Would your kids know what to do if someone molested them?

Would your kids know what to do if someone molested them? May 22, 2015



I don’t care about the Duggars any more than I care about any family in the news. Many Catholics see them as role models, but  they seem to have attitudes about children and women which are antithetical to Catholic ideas. Did their son molest girls because of his upbringing? Maybe, maybe not.  I’m not familiar enough with their parenting style to know. I do know that it’s possible for parents to do their hardest to raise their kids right, and their kids do shitty things anyway. It’s also true that families who look squeaky clean and happy on the outside are hiding a lot of interior darkness. I haven’t followed the story closely, so I don’t have an opinion about whose fault everything is. 

But the story made my ask myself: would my kids know what to do if someone molested them?

There are always going to be predators in the world. Your child is reasonably likely to come into contact with one eventually, and this is true whether you home school or use Catholic or public or private schools, and it’s true if you keep your kids tucked under your wings or let them roam. It’s true if most of your friends are conservative Catholic or none of your friends are even religious. It’s a good world, overall, but there are bad people in it. You can’t change that.

What you can do is give your kids a clue about what is reasonable behavior and what isn’t, and what to do if someone is behaving badly.

This pdf guide for parents gives a reasonable overview of how to discuss keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. It’s secular, and pretty basic, so you can use it as a starting point for conversations.  No one wants to talk about these things, but you must. You must. Don’t assume that they’ll be fine, and don’t assume they’ll know what to do if something goes wrong.

Don’t forget to ask your kids if they have any questions after you talk! Young kids think very concretely, about real-life circumstances, and they always remember information better if they asked about it themselves.

And also: talk to your kids all the time, about everything. If you’re not in the habit of chatting about this and that, why would they come to you when there’s something scary and weird to talk about? I know some kids just don’t like to talk — or, in some cases, they may just not enjoy talking to you. When that’s the case, it’s a good idea to tell them, repeatedly, that they can talk to you, or that they can talk to your spouse, or that they can talk to [trusted adult X]. Some kids need you to open a door a thousand times before they even think of putting a foot through.



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  • suburbancorrespondnt

    Thanks, Simcha – this was a very thoughtful piece, and really the most useful takeaway we can have from the unfortunate situation the Duggars are experiencing.

    • That and take it seriously if your child does say something! It’s a horrible incident, but I’m so relieved that action was taken by the parents rather than them ignoring it.

  • Thanks for writing this! I haven’t paid too much attention to the nitty-gritty details, so I don’t know whether the parents found out because a victim said something or because they caught Josh, but it’s really important that kids understand to tell their parents and that parents are proactive about it. I’d encourage you to read Mr. and Mrs. Duggar, Josh, and Anna’s (his wife) statements about the incident as well as what Mr. and Mrs. Duggar did (like I said, I haven’t read much else and I probably won’t) – not to brush off the incident, but because the statements are a really beautiful example of forgiveness, and also of parents taking such an incident seriously.

  • G.R.

    The openness we tried to instill in our kids was tested 6 years ago. An incident occured between our child and a teenage neighbor they looked up to. Our child told us immediately afterwards. For that, I’m grateful.

  • Blobee

    My mom, when raising us, would all of a sudden, like she was sharing something that just happened (but that we couldn’t verify to tell if she was making it up) would say something like, “A woman in the store today was telling me how a teenage boy approached her 9 year old daughter (when we were about that age), and tried to touch her in private areas! Well, her daughter slapped his hand away and said, NO!, really loud, and then she ran home and told her mother what happened. This woman was so happy nothing bad happened to her daughter.” or “Mrs. So&So (who we didn’t know!) told me a man tried to get her kids to get into his car as they were walking home from school yesterday. They almost did it because at first they thought it was their grandpa! But then, when one of them realized it wasn’t their grandpa, well, they all just ran home.”
    This method was very effective, because it was more concrete and real to us, and she basically told us what we should do in the context of the story. It really helped.

    • MightyMighty1

      My mom would come home from her shift at the ER and tell us stories about girls getting date raped while drunk, and then being left to die on their front porches, found by their 9-year-old brothers when they had dropped to four breaths per minute. “She lived, but….well, imagine knowing your friends did that to you.” Aaaaaaaaaaand I never drank in high school or got too drunk with friends in college.

      It only occurred to me about 10 years later that she had been skillfully manipulating us.

      • Blobee

        Yep. But I thank God for my mom who told me these horror stories when I was too young to see the evil in others. Sure save me a lot of pain. Thanks Mom.

