Education and open dialogue are important strategies in protecting children from harm. (Contributed)

Teach your kids to protect themselves from abuse

Two weeks ago The Spotlight published a story about a child sex offender who was living within his parole conditions, in close proximity to John Allison Elementary School.

Almost immediately after publication, the man was removed from Princeton by Correction Services Canada. It’s possible the swift response was, in part, out of concern for the offender’s safety. To characterize the citizenry’s general reaction to the original article as ‘concerned’ would be a major understatement.

Related: Child sex offender relocated from Princeton after newspaper reveals his proximity to school

People feel safer now that he’s gone.

However, that doesn’t mean there are no other child sex offenders living in Princeton – caught, convicted, paroled or otherwise.

Related: Elderly Princeton man pleads guilty in child sex abuse case

The majority of these offences are never reported to police.

There is enough data though, to form a fairly accurate offender profile. Here it is – it could be anyone.

In many cases a child knows the abuser. That means a victim’s parents will likely know the person as well.

You cannot protect your children from exploitation by digging out the names of all the known sex offenders in your town or city, and making sure they never cross paths.

That’s like planning to protect your children from drowning by identifying all the known lakes, rivers and unfenced backyard pools in your vicinity, and telling them not to go there.

You save your children by teaching them how to swim, and then you stand back and be vigilant, like a lifeguard.

The strategies for protecting a child are available to everyone.

These suggestions are not cribbed from a parenting advice book, or study paper.

This is just a mom talking:

• Explain to your child that his body belongs to him, and him alone. No one is allowed to touch it, if he doesn’t want it touched.

• Teach about uncomfortableness. Uncomfortable is the human early warning system. Your child needs to know that when she thinks something is wrong, it probably is, and she should trust and act on that instinct.

• When your child has a question about sex, answer it. Be matter-of-fact, and provide as much information as he or she wants to receive.

• Promise your child that she can come to you with any problem or story, and you will always be open and supportive. Repeat often and follow through.

• Recognize the signs of grooming. As kids wander from the family bubble they come into the care of other adults, through school, sports, church and other activities. Watch for what can best be described as “colouring outside the lines.” Is your child receiving gifts from a neighbour, or being offered extra coaching, or opportunities to spend time alone with a mentor? These are situations that could well be harmless, and even enriching. But they bear watching.

All of the above can be accomplished while never starting a conversation with the scary words: “There are bad people out there who want to hurt you.”

It’s a big ocean. Teach them to swim, and be the lifeguard.

There are resources available to help children who are being sexually abused, and survivors of child sex assault. In Princeton, the RCMP operate a Victims Services Program. Contact: 250-293-6095. Princeton Family Services Society provides counselling services to women who have experienced sexual assault, relationship violence or childhood abuse. Contact 250-295-3126 or the crisis line: 250-273-7867. The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. operates www.youthinbc.com, where children can chat with an online crisis responder, daily, from noon to 1 a.m.

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