5 ways to protect children and teens from sexual abuse

In the wake of a recent suicide of a local teacher following an investigation of sexual exploitation of a minor (as reported by the BDN), the community of Bangor is reeling. As details unfold, parents and concerned adults have many questions about how to keep the children and teens in their lives safe from harm.

While there is no panacea to protecting children and teens, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

A Microsoft representative shows a smartphone with Windows 10 operating system at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany. March 15, 2015. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

A Microsoft representative shows a smartphone with Windows 10 operating system at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany. March 15, 2015. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen

  • Technology plays a role, but it’s not the reason. Use of technology is ever changing, and we are pretty consistently connected through the devices we carry around in our work bags, purses and backpacks. It is easy to blame increased use of technology for crimes against children and teens, but it’s important to remember that sex crimes are not a new phenomenon. We know that perpetrators seek out those who are vulnerable: children, older adults, and people with disabilities are a few populations more likely to be sexually abused. Perpetrators are often people we know and respect in a community, which feels like an additional layer of betrayal. But while technology may play a role in easier access to children and teens, it is not the reason sex crimes are perpetrated: Perpetrators are the reason sex crimes are perpetrated.
  • Children and teens are going to use technology. Children and teens are going to access new technologies and in many cases access them faster and with more tech knowledge than adults in their lives. It’s important to educate yourself about the technology the children in your life use and talk to them about the role it plays in their lives. The more involved in your child’s tech world you are, the better chance you have of knowing when something may be wrong.
  • Be the type of adult children and teens in your life can talk to. Having honest conversations about what’s going on with your child or teen may be difficult, especially when a teen may seem closed off and not interested in a friendly chat. But continuing to mention that you are available should they need you, asking about their day and who they hung out with, talking with them about their feelings about anything from their difficult math test to anxiety about an upcoming lacrosse game will help demonstrate that you care and you’re there. That connection may be just what they need open up when something is bothering them or if they’re in an unsafe situation.
  • Sex talk isn’t easy, but it’s important. We have to acknowledge that we live in a culture where sex is hard to talk about. But the clearer we are about the importance of boundaries (both a teen or child’s own boundaries and the boundaries of others), communication and consent, the less likely a child or teen is to feel ashamed about needing to talk about an uncomfortable or hurtful situation. Organizations like Maine Family Planning have great age-appropriate resources for parents to talk with their kids about sex and can help you navigate the difficulty of such conversations.
  • Support people who come forward. With more media attention to this issue, more victims may come forward. It’s important to support people who have experienced sexual violence. The more we actively support people who have experienced sexual violence, the safer our communities will be for everyone.

For some, the coverage of what’s happening in our community may be especially difficult. Agencies like Rape Response Services and other sexual assault support centers in Maine are available if you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or assault, if you have questions, or if you just want to talk about how the events of the last week have affected you.

Our community will face difficult conversations in the coming days, weeks, and months, but we have the resources and ability to respond with awareness and compassion.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to a sexual assault support advocate, please call 1-800-871-7741.

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