  • Sara McD

    Well, after reading briefly about the Duggars, I have different questions – what do you do if you suspect one of your own children is an offender? (I am NOT having this problem, just wondering.) And, especially if the offender is a child or young adolescent, is it possible that s/he will not be a lifelong sexual predator? Is it possible for a family to really heal from that?

    • Charlotte

      I had the same question. In a lot of places, juvenile records are expunged if there aren’t any other offences.

    • Lisa Guinther

      I would start by calling a national sexual abuse hotline and asking for advice on who to talk to. And I would advice a hotline first rather than someone who is a “designated reporter.” A professional can guide you through the process of how to get the right sort of help whatever the situation.

      No matter what went on with the Duggars, to be sexually molested as a child has awful consequences on that person’s self esteem and requires professional help.

      The National Domestic Violence Hotline is: 1-800-799-7233 (TTY 1-800-787-3224)

    • Anna

      I’d agree with Lisa who said to call a hotline first. If the perpetrator is a child, it’s not likely that the child came up with that on his/her own; that child is probably also a victim either of direct abuse or of pornography exposure. The same usually applies to teens (i.e. I would doubt Josh Duggar, at age 14, was attracted to young girls on his own w/o porn or something influencing him). So you’d want to make sure your child was getting *help*, not being treated as a set-in-stone adult criminal, nor being brushed off as in some sort of “developmental stage” or something.

      A relative was victimized by a teen babysitter and the teen’s parents were in deep denial. They did everything they could to keep him out of any treatment, even as he continued to re-offend while in juvy (another reason I would recommend trying to find other avenues if it’s your own child as the offender). They did not keep him away from the victim, nor did they acknowledge there was a problem at all. My guess is that they were either trying to avoid seeing how their own porn use had harmed their child or trying to protect whomever had victimized their own son – and you can’t keep keeping those family secrets if you open your eyes to where they’ve led.

      A family could heal – anything is possible with grace – but it would take years of work and patience and care, not a quick “don’t do that” “okay” “well, forgive and forget, let’s all move on.” I did once hear a family therapist speak about his work and he had counseled a family where the dad had abused his daughters and the wife had refused to believe it. The man did come to see the damage he had caused, as did the woman, and the family was healed (the daughters were adults, I believe, when they sought help), but not without much pain first. And I know of another family, friends of my brother, where the dad is currently in jail for abusing his kids. He does acknowledge the depth of his offense, knows he will never see his children again as long as they are children (perhaps longer if they so choose), and his wife knows this too – but still visits him in prison, knowing that he’s still human, not a monster, and that there is hope for redemption.

    • Emily Kimmel

      From what I understand, the Boystown hotline might be a good resource.

    • Sheila C.

      I’ve read you should call CPS. Under 12, they will do mandated therapy but not include the justice system at all … over 12, usually the justice system will be involved but probably not jail time for a young offender. They try very hard not to overreact or send a child offender somewhere where he’ll be worse off … I think we have to not fear the law here, because trying to keep it hushed up would be worse.

      I also heard it is possible for a child who abused his siblings to heal and no longer be a predator … but they do need therapy, they won’t just grow out of it.

      • Sara McD

        Laws vary by state. And I would trust CPS as much as I’d trust any politician.

    • pygmallian

      Exactly! I asked myself the same questions. As a mother I would try to protect them all including my son based on his age. It would be a tough tough call. I cannot judge this because I don;t know what I would do in similar circumstances. Obviously based on the rules people mention no face to face hugging, putting in a buddy system , the parents seemed to take it seriously. BUT they should never ever have called out others on their perceptions of their sexuality. I have big problem with that knowing it happens it good homes too. It is my belief that God sees everything , he loves us all, including them, and sometimes he allows us to experience utter humiliation to set ourselves straight. Just my opinion.

  • gapaul

    I hated the whole “stranger danger” campaign when my children were young –preschool and early elementary. I thought it unnecessarily scared kids and was misguided anyway. Up until a certain age, our kids are the responsibility of parents and teachers — they simply can’t be counted on to exercise good judgment, they’re too young. And they’re meeting “strangers” all the time — people at church, at school, in the grocery store line. And as we know, abuse isn’t always from a “stranger.”
    But I did appreciate the way our pediatrician matter-of-factly talked to our kids. She told them, before she pulled down their pants to examine them, exactly what she was going to do, and she asked my permission, and their permission. And she said, “now remember, nobody can touch you there without your mommy and your permission.” (Or something like that, its been awhile!) She used exactly the same words each time, and I know it stuck. Your pediatrician can be a great resource.

