Three Strategies for Protecting Kids from Sexual Predators

The Penn State Football child abuse scandal in the US is a classic case of someone misusing his position of trust and power to abuse and coerce kids and of adults in responsible positions not taking action to stop him. Parents are left wondering, ““What do I need to look out for? How can I protect my kids? What can I teach them about protecting themselves?”

In Kidpower’s experience working with over 2 million people of all ages and abilities since 1989, here are three strategies that might been able to prevent the terrible wrong done to these children and helped to bring this man’s abusive behavior to light much sooner

1. Make sure you know who is in charge of your kids.
Remember that anyone can be an abuser. As parents and other caring adults, we need to face the reality is that there are sexual predators who will create opportunities to be alone with kids by doing wonderful things with and for them. And, most of these offenders will seem like really nice people with excellent reputations. When people ask me to tell them what a child molester might look like, I say, “Look in the mirror – a molester looks just like anyone else!”

Most adults who choose to do great things with kids are good people who truly want to help. A coach, a youth group leader, a Big Brother/Big Sister, a religious leader, and a child therapist can all have relationships with children and teens in the context of their paid or volunteer role, and these relationships can be tremendously important to a young person. However, the vulnerability of young people to anyone put into these positions of trust is why more attention needs to be paid to screening these individuals and to following up thoroughly on any hint of a problem.

Don’t just trust someone because they are part of a reputable institution, church, or school. Check the person out for yourself, especially if he or she is going to be alone with your child. Check references. Don’t assume that someone will tell you if something bad happens. Trust your intuition if something feels uncomfortable to you. Watch out for someone who seems to single out certain kids for special attention and private relationships, who seeks social and recreational opportunities to be alone with kids without other adults there, or who is not open to parents and other responsible adults being fully informed about and comfortable with what is going on. When in doubt, check it out!

2. Teach kids not to keep secrets about problems, touch, presents, or favors.
Most abusers cultivate strong relationships with children before doing anything sexual. Often, they test a child’s boundaries by being inappropriate in other ways. In the chilling book, Conversations with a Pedophile, the abuser, who was interviewed by the author while in prison, describes how he would use a swear word to a boy in a church youth group and then say something like, “Oops! I just said a bad word. Please don’t tell your parents, because then we couldn’t have fun together any more.” He would then target boys who he was confident wouldn’t tell.

This pedophile’s strong advice to parents about protecting their kids from people like him was,“Listen to your kids!” Get kids into the habit of talking to you by asking supportive questions, being a good listener, and not lecturing. Pay attention to what they say. Let kids know that you care about what they are doing and want to know what is happening with them no matter how busy you are. Be very clear that problems, touch, presents, favors, privileges, and games should not be a secret. Teach young people how to set boundaries with people they know and care about.

What safe looks like...

3. Put Safety First!
Kidpower’s core principle is: The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. Any of the many adults who witnessed or learned of Sandusky’s behavior might have prevented years of abuse and other victims if they had reported what happened to the police. The damage to Penn State’s reputation would have been far less than the damage that is being caused now.

If you suspect that there is a safety problem, especially involving children, take personal responsibility for doing something to address it. This means speaking up persistently and widely until effective action is taken to fix that problem. Don’t just tell someone, even if that person is in a position of authority, and assume that your responsibility is at an end. Follow up to see what is happening. Realize that children and young people who are being abused need help and protection – and that anyone who is abusing them needs to be stopped.

The Kidpower article Worthy of Trust: What Organizations Need to Do to Protect Children From Harm describes what people need to do to take charge of the safety of young people in their care.

To learn more about how to protect kids from sexual abuse, see our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.

About the Author

Irene van der Zande is the Founder and Executive Director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a global nonprofit leader dedicated to child protection advocacy and teaching people of all ages and abilities life skills for safety and success. Families, schools, and organizations worldwide use Kidpower's effective and empowering curriculum to prepare children and teens, along with their adults, with skills and strategies to prevent and solve problems with people and to stay safe from most bullying, abuse, kidnapping and other violence. Irene is the author of many publications including The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People; cartoon-illustrated Safety Comics and Teaching Books; the Relationship Safety Handbook for Teens and Adults; and Solve Bullying With Kidpower. Since 1989, Kidpower has served nearly 5 million people through its workshops, partnerships, and educational resources.


4 Responses to “Three Strategies for Protecting Kids from Sexual Predators”

  1. Nannie says:

    Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  2. angela.smith1 says:

    Recently I was informed by the local police that a sex offender had moved into our neighborhood about three blocks away from where we live. My 9-year-old daughter walks home a short distance with her friends from school every day, and also rides her bike in the area. I was very concerned. I don’t want anything to happen to my daughter. I found an application to be installed on a phone that provides safety for you and for your children. It’s a Panic Button installed on a phone that when your children need your help, they can just simply press it and it will immediately alert your childrens’ loved ones including you. If needed, the call can be escalated to the nearest 911 in your area too. Plus, you and your children can view threat level and registered sex offenders in your area. You can check out more interesting features on their website

    • Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

      Thanks Angela – we definitely appreciate your stopping by to share this! It’s sad that we live in a world where we need to give our kids panic buttons – but good to know things like that are there when we need them. Thanks again!

  3. rpsabq says:

    Doesn’t most abuse happen with a family member or someone the child knows?? Not once mention of that in this article. #1- be aware of who your child is spending time with in the family. Right?

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