It seems easy to prepare our children and other young people to be aware of strangers and other dangers outside, but teaching them to be aware of dangers from people they love, like their own family and friends, seems much more difficult. The perpetuation of sex offender stereotypes of persistently deviant strangers in vans and parks violently attacking children in the dark keeps us preparing our families and children to fight the rarest part of the danger, while ignoring the more likely danger.
The reality is that most people are not sexually abused by people that they do not know. It is far more likely that someone is abused by their father, brother, uncle, or family friend than a creepy stranger in a park. It is simpler to tell a child, “Don’t trust strangers” than it is to say, “You are supposed to be able to trust the men in your life, but if they behave badly, here’s what you do.” I am not advocating stopping talks about “Stranger Danger” but encouraging further discussion on how to further protect ourselves and the ones we love.
Not all sexual abuse can be prevented. Sexual abuse is frightening, confusing and overwhelming for people that experience it. Care should be taken to ensure that those that have experienced sexual abuse are met with support, care and understanding. Repeated research has shown that criticizing how a person responded or did not respond to sexual abuse is harmful rather than helpful. Survivors of sexual abuse should hear a clear message from professionals and loved ones that they are not responsible for the abuse they received.
Try to have a conversation with your children following the examples below:
- Sometimes people will try to get you to do things that are not right. One way they get you to do that is by trying to convince you that you will get in trouble if you tell. I want you to know that you can tell me anything and we will still love you and help you. Even if you did do something wrong I want you to tell me because I love you and want to help.
- Sometimes people trying to hurt you are scary strangers, other times people that you really like and love will try to do things that make you scared and uncomfortable. No matter who it is or how much you love them, no one has a right to hurt you or get you to do something that you know is wrong. If this happens I want you to talk to me or someone else you trust.
Excerpts from an article by Jared Hill CMHC.