  • Julie

    I have no idea if this is effective because thankfully they haven’t been tested, but I’ve told my girls stories of molesters and how they operate and then I make fun of the molesters. I think I’ve been trying to make sure that my kids know that the predators are the ones who are sick, not the victims. I also want to make sure they know it’s okay to make a lot of noise if one comes up to you in a swimming pool and tries to touch you. Happened to a female relative on a school trip and she swam away to a boy in her group who immediately pointed at the man and started yelling, “KID TOUCHER!!!! KID TOUCHER!!!” I think he was either arrested or thrown out by park security. I tell my kids that story every so often and how that boy was a hero for the day for that. Hopefully they know that any assertiveness on their part will be seen positively, not negatively.

  • Sheila C.

    We have this conversation often — just “your private parts are for you to go potty with, no one else is allowed to touch them and you can’t touch anybody else’s.” It comes often because the toddler is always grabbing the dog by his … er … convenient handle. (This is how we know we have a gentle dog!)

    As they get older, I mean to add things like “what happened at the party/sleepover/with your babysitter? Anything extra fun? Anything that made you uncomfortable?” And “Do you feel safe with that person?”

    There was one really sketchy person I knew growing up, and it never occurred to me to say anything to my parents, but if they had ever asked if I felt safe with him, I would have said, no way. Instead this person would often grab and touch me in my parents’ presence, and since they never said anything about it, I assumed it was okay and they approved of it. So that anything this person did was okay, because my parents surely knew about it.

    Nothing actually happened … but boy do I wonder what was going on, because he was sketchy as heck.

  • Constant conversation. You are right that that is the key. From a small age we encourage them to tell us everything, and with nine children that can take a while. But since they were used to talking, when dangerous situations came up, they listened.

    • ThereseZ

      only so useful. I had the benefit of constant conversation and examples from my policeman father. But my friend’s older brother told us what we could do to touch each other, and at the nitwitty vague age of ten or eleven, we actually did some of it, because he urged us and told us it was fun. I am inclined to think kids are capable of this kind of stuff because they are either true pedophiles OR they are just curious and have little boundary control during adolescence.

  • Noah_Vaile

    Thank you.
    Excellent and timely.

  • I hope this isn’t too tangential a question. HOW does a thirteen-year-old boy get it into his head to start this crap? It has to be something external, right? He was molested himself? Exposure to porn? Something? Please tell me this doesn’t just spring out of nothing at all…

    • Sheila C.

      Exposure to porn, usually, yeah. Hard to say in every case, but no, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

      That said, age-appropriate sex ed is said to be preventative.

      • KarenJo12

        Porn isn’t a factor with the Duggars. (FWIW, I don’t actually consider this a point in their favor, because of the reasoning they use to prohibit it.)

        • Tom

          You don’t think it’s possible for him to have gotten ahold of porn?

      • wineinthewater

        “Age-appropriate” is the critical question. What some people consider age-appropriate is actually effectively porn. It is frightening how much some sex ed looks like grooming.

    • Blobee


      • pygmallian

        No way is this just puberty! most boys do not sneak up on sleeping girls and fondle them.

        • Blobee

          I don’t know, but are you a guy? Maybe a guy could tell us if such temptations happen to 13 year old boys. I think some boys, mind you SOME boys, have these sexual thoughts and act on them, others have them but don’t.
          Okay, you don’t explain it by puberty – but something makes them want to do sexual things.

          • pygmallian

            I am a other but I have numerous sons and I grew up with brothers. The behavior was not consensual and predatory in nature that is why I do not believe this is teenage behavior. Its more then that, I just feel horrible for all involved.

        • momofthree3

          yes they do. My older cousin did this to me, my sister and a neighborhood girl for years. We would wake up with our bedclothes undone and his hands in our underwear. He went to all boys schools and had no access to girls to socialize with at all. We tried to barricade the door, we tried to yell at him, and he still persisted. We even got up the courage to tell our aunt, but she denied it and got this crazed look in her eyes and told us we were “having the same dream” and to “stop causing trouble”.
          He is not a bad person. Although we never talked about it, I think he was very remorseful when he grew up. It really traumatized us for a while though.

