April is Child Abuse Prevention Month:  Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in prevention!

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month: Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in prevention!

Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in preventing child sexual abuse

It’s a tough world, and we want to protect our children from the people and concepts we think will hurt them, right?

In a sense that we could generously call misguided, the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, the first of which was recently signed into law in Florida, would seem to have that aim. But its impact could easily be the opposite, and its true aim really seems to be to help politicians grandstand on the shoulders of our children.

Here’s why: The Florida law prevents public institutions like schools from presenting any instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, possibly through high school. The folly in this will be clear to anyone who remembers being even slightly curious during his or her youth. “Just Say No” did not solve the nation’s drug problem. Prohibition didn’t end the misuse of alcohol.

Just because a school isn’t supposed to teach something doesn’t mean that a child isn’t going to want to know about it, especially if the child has questions about their own identity or sexuality. Making this information forbidden will simply drive children to what they might consider the next best source of information.

Maybe that’s the Internet, which can be its own cesspool. Or it could be that sympathetic-appearing coach who has something ugly on their mind.

High profile tragedies have shown us how vulnerable children are to this most insidious violation. We now know that the majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone a child knows, and that a significant proportion of sexual abuse is perpetrated by other youth. It is also now clear that access to accurate information from trusted adults is key for a child to protect themself, and learning tolerance, respect, and self-control helps ensure our children don’t hurt others.

Recognizing the import role of schools as the one resource all children can access, standards for sexual health education were prepared by the national professional societies for health educators and offered to districts as a basis for curricula. Similarly, professionals and the government responded to the need for resources to help stop bullying in schools also developing comprehensive resources. In Florida, a lot of those resources could  be locked away.

Without educated, trusted adults as a source of  information, children will satisfy their natural, and sometimes overwhelming need for information by going to the internet, which brings risks.  A national study found that almost all boys and two-thirds of girls over age 13 have been exposed to online porn. More kids have access to on-line pornography than have access  to a trained and trusted adult.

Worse yet, when trusted adults are unavailable, untrustworthy adults (and older kids) are ready to satisfy a child’s curiosity while satisfying their own nefarious needs. Convicted pedophiles I interviewed while writing The Sex-Wise Parent were clear that satisfying kids’ curiosity was a reliable first step to molestation.

Kids are at risk of being denied access to critical resources that can promote sexual health and safety, prevent sexual abuse and bullying. The so called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, as passed in Florida and being contemplated in more than a dozen other states terrify teachers , deprive children of an accessible  trusted  adult, and ignore years of evidence showing that accurate information delivered by trusted adults is a vitally important protective factor for our children.

Accurate information and teaching of tolerance are vital to the prevention of sexual abuse. While I and others in my profession are committed to supporting parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their children, we know that that’s not enough. Parents must do their part – by being  a prepared and trusted adults who can discuss sexual health and safety, (find help here  or here)  and ensure their children attend a school staffed by trained and trusted adults wo can use the tools at their disposal to create a safe and tolerant climate for all children to learn and grow.

Observe Child Abuse Prevention Month in your home and community by promoting kids’ access to accurate information provided by trained and trusted adults. It’s a tough world, but codifying ignorance and intolerance through “Don’t Say Gay” laws makes it tougher for our children, not safer.

Conspiracies of silence endanger sexual health and safety

The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.

The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society — need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.

Let’s start with a few basic ideas:

  • Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
  • Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of  your faith,  and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse = can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
  • Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone –children deserve better, and parents can do better.

Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Sex-Wise Parent books and website are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re’ really uncomfortable, practice roleplaying with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.

Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate  of the institutions that serve their children.

Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your home.


Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Executive Director of  The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group


A lesson for parents from a pedophile

A lesson for parents from a pedophile

A convicted child molester in Florida recently contacted a tv station to tell how he had succeeded in abusing two young girls in the same family over a two-year period, and several others in the same community.

It’s hard to say why he came forward now (you can read about it here), and it’s hard to know how much of his story is true, but I worked with pedophiles as a counselor early in my career and interviewed others researching my book  for my book for parents, and his remarks certainly ring true to me.

He offers one lesson you can take to the bank: Earning the children’s trust was easy because “If they believe that you will listen to them they start asking you questions about the body and sex that they are afraid to talk to their parents and others about. That’s really how it got started.”

Most everybody is very careful about discussing body issues with their children, and why? Most parents would probably say they want to protect their kids from information that’s inappropriate or that they’re  too young to handle. But these attempts to be careful are actually having the opposite effect.

I would argue that parents are really protecting themselves — needlessly — from starting a conversation that makes them uncomfortable to think about. But what we can see from this molester in Florida is that by protecting yourself you’re leaving a big open window through which a pedophile can grab your child. Or, as in this case, your children.

I don’t suggest you run around the house naked or make sex a part of every conversation. And you can’t do the job in one talk or in one day anymore than you can teach a child about love, respect and kindness in a week.

But if you don’t start the conversation, someone else might, and then your family could be in trouble.

The Sex-Wise Parent  walks parents through the steps of raising sexually safe and healthy children. Sure, it takes a little doing. But they’re your kids, and they deserve it.

