Dallas Divorce Attorney Offers 5 Tips for Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
Whether you love them or hate them, the subjects of the now defunct TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” keep making headlines. Last May, son Josh Duggar (not to mention his family) faced public outrage when a family secret came to light – Josh allegedly molested four of his sisters and a babysitter while he was a teenager.
According to Dallas Family Law Attorney Aubrey Connatser, parents need take a proactive approach to protect children from sexual predators who are both known and unknown to them.
“Unfortunately, stories of child molestation by a family member or known acquaintance – as is alleged in the Josh Duggar case – are not uncommon. The fact that pornography is one click away on most electronic devices, doesn’t help matters,” Aubrey says.
As the Duggar family fought unsuccessfully to save their TLC franchise, more unsavory allegations about Josh surfaced: Cheating accusations due to the Ashley Madison affairs website hack, treatment for pornography addiction and now a civil lawsuit alleging battery has been filed by an adult film star.
While the Duggar revelation was shocking to the family’s legion of fans, Aubrey finds many parents underestimate the growing risks children face today.
You Child’s Smartphone Offers Easy Access to Pornography
“A colleague of mine who works closely with Child Protective Services recently equated the iPhone to what she calls a ‘Porn Pod.’ Technology (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.) provides children with a direct avenue and easy access to pornography – and we all know how tech-savvy kids are today.
That’s where kids get these ideas and why they are learning more about sex at an earlier age. There also aren’t enough parental controls on these devices to block all access. It’s just a sad reality, but you have to protect your kids from that kind of influence as best you can with the tools available to you (see tips later in this post),” Aubrey says.
Your child might also be exposed to a friend’s smartphone or tablet – and explicit materials – during a play date or at school. Technology is everywhere, and other kids’ parents might not take measures to block pornography from their children’s electronic devices.
For that reason, Aubrey says it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your child and tell them to inform you if a friend shows them something disturbing or unusual, because it’s not OK.
Innocent Sleepovers and Weekend Getaways Put Children at Risk
Mention the words slumber party or weekend trip, and most kids will say – sign me up! The problem is many parents don’t know or bother to ask who will have access to their child while they’re away from home and their watchful eyes.
As Aubrey explains, “Parents need to ask questions. You should never let your child stay at a friend’s house (or lake home, condo in Hawaii or lodge in Aspen, etc.) if the friend has older brothers who will be there. That’s when incidents of molestation frequently happen. Unfortunately, we see these instances often, and the long-term psychological damage can be devastating.”
It may also be difficult to control who has access to your child following a divorce, especially if you share custody.
“We see sexual abuse in biological families, step families and when other people get access to a child due to a parent’s new relationship (i.e., girlfriend’s adolescent son, boyfriend’s cousin, etc.). Ask your child who they have been introduced to as these new relationships or marriages evolve,” Aubrey says.
5 Tips for Protecting Kids from Sexual Abuse
While you can’t guarantee your children will never be in harm’s way, there are several steps parents can take to help protect kids. You should:
1. Educate yourself and your kids about potential risks.
The consequences of abuse can follow a child for life. It’s really about education and prevention. Nobody wants to believe someone they know would harm their child, but as Aubrey has seen in her practice, it happens all the time.
“As a family law attorney, I know that people who abuse children are very often people known to them, so they are people the child trusts. It’s difficult to tell a child to trust their instincts, but you need to start having these conversations early on,” Aubrey says.
2. Be clear and explain what behavior is and isn’t OK.
Parents need to have that tough conversation about inappropriate touching, “good touch-bad touch” and reinforce that the child’s private parts are private.
As Aubrey explains, “It’s a delicate balance, because you don’t want the child to feel paranoid, but you need to teach kids to be proactive and defensive of themselves, while assuring them you will put safety mechanisms in place.”
If you’re unsure how to approach this conversation, reach out to a counselor for advice.
3. Put those aforementioned safety mechanisms in place.
One of the most important precautions a parent can take is to never put a child in a situation where he or she is alone with someone who could abuse them. As a parent, you should:
- Never leave a child alone in a room with an adult male (or suspicious female) unless it is someone you implicitly trust.
- Trust your instincts. If you are suspicious of someone you know or have just met, don’t foster a relationship with that person, as they could have access to your child at some point.
- Clarify acceptable parameters with your spouse, ex-spouse or the other parent regarding: Sleepovers, vacations with friends, using technology of their own (and of friends), who is and isn’t allowed to be alone with or near the child, etc.
- Include the above in your child custody agreement or custody modification if divorced.
4. Set-up parental controls and monitor activity on your children’s electronic devices.
This can be challenging if you are not tech savvy and if you don’t stay on top of new app installations and device updates. To keep your child safe from sexual predators (whether it’s a stranger or someone they know), you need to be proactive about changes in technology and security capabilities of the child’s devices.
Aubrey regularly refers her clients to technology experts for guidance.
As she explains, “If you aren’t a tech expert, the best way to cover all of the bases is to hire a technology and security expert to teach you how to take advantage of parental controls and monitor your child’s digital activity effectively. Follow up with the expert regularly to learn what new dangers are lurking out there and if any new tools are available to keep your child safe.”
5. Require children to take a “No Secrets” pledge.
After an incident of sexual abuse, child molesters often threaten children that they will harm the child or someone they love if they tell anyone about the abuse. Kids need to know that if something inappropriate does occur, it’s important to tell mom, dad or another responsible adult what happened.
“Tell children that there are to be no secrets kept from mom and/or dad, and if someone hurts them or touches them inappropriately, they need to tell you. Unfortunately, that someone may be the other parent, so the child needs to know – regardless of who abuses them – it’s not their fault, they need to tell mom or dad about it, and after doing so, they will be kept safe from harm,” explains Aubrey.