The Drastic Step We’re Taking to Protect our Children

The Drastic Step We're Taking to Protect Our Children© Greyerbaby/Pixabay

While giving my 3-year-old a bath last night, we went over the usual questions.

Why are those called your private parts?

“Because they’re only for me.”

Should anyone touch you there?

“No, never.”

And if someone does touch you there, what should you do?

“Tell Mommy or Daddy right away, even if they tell me not to.”

Yes, my husband and I are very proactive about preventing our kids from becoming victims of sexual abuse.

Now, most of the things we’re doing to try to prevent the sexual abuse of our kids are things you’re probably doing too.

Like telling them repeatedly and openly that no one is ever supposed to touch their genitals—and if someone does, they should tell us immediately. Even if the person who touched them told them not to.

Like teaching them that they aren’t supposed to touch anyone else’s genitals either, even if someone asks them to.

Like not forcing them to hug or kiss people—even relatives—so that they understand and believe they’re always allowed to say no to physical contact.

But we’re also taking one more step—and it’s an extreme one. 

Our decision to take this drastic approach was based on two factors:

First, there was the devastating death of my sister-in-law when she was only 19 years old—after a long struggle with addiction, which started after she experienced four painful years of sexual trauma, about which her parents were completely unaware. 

Second, there was the laundry list of terrifying statistics that will keep any parent up at night:

  • 1 in 10 children in the U.S. is sexually abused before their 18th birthday—1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys. 
  • Of those children who are sexually abused, a whopping 20 percent of them are abused before the age of 8.
  • What’s more, an estimated 60 percent of them never tell an adult about what happened to them.
  • Almost all victims of child sexual abuse (90 percent) know their abuser.
  • Sex offenders are overwhelmingly males (between 98 and 99 percent).

(Sources: Darkness to Light & The University of Michigan)

The Drastic Step We're Taking to Protect Our Children© Valua Vitaly/Dollar Photo Club

So here’s what we’re doing to (hopefully) keep our children from becoming one of those statistics. 

We do not allow any teenage or adult male to be alone with our children. 

Nope, not one.

That means no male babysitters unless at least one other adult is also present.

That means no special trips or outings with just a man.

That means no one-on-one time with male family members or friends.

The only two exceptions to this rule are Daddy and Pops. That’s it.

Now, I bet I know what you’re thinking. 

Women can sexually abuse children, too, you know. 

Yes, I know. But as the statistic above shows, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male. So if we really want to protect our children, we need to be much more wary of men than women. 

Or maybe you’re thinking…

But don’t you trust your own friends and family members?

I love them dearly, of course! But we have still decided that this is a necessary precaution.

You see, as a society, we talk about stranger danger all the time.

But we are naive and misguided if we believe that strangers at the playground luring kids with candy are the biggest threat to our children. 

The stats clearly demonstrate that people we know—people we openly invite into our homes, people we willingly give one-on-one access to our kids—are much more likely to be the ones to hurt them.

But don’t you think you can tell who’s trustworthy and who’s not?

No, actually, I don’t. And I don’t think you can either.

Again, we’re misguided if we believe we can tell a perpetrator from a non-perpetrator just by looking at a person—or even by knowing them personally. 

There is no typical profile of a sex offender. They don’t all look creepy, and they won’t all set off your Spidey senses.

That means that for this strategy to work, we have to apply it across the board. We can’t let any teenage or adult male be alone with our children. 

The minute we begin saying, “Well, you seem OK so you can watch my kids alone,” or “Well, since you’re such a close friend or family member, we’ll make an exception for you,” the strategy stops working.

The Drastic Step We're Taking to Protect Our Children© Photo Club

But come on, you can’t control who your kids are with every second of their lives. You can’t GUARANTEE they’re not going to be abused.

That is once again true.

But we have decided that just because we can’t control every second doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put some perimeters in place where we can—perimeters that may very well increase the likelihood of our children remaining safe. 

But let me tell you a secret about the real reason this drastic measure works.

It’s actually not about the alone time with males. Sure, that decreases the chances that potential perpetrators will have access to my children.

But what it’s really about is the fact that having this family policy in place forces us to  talk openly—sometimes even in casual conversation—about preventing our kids from being sexually abused.

We’re talking about it constantly.

We’re talking about it with everyone. 

“Hey, sorry, you can’t babysit our daughter alone because we have this family policy…”

Or “Let’s find someone else to go along when you take our son to the park because we have this family policy…”

The conversations are awkward sometimes, but in the end, they are the real deterrent. 