And if you don’t teach them what every kid wants and needs to know about their bodies, you never can tell who will.

A reply to a judge who thinks boys vctimized by women are “lucky”

A reply to a judge who thinks boys vctimized by women are “lucky”

Myth or fact? Sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than girls.

When we teach adults how to protect children from child sexual abuse, we start with “Learn the facts.” Here’s the first fact: The long term consequences for victims of child sexual abuse are nearly identical regardless of gender, according to a number of recent studies.

Our societal perception frequently does not recognize this when it comes to women abusing boys. In this regard, a very important discussion was presented in a recent Statesman article between the Ada County prosecutor and the judge in a case regarding the abuse of eight teenage boys by a 35-year-old mother in Kuna.

According to the article, the judge disagreed with the prosecutor, who argued that female perpetrators are “treated more leniently than men and that boys (abused by women) are somehow considered ‘lucky.'” The judge concluded that “there is a difference” between boys abused by women and girls abused by men. “I have a problem articulating what the difference is,” he said.

Unfortunately, this perception that there is a difference can lead to irreparable harm for male victims. According to the authors of an authoritative study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems – such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife – in both men and women. A history of suicide attempts was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims as among non-victims.

For boys abused by women there is also much social stigma and confusion associated with telling anyone about the abuse. According to Dr. Janet Rosenzweig in her excellent book, “The Sex-Wise Parent,” “because sexual arousal is autonomic and a relatively easy response to elicit from an adolescent male, a boy may think he chose to engage in a sexual act, simply because of the physical response.” Lost to him is the idea that sex requires mutual consent that is both intellectual and emotional.

In the case reported in the Statesman, the perpetrator was punished and the boys were able to tell their stories. Too often that is not the case. Unrecognized and unexamined the effects of abuse will shape the adults they become in unhealthy ways and make it difficult for them to have healthy relationships and build strong families.

As Rosenzweig reports, “The earliest sexual experiences often form the foundation for lifelong associations with sexual behavior. These boys may now have sexuality strongly associated with emotions other than love, respect and affection which are the foundations of building a strong family.”

And here’s the last fact: We know that one in six boys is sexually abused by the time he is 18. It is up to adults to stop it now. We can start by recognizing that our boys are damaged when more powerful adults abuse their position for their own gratification.

Roger Sherman is the executive director of Idaho Children’s Trust Fund the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/07/12/2651461/boys-sexually-victimized-by-women.html#storylink=cpy
This op-ed appeared in the Idaho Statesman  7/12/2013

What’s the Sexual Climate in Your Child’s School?

How often do you think about the weather? Most of us pay no attention to the actual climate surrounding us unless something extraordinary happens — a horrible storm, or a gloriously sunny day in the middle of winter. Likewise, most people pay no attention to the sexual climate in the places they spend their time each day until something doesn’t feel right. Maybe the jokes are just a little bit too risqué, or displays of affection don’t feel quite right, or questionable photos are hanging over a colleague’s desk; something just feels creepy. Apparently, sexual climate in Mason High School in Ohio was roiling into the perfect storm and at least 5 known victims were caught in the path. High school health and gym teacher Stacey Schuyler was found guilty on 16 counts of sexual battery because she decided to have sex with the football team and no one got in her way.

Kids spend most of their waking hours in school, and schools each have their own climate or “social feel”. Education experts conduct studies looking at the relationship between school climate and bullying, school climate and achievement, school climate and discipline, and other issues. In the same way, parents need to examine the concept of school climate and sexual safety and understand how to recognize signs that the climate may be turning dangerous.

It is inconceivable that no one knew anything at all about this abuse of power and trust. What was it about the climate in this high school that held this secret as closely as any member of a dysfunctional family hiding incest until one brave soul contacted authorities? Were sexual innuendo’s acceptable? Were male and females treated differently? Was the sexual climate so closed that no one ever discussed sex, or so open that having sex with the football team seemed as American as Apple Pie?

Judge Robert Peeler found Stacy Schuler guilty on 16 felony counts of sexual battery and three misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors, and good for him. Women who abuse boys deserve no special treatment because of the gender of their victims. The male autonomic response to arousal renders him even more vulnerable to devastating confusion when a pleasurable physical feeling becomes associated with a negative emotional experience. We’ve long known about male predators, but females can be just as predatory and hide behind the self-delusion that they’re doing a boy a favor. That’s absurd; the devastation cause by the abuse of power by a person with authority over a child has no upside. People tend to be less suspicious of females, particularly teachers who are in a position to nurture young spirits, making their abuse of authority particularly odious.

The sexual climate in school can vary from building to building in a district and from year to year in the same building. Throughout my career I have worked with teachers from schools where everyone “knows” that a teacher is having sex with students and no one speaks up, and with teachers from schools where an off-color joke by a teacher is grounds for disciplinary action.

What do you know about the sexual climate in your child’s school? You never want to find yourself in the sad position of the parents of these boys;  heartbreaking testimony we hear from victims and thier loved ones is a wake up call for parents everywhere.

Here’s a chekcklist   to help assess the sexual climate in your childs school; you can learn  more from my book, The Sex Wise Parent.