By John Muturi
One of the most horrendous fears of parenthood is when your child suffers sexual abuse. Sexual abuse occurs when someone persuades or forces a child into sexual acts.
Research shows that majority of perpetrators are people well known to the victim, such as a father, mother, live-in partner of a parent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, relative, family friend, domestic worker or child minder.
Kristina Murrin and Paul Martin, in their book, What Worries Parents, say that most sexual abusers were victims of sexual abuse in childhood and that most are male, although some women and girls are also known to perpetuate the offence.
Parents should never compromise on ensuring the safety of their children from sexual predators. The first step in protecting your child from sexual abuse lies in knowing, understanding and recognising the danger signs of a predator. They work stealthily like hawks high in the skies looking out for prey. The trick is to stop them before they pounce on your child.
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Because love and affection are an essential part of childhood, a child freely seeks physical contact with an adult. This, according to Dr Ruchard C Woolfson in his book, A-Z of Child Development, is innocent child behaviour that sexual abusers cash in on.
Unlike the sex pest who will abuse any child whenever a chance presents itself, predators, who are known to the child, ‘groom’ their victims by first identifying and then gradually engaging him or her in sexual activity. This will involve manipulation and coercion by first motivating the child, probably with gifts and treats.
The child or adolescent who seems unpopular, feels unloved, has low self-esteem, lacks confidence and is often isolated from peers and family is a prime target.
Endearing himself to the child
Child experts explain that the predator will often present himself very positively to the child. He or she, for instance, will flatter the child and cause them to feel special and indebted to him or her, takes time to learn the child’s habits, likes and dislikes and then pretends to share common interests, backgrounds and experiences. And by presenting the child with gifts as tokens of friendship, giving the child privileges or playing games with him or her, the innocent child perceives a common bond with the predator.
When the predator eventually demands for sexual favours, the child feels obliged to pay back.
At the same time, the cunning fox covers his tracks through a make-belief relationship with the child’s parents. Single parent families are especially prime targets. The abuser is always a step ahead of everyone — after increasing his access to the child, he gains his or her trust, that of her parents or care-provider, which means that these people will not suspect his ill intentions.
By pretending to behave in ways beyond suspicion, the family automatically drops their guard. That is when the predator gradually makes inappropriate physical contact, such as hugging or touching non-threatening areas of the child’s body like rubbing her back or holding her hands.
If you find an adult who wants to be on his own with a child or in circumstances where the child is undressing bathing or going to bed, trust your instinctual warning. Also watch out for a person who will, for instance, pretend to accidentally touch or brush up against the child or who is always positioning himself close to the child and touching and fondling inappropriate areas of their body.
He will then coerce the child into a secret pact not to tell and assure him or her that touching between them is good because of their special relationship. Over time, the abuser will begin to display sexual behaviour towards the child and then manipulate her into performing or allowing the desired sex acts. These may range from showing the child sexual images to sexual touching, masturbation, oral sex or full intercourse.
According to Dr Woolfson, most abusers are quite calculating in their actions. They often manipulate their child victims into obedience and silence by issuing threats of further abuse such as, "If you tell, I’ll do it to you again and nobody will be able to make me stop"; by introducing the notion of shame —"Your mother will be so ashamed of you if she finds out what you’ve been doing"; or even loyalty — "You shouldn’t tell on me because we’ve known each other for years".