By talking about our hyper-awareness of the possibility of our children being sexually abused, we’re basically sending a crystal clear warning to anyone who would even consider harming our children. 

Don’t even think about it because you’ll never get away with it. 

You can protect your children too by sending this warning right now.

Start talking openly about the things you’re doing to keep your kids safe.

Start letting others know that you’re educating your children about who can and cannot touch their bodies. 

Share posts like this one and say, “Hey friends, family, and acquaintances, we’re aware of these issues just like these parents are.” 

It’s not a guarantee that your child won’t become a victim. But it is a guarantee that you’ll have done what you could to try to prevent it. 

What steps are you taking to help protect your children from sexual abuse?

35 responses to “The Drastic Step We’re Taking to Protect our Children”

  1. Katie, such a beautiful post about a truly horrific topic. Thank you so much for reminding us all of this subject. I’ve had many conversations with my husband about whether you can trust male family relatives or not, especially extended ones who you don’t know that well. It’s horrible to feel that you aren’t giving people the benefit of the doubt when really your natural inclination is to trust people. But the stakes are too high.

  2. I’m really sorry your kids are missing out on relationships like the ones mine have with their uncles. I fully understand vigilance, and the need to protect our children from something that is far too common, but as the mother to two young boys, it’s horrifying to imagine that they might one day be told they can’t babysit a relative or friend’s child because they can’t be trusted to not sexually abuse them. That is a scary message to send to children and teens, as well.

    In full disclosure, we have a close family friend who we love dearly and who is great with our children- But who will never be alone with them because we are aware of his history of sexual abuse by a relative when he was young, as well as some mental illness. As important as it is, though, to keep the dialogue open, I cannot imagine how hurtful it would be to tell him why we would never let him babysit.

  3. Rh, I don’t think it means that children are necessarily “missing out on relationships” because of a vigilant family policy. I never had one-on-one time with any of my extended male relatives, either – not because my parents had a policy in place but because the only time we were all together was a family gathering where aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. were all there together. I don’t feel as though my relationship with my uncles is not good because they never cared for me one-on-one.

    Everyone has to decide what their boundaries are. I have two young boys, and it breaks my heart to think that they could be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. However, I can tell you that as a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of my brother, there are no lengths I won’t go to to keep my boys safe, and no way I would not respect the boundaries of another family even if it hurts my boys’ feelings.

    • I agree that there are plenty of ways to nurture relationships that don’t involve one-on-one activities. And like LCL says, everyone is going to have different boundaries. I think that’s OK!

    • I am 110% behind you with your decision to do this. I have been a victim of sexual abuse not only by one person but by 3 different men in my life. I have another person in my family right now that I wouldn’t trust with my little girl alone for all the money in the world. It bothers me to think we have to do this to protect our kids, but it’s a harsh reality.

    • But I think it’s better to protect our children than protect adults’ feelings, don’t you think, RH?

      And plus, I have uncles and cousins who I trust, but who knows what inner struggles people face? By requiring an aunt or the kids’ dad to be there, they can still develop that relationship but in a protected way.

      Agree with this. Statistics being what they are, you simply cannot assume the males in your family are 100% fool proof.

  4. I fully support this post.
    In its entirety.
    I read the “no adult males” part and at first was like, wait, my kids love their grandpa and I trust him completely. I could never commit to that. But then I saw you do have a grandpa exception in your case. I know my father, I know the man he is (he raised me after all), and I want my kids to have a close relationship with him.

    I was sexually abused as a child (age 7) and told no one about it until someone else did it for me. So I fit into your statistics. I was abused by my uncle. (Checking off even more statistics.)

    If this is what it takes to keep your kids safe, so be it. I don’t think it is a huge sacrifice for an uncle to have to spend time with your young children with another adult. The importance of quality one-on-one time with an uncle or male family friend is WAY LESS IMPORTANT than preventing sexual abuse. It took 20+ years for me to fully heal from my trauma. My sisters are still in the process, some of them dealing with depression and anxiety issues directly related to their abuse. So for the people that say that is too extreme, please talk to someone who has lived with the abuse and its emotional aftermath. And I can say, out of the 5 people (outside of my family) I know who were abused, ALL of them were abused by an uncle. Sadly, it’s just true for a lot of people who have suffered sexual abuse.