      • wineinthewater

        Puberty will explain the sexual drive, but puberty does not explain predatory behavior. That requires the presence or absence of something else. Typically, it is learned behavior, something like molestation or exposure to sexually explicit imagery happened to the child himself to teach him to express his sexual urges that way.

        Sometimes, it is the absence of something rather than the presence. A child that has not been given boundaries in regard to those behaviors or a strong sense of respect for others and their sexual integrity may stumble upon that kind of expression. But a child like that will be dissuaded more easily unless the behavior has already become engrained.

        But either way, the behavior is not normal. It is not something that you are going to see out of a child without any reason at all. Puberty does not change a good boy into a monster. He needs help for that.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      This occurred to me too. Most 13/14 year old boys know that touching other people’s genitalia is wrong. Most would likely be more interested in making out with an unrelated girl of their own age, not touching their sisters. But . . . the policeman they finally reported the molestation to was eventually arrested and convicted for child pornography, and he was a family friend of theirs. The possibility that someone they trusted victimized Josh first is certainly there.

  • Sheila C.

    I found this today, which I think is helpful: http://sasian.org/sibling-sexual-abuse-a-parents-guide/

    It includes good advice like “The best way to prevent sibling sexual abuse is to pay attention to your children.
    Set aside a time each day when your children have a chance to tell
    you about what they’ve done or felt that day. This might be after school
    or before bed-time.”

    In big families it can be easy to skip this sort of thing … but I guess it’s really important not to.

  • That is a good question and one I have thought about. My son is five and I don’t think he would. And I can’t think of a good way to teach him until he gets a bit older. Other than at school I never leave him with anyone other than a trusted family member. And even with school I ask a lot of questions as to what goes on, so that anything suspicious would bubble up in conversation. But this summer he will be spending his days at a summer camp and I’m somewhat concerned.

  • As far as protecting your children go, I found VIRTUS training to be very helpful. It talked a lot about predator’s “grooming techniques”. When children are abused they’ve often been groomed for some time first….makes them less likely to tattle and it makes the predator more confident that they will succeed. I’ve talked to my kids about it and we instituted some family rules that we have had to enforce. For example, we don’t accept gifts from teachers or other adults that are given in private. Also, by focusing on grooming techniques, my kids don’t feel like they are accusing anyone of wrong doing, they are just following the families rules. I don’t know how well this approach if the abuser is a member of your family.

    • Blobee

      I know parents have to do something and it is good to protect kids this way, BUT…. As a next door neighbor to some really nice kids, I often spoke to them and was friendly to them when they were playing in front of the house (I’m a practicing Catholic single woman). One day, I was so happy to hear the older girl had her First Communion. I had a holy medal necklace and a kind of rosary bracelet I had gotten in the mail for donations I made to a religious order, and thought it would be so nice for her, so I wrapped it and gave it to her. The suspicious looks I got from her mom made me very sad. I understood, but it made me sad trust is so lost these days. I looked at the mom and mentioned the articles weren’t blessed, so she might want to take them to church and so on. She smiled, but I felt so sad they thought my actions were “grooming.”

      I guess it’s just an example of how the sins of others affect everyone.

      • Anna

        The thing is, in the situation you describe, it was exactly *not* grooming. It wasn’t secret, it wasn’t all the time “just because you’re so sweet and different from other kids out there,” it wasn’t out of proportion to the event or your neighborly relationship. So if the mom really was suspicious she’s *not* helping her kids because neither she nor they will be able to distinguish between ordinary niceness and grooming.

        • Blobee

          Thanks for saying this. Honestly, it made me kind of back off from talking with them as much when I saw them outside. I certainly never gave them any gifts again. I always wanted to give them some extra Halloween or Easter candy (I made baskets for my niece and nephew, and always had a little loose candy extra) if I saw them outside on or near that holiday, or even give them some stickers or other kids things I had but didn’t have anyone to give it to. But I wouldn’t because I felt that I could easily be perceived like I was trying to “groom” them.

          I guess I could have asked their mom or dad if it was okay to occasionally give them stuff like that. But I just let it go.

          One time when I was doing some outdoor painting, the littler one asked if she could come inside to see my cat. I told her, oh no, my cat was sleeping. There was no way I would have ever taken her into my house for any reason. But isn’t that a shame? I remember some very nice older ladies in my neighborhood when I was a girl whose house I’d go into for one reason or another (sometimes they’d ask me to run to the store for them, or they’d want to give me something to give to my mom, or whatever), and never had anything bad happen. I know, I know. Things are not like that at all now. But it seems such a shame for us to have to live in fear.