the level of their children's comprehension. Neither does it mean a lack of respect for very intimate issues. On the contrary, it rather means that the children have to know that they always can discuss with their parents everything that bothers them or keeps them busy in their mind. The more openly the parents speak with their children, the less the molester has a chance to speculate on the curiousness of the children and their eagerness to get involved in "secret" matters.

The parents should not scare the children with all kinds of vague warnings against molesters or bad people. That can make him or her afraid and uneasy with every outsider. Parents should be as specific as possible. Very young children do not understand the real meaning of these things. Still they have to be warned. The best way is to teach them to say "no" if anyone tries to touch them in such a way that they feel uncomfortable. If that happens, they should tell their parents about it. A general, advice, given by some specialists in the field of child abuse is to tell the children to say "no, to yell and to scream" if anyone tries to touch them in the area covered by their bathing suit. Such incidents should always be reported to both parents.

Another point is that the parents should be aware of the fact that they have to listen to their children. When police officers or counselors are confronted with such cases they often ask, "Why did you never talk about it with your parents?" Too often the answer is, "I tried once, or a few times, but they were too busy and they did not understand what I was talking about or referring to." We should realize that it is not easy for a child to start talking about such things. When parents, through their attitude give a signal to the child: "Don't bother me, I am too busy with other things," the child will be very hesitant to try it again and rather keep the matter as a "secret" for himself, with all its devastating consequences.

We are living in a time in which people talk everywhere about sexuality, most of the time it is a lack of respect for sexuality as a gift of the Lord in human life. We do not correct this situation by avoiding conversations about these matters in our family life. It should not be considered as "dirty matters." On the contrary, it is in the family that the children should learn to have respect for and to talk respectfully about sexual life. If they know that these matters can be discussed openly with their parents, they will be less vulnerable and less prone to become a victim of child molestation.

Nowadays we hear about all kinds of civic actions and action centers, about child abuse clinics and emergency centers to assist, advice, and counsel victims. Sometimes it might be necessary to ask for professional help and counseling in cases of child molestation, to prevent lasting psychological and physical harm for the victims. However, this help should come from the parents in the first place. Professional help should, if possible, be given in close cooperation and at the request of the parents.

There are exceptions. In cases in which the parents themselves are the perpetrators of the molestation, intervention of the civil government, either via the Ministry of Human Resources or via the Ministry of Justice, might be necessary. However, also in this respect it is true that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Let the parents be on the alert.

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