    On another note, I have been reading a book to my 4 year-old and 5 year-old called “It’s Not the Stork.” It talks and body parts and has great pictures for kids. It doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics (the introduction of how babies are really made) but gives the information in an age-appropriate way. I would highly recommend the book. It is geared for 4-7 year-olds. We have been reading portions as my older daughter comes up with questions. I think accurate, honest information is another great way to protect our children.

    • Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing your story! It takes true courage to do that. I’m glad to hear that you feel you have found healing; I hope your sisters are able to do the same. The long-term effects of such trauma are serious. Thank you for the book recommendation. I will be looking into it!

  5. My older brother used to babysit me. That’s when he would sexually abuse me or as he said “let’s experiment together.” My husband was sexually abused by his older sister while babysitting as well. I dont think I could let my children babysit each other either.

  6. Fathers and grandfathers abuse too. If daddy can bathe your daughter, then he is the only person who is allowed to break the rule of touching her, therefore, he could be the only person to get away with abusing her. And if it’s her daddy, then she will be unlikely to tell anyone.

    • That’s certainly true, and like I said, we can’t safeguard against ALL possibilities. But just because I can’t guarantee protection in all situations doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying where I can.

  7. Excellent post, and one that I’ll share with my husband so that we, too, can implement this safeguard. We’re often told we’re too overprotective and we come under fire even by those who love our kids very much (we will not allow sleepovers outside of grandparents’ houses as one of our strategies to protect the girls from sexual abuse), but who cares what other people think. They’re not in charge of keeping our babies safe and pure. We are. I’m so glad there are others out there, like you and Dave, who share this same sentiment.

  8. Absolutely love how you are protecting your kids, and totally agree.
    I do not leave mine alone with a male, even relatives, unless there are others present.
    We have spoken about keeping our private areas private — but you reminded me that I need to speak about not touching others, either, as a child. So often that is how it starts.

    Sharing this right now!

  9. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! As a mum, teacher, children’s writer and advocate for sexual abuse prevention education in homes and schools I can’t thank you enough for getting this conversation out there!! I hope many many more parents are doing exactly what you are doing to protect your kids! Please take a look at my resources especially the free stuff under Parents and Media/Posters! Cheers!

  10. Wow. I seriously hope that you do not now have nor will you ever give birth to a male child. How do you think it will make them feel for them understand their entire life that their own parents view them as potential child molesters simply because they were born male? And why exactly should your sons not molest children since you’ve deemed them as already guilty from the minute the ultrasound showed a penis? Heck, how you do you expect your daughters to have a normal, trusting relationship with a man if they’ve been told that men are to be so feared that they can never be alone with them? I truly feel immensely sad for your children.

  11. so I’m guessing you don’t let your kids drive in cars. Because that is the #1 way they are at risk of dying. Or ever swim in a pool. Also a huge risk of dying. Saddest post ever. So instead of teaching your kids to Recognize, Resist and Report, your answer is to just (to try) to keep them away from 1/2 the population. Your kids will need therapy as adults and don’t be wondering why

  12. This is just insane and I am happy we on our side of the Pond have not gone this way, like you in America. You are building a society full of paranoia and fear. We believe in innocent until proven guilty, you apparently don’t. Shame on you. You are not going to make your kids much safer this way, but you will make them being afraid of everything for the rest of their lives. So much for the Land of the Free and – especially – the Home of the Brave.

  13. I shudder to think what you are doing to your children. They will grow up to view every male as a potential rapist. They will grow up with a zero trust factor in men. How do you expect your daughter or daughters to ever form meaningful relationships when they are raised to believe that men are inherently evil? What if in school they need after school extra help in a class with a male teacher? Or are called into the (male) principal’s office? Teaching them where not to allow touching and to keep no secrets from you is one thing, but this risks permanent damage to them.

  14. I do not know you. Nor have I read your blog. Your post came up from a mutual entity sharing it. I understand prevention. I understand education. I understand creating an environment that is open and trusting, a safe place for children to share.

    What I DON’T understand is the sharing of this incredibly horrible idea that all men are dangerous. I am the mother of two boys and it tears me apart that they might be feared and presumed guilty by someone who has read posts like these. My children are not worthy to mind younger children when they become old enough? They shouldn’t be coaches? They shouldn’t be camp counsellors ? They shouldn’t hold any position of trust where they are around younger children because they are male?! This seems so absolutely absurd to me.

    It also seems incredibly backward to show, consciously or not, that your young ladies should fear men. Because that’s what could happen hear. If they are never allowed to be around even male family members alone, then men are bad. Men are evil. Men can’t be trusted.

