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Protecting Your Kids from Sexual Abuse

  • Paul Coughlin Contributor
  • Published Jul 25, 2008
Protecting Your Kids from Sexual Abuse

When it comes to sexual abuse, keep the following truth in mind:  Male family members can deliver your child and you from all kinds of harm, and they can deliver all kinds of harm as well.

No one who’s familiar with my body of writing can say I’m anti-guy.  I think men get a bad rap in society, and there is a profound prejudice against them in church.  Men are regularly marginalized, lied about, and lampooned with very little outcry.  But the body of evidence in this area is simply overwhelming.  Heterosexual men commit the vast majority of sexual abuse in America, more than 90 percent.

Some say it’s because of how all guys are wired.  I contend that it’s the result of the lack of fathering and, with it, the lack of male integrity.  The prison population bears this out:  Approximately 85 percent of male inmates grew up without fathers.  Boys need men to show them how to be men and to help keep them from going over the cliffs of life.

Gavin De Becker says,

[My greatest contribution] to solving the mystery of aberrant behavior is my refusal to call it a mystery.  Rather, it is a puzzle; I have seen the pieces so often that I may recognize them sooner than some people, but my main job is just to get them on the table…Above all, I hope to leave you knowing that you never have to wait for all the pieces to be in place before you act.

This is particularly troublesome for parents and kids who think that first and foremost they must be nice (don’t make waves) instead of good (make the right kind of waves), that making a decision before you have all the information might mean hurting someone’s feelings, and that’s what we’re supposed to avoid.

I know people who, without knowing all the “pieces” regarding Y2K, made substantial changes to their financial assets.  In hindsight, they overreacted.  But they did what they thought was best at the time with something very valuable to them, and they owe no apology for making an important choice without knowing every fact.

For some reason that escapes my understanding many parents think it’s wrong for our children to behave this way or for us to behave this way on behalf of our children.  What’s more valuable to us than our kids?!  The fact is, if we protected our children the way we protect our assets, most would be better off most of the time.  Do we really love money more than our children?  No one wants to reach that conclusion, yet why are we willing to ruffle feathers over money and not over our precious boys and girls?

One in three girls and one in six boys will have sexual contact with an adult—usually a family member.  About 20 percent of the time, the abuser is an adolescent.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the average molester of girls will have about fifty victims before being caught and convicted.  The average molester of boys will have 150 victims before being caught and convicted.  Most will have “plenty after being caught as well, some even victimizing as many as 30 children during their ‘careers.’”

More than 90 percent of the offenders are heterosexual males who gained access to and control of the child.  They count on secrecy and nice manners—that is, that your child will do as she is told and not fight back. Sexual predators do more than assault children physically.  They hack into their minds and tell them lies are true (“If your mother knew, she’d hate you”).  They deliberately try to erode a child’s understanding of healthy boundaries and safety (“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you”).

Many parents (myself included) have never experienced sexual abuse.  That someone would behave so cruelly and diabolically is mind-boggling.  But then I analyzed the malicious behavior I have experienced or witnessed in life, and you know what’s remarkable?  In every premeditated, malicious act, once the victim talked, the predator attacked the victim’s comprehension of fairness, justice, and decency.  Predators, sexual or otherwise do not, without force, admit to their cruelty and deception—they escalate their attack in order to maintain control.

The greatest line of defense against sexual abusers continuing their behavior is for children to know they can bring their problems and concerns to parents and other adults who care for them, and that they are not met with criticism or additional punishment.  A child must know that his parents won’t be devastated by anything he tells them.  The knowledge that parents are strong enough to deal with whatever happens is a gift millions of today’s adults didn’t grow up with—such that many still haven’t told their parents about abuse they suffered.

Note the words “strong enough.”  In order to find the border-crossing between protection and overprotection, we parents need all the strength we can find within ourselves, imparted from others, or given to us from God.  When we take action from a position of strength, our perspective is sound, and we are far less likely to underreact or overreact to provocation.

Also, consider signing up for the National Alert Registry to find out where registered sex offenders live in your area.  Though this Web site is not foolproof (some sex offenders get away with not registering themselves), it can provide you with important information.  Through we discovered that one nearby neighborhood has a number of registered sex offenders.  Our children don’t play there.

Telling a little girl that no one should touch her in the areas a bikini covers is better than nothing but far from sufficient.  Some sexual predators don’t even want to touch kids—they want kids to touch them.

When we tell kids to beware of “sick people in the world,” some think predators are those who cough all the time and have runny noses.  When we tell them “bad people” hurt kids, they have no reason to be cautious with family members.  What kid thinks a family member is “bad?”

Euphemisms make life more dangerous for kids.  They kick sand over the line we’re trying to find.  Be straightforward.  Tell your children that others should not:

            ~Put their hands down your pants or up your skirt

            ~Touch your private parts, even through clothes or pajamas

            ~Ask you to touch their private parts or ask you to remove their clothes

            ~Take off your clothes

            ~Take pictures of you with your clothes off

            ~Take off their clothes in front of you

            ~Show you pictures/movies of people doing sexual acts

            ~Talk about sexual behavior with you

Child predators bank upon our nice, non-assertive responses so common among “good” Christians.  And since many are people we know, including family members, we give them all the education they need about us.  They test our boundaries to see whether or not we possess a protective power.  Do you?

Being a Christian doesn’t mean hovering above the ugliness of life.  It means we are given the weapons necessary to face wickedness with the hope of creating something good in its place.  Notice I didn’t use the euphemism tools, a common word for this work.  Law enforcement doesn’t use tools to protect the peace.  When weapons are required, parents shouldn’t use tools either.

Violence is a fact of life.  You aren’t required to use violence in response to it.  But if you want to be a truly good parent, you must use force and power when they’re needed.  Being forbearing in the face of perversion victimizes you and those in your care.

Knowing that most sexual predators are male, I foster in my head a healthy skepticism about every male who comes into our home.  I even monitor family members.  I look for lives that are out-of-balance, remarks that are out of place and inappropriate.  Stares that linger too long, eyes that appear calculating when everyone else’s aren’t.  I look for two-faced living, someone who is nice to me but rude to someone else.  And I rarely trust someone without a sense of humor.

I subscribe to the belief that lions keep leopards tame.  For good or for bad, I’m the guy with the power in my home.  I’m the heavy sometimes.  When used well, that’s more powerful than actual weapons anyway.  And actual weapons won’t stop the kind of abuse we’re combating.  But keen perception and perseverance will.

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. Visit Paul's websites at: , and

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