    It is irresponsible to paint everyone with the same brush. It’s unfair to inflict fear into young men and adults.

  15. Katie, this was a very thought provoking post. I get how personal tragedies can affect a person’s outlook on life. Your gut tells you that men are a threat to your kids. I understand wanting to protect your kids, I know it’s important to go with your gut. But, these fears aren’t rational, and they can affect a family’s ability to lead a normal life, and fears like these can be counter-productive in the long run.

    The CDC has some good literature on risk factors and preventative factors for abuse. Risk factors for abuse include social isolation, rejection from peers, anti-social attitudes, among a bunch of other things. Protective factors include things strong peer networks, caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors, stable family relationships, involvement in social activities and the community. You don’t need to read the literature for your instincts to tell you that the CDC is on to something. The socially awkward, fearful, isolated kid is the one that gets picked on or gets into bad things as teens.

    Your family policy means no sleepovers, no going to a best friend’s house after school if her Dad might be there, no church retreats, no extra-curriculars that are coached by men, no going to the water park with a best friend, no over-night volleyball tournaments, and so on. If they know about the policy, other moms and dads might be hesitant to let your kids come over because they don’t want to jump through hoops to accommodate the policy, or because they are afraid that you would accuse them of something horrible. You can try to engineer “alternative” experiences, but there is no substitute for real world experience. It will be hard work to raise confident, savvy kids without these types of experiences. Like they say, “you can’t childproof the world, but you can try to world-proof your kid”.

    I think it was very brave of you to write about your fears and your drastic family policy. Good for you for putting it out there and encouraging dialog about keeping kids safe.

  16. You have my support. I am also aware of the statistics of a teenage male, male family member, or male acquaintance sexually abusing a child. I am also aware that women do abuse, and that low statistics don’t matter when it’s too late. My children will never be alone with anyone I don’t trust with their lives, which does mean that we don’t have a babysitter, male *or* female…and the only ones who have ever taken care of them (other than myself and my husband) are my mom, and my in-laws. They would die protecting those children, and I would accept no less. There are no take-backs.
    People say that we’re “too cautious”, but when it comes to the safety of my children, there is no such thing. We get one chance to do this right.

  17. I agree with this. A friend of mine form church has the same rule for their family and I have always appreciated the way they state their policy simply without judgment. They also have the policy that the husband does not look after other children’s kids alone (e.g. there is no play dates if Mum can’t be there) as it means they are treating other peoples children with the same respect they treat their own children.
    It also means that people can not falsely accuse anyone as there is always a witness.
    They’re openness has meant my husband and I have talked about how we will protect our children when we have them, which we may not have done otherwise.

  18. Some people agree, some don’t. I do. Thank you for this article. And it’s not just uncles that can abuse as another person commented above. I was sexually abused by my grandfather as a kid. My mum’s dad, whom she entrusted to care for us everyday (along with my grandma) whilst she (a single mother) worked fulltime. There are precautions that I take with my kids now ie not letting them go to friends houses with older brothers/dads, no sleepovers, we also have a ‘bedrooms/upstairs is for sleeping’ only rule so that if they are at other people’s houses they aren’t playing in bedrooms or upstairs etc. We have a central playroom if they want to play. We too encourage openness not only in conversation but in playing etc so that they know when they are put into different or uncomfortable situations they can no there’s something ie not right about being in a private place with someone else touching them.

  19. Katie M. McLaughlin,I am sorry I don’t know a lot about your family but i have a question that interesting for me,please if you can answer:How your children get educated,I mean are they going to school ,or they homeschoolers?the reason I am asking because I am very interesting in how you balance their social needs and your family policy in real society.It is very important topic to me,please respond.

    • Hi Elena, my children are still quite young. My son is in preschool now. He’ll eventually go to public school, and to be honest, I’m not sure if/how our approach will change as he gets older. This is an explanation of where we are in our parenting right now. I recognize our strategies might be fluid as time goes on.

  20. This does not seem drastic to me at all. I am the same way- about anyone watching my kids. I may be considered “over-protective” but I am aware of the stats you posted and have seen, heard and know all too well the horror stories of abuse. People always seem so shocked, they think an abuser walks around with a giant A on their genital area to let us know their intentions. The fact is, you never know until it is too late. I will be sharing this with my moms club. Awareness and caution is the only way to prevent something like sexual abuse.

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