November 17th, 2011
11:24 AM ET

How to keep your child safe from sexual predators

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

As disturbing allegations of child sexual abuse by Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky continue to dominate the headlines, many parents have to be wondering about their own children and how to keep them safe when Mom and Dad are not present.

Here are 10 steps from experts.

1. Recognize that sexual abuse could happen to your child. It’s estimated that one out of every four girls and one out of six boys will experience sexual abuse, according to the American Psychological Association.

2. Recognize that the predator will most likely be someone you know.
Chances are, it won’t be a stranger offering your child candy on the playground: More than 90% of the time, the child knows the predator in some way, according to the organization Childhelp. The predator could be a family member, a teacher, a coach or a trusted friend.

Don’t let your guard down just because someone is charming or nice. In fact, those are reasons to put your guard up. Predators "are very good at ingratiating themselves with children,” said Dr. Judith Cohen, medical director for the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

3. Be suspicious of adults who try to spend time alone with your child.

Of course, your child will spend time with adult friends, teachers and coaches. But beware of the ones who make an effort to be alone with your child, who shower your child with gifts or who speak of having a “special relationship” with your child.

4. Avoid situations where your child could be molested.

“If your child wants to go on a sleepover, you should know those parents, especially if your child is young,” said Dr. Paula Bloom, a psychologist in private practice in Atlanta. “If you don’t know the parents, don’t let them sleep over, even if it would be convenient for you.”

If your child is going on an overnight trip, for example with a Scouts group or an athletic team, Bloom says to ask about the sleeping arrangements and “who will have access to whom.”

5. Don’t insist that your child hug someone

Too often, parents tell a child to hug or kiss a relative or friend, as in, “Aunt Susie’s here from Florida. Go give her a hug.” This is a mistake, Bloom says. It’s not that Aunt Susie is necessarily a threat to your child, it’s that children should hug only people they want to hug.

“We worry about how we’re perceived as parents, and that’s why we insist that they hug people. We don’t want people to think we’re rude,” Bloom said. “But really it’s a terrible lesson for our kids.”

6. Teach your children about good touch, bad touch.

Teach your child that she has control over her body and should say “no” to touches that make her uncomfortable.

The University of Missouri has more information teaching your kids about “good touch, bad touch.”

7. Teach your child NO – GO – TELL

Teach your child what to do if someone tries to molest him or her. Cohen suggests saying: “No, go, tell.” No means saying no to sexual advances. Go means to get away as quickly as possible. Tell means to tell someone immediately about what’s happening.

The Sanford, Florida, police department has more information (PDF) on “No, go, tell.”

8. Make it easy for your child to tell you he’s been molested.

“If you scream at your child for spilling milk, a culture will develop in your family where your child will think, ‘I can’t talk to my parents about anything big. They’re going to freak out,’ ” Bloom said. “Let your child know it’s safe to talk to you about anything.”

9. Know the warning signs that your child has been sexually molested.

If your child has nightmares and there’s no other explanation, or if she has mood swings or develops a new or unusual fear of certain people or places, those could be signs she’s been molested, according to the group Stop It Now!

10. Trust your instincts – and your child’s, too

This is probably the single most important piece of advice. If someone makes you uncomfortable, that’s reason enough to keep your child away from that person.

“So often, we try to talk ourselves out of what our instincts are telling us because we don’t want to be mean or judge other people,” Bloom said. “But our instincts are usually right.”

Your child’s instincts are usually right, too.

“If your kid tells you they’re uncomfortable, that in and of itself is important,” Bloom said. “They don’t have to be able to tell you why they’re uncomfortable. It’s just enough to know that they are.”

Several groups have information about keeping your child safe from sexual predators, including Stop It Now!, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Childhelp, and the National Library of Medicine.

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. dom625

    Or, and here's a novel idea, you can stop visualizing every person you meet as a potential threat to you or your child. Articles like this creates an avalanche of paranoia as parents automatically label any adult they run into as a predator. Remember when we would run around all day and not see our parents from wake-up time to bedtime? They didn't fret and panic about us being gone. Have some faith in your fellow humans.

    November 17, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sariarapio

      I disagree with you...I'm almost 40 and I grew up without too much supervision an I was molested by another child, a teenager, and my big brother. In addition to that, an adult male tried to molest me, and another one almost abducted me. All of that before I was 10!!!

      November 17, 2011 at 20:08 | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      These numbers are incorrect. The vast majority of my female friends, including me, were molested. Generally by a family member, although mine was by the maintenance man at the apartment complex.

      The last point in the article is correct though. Trust your instincts and trust your child. If a child gets goosebumps around a certain person, your child's 6th sense is telling him/her something.

      November 17, 2011 at 23:22 | Report abuse |
    • Boes73

      I once thought like you.

      But after speaking with some very close female friends, this is far more prevalent than you think.

      November 20, 2011 at 23:09 | Report abuse |
    • Wes

      Agree w/ you Dom. I grew up the same way and never had any issues. I knew which situations looked weird and I knew when it was time to go home. Babying kids and teaching them to be untrustworthy and paranoid is ridiculous, in my opinion.

      November 29, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • Christi

      I know so many of my friends who were molested. Parents, PROTECT your children.

      December 5, 2011 at 21:57 | Report abuse |
  2. s

    I'm not

    November 17, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. s

    I'm not sure the numbers are correct. Boys are less likely to talk about it.

    November 17, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. M.D.

    dom625 – I totally disagree with you. I grew up back in the days when we played outside all day and didn't check in with parents a lot. I also can count six males who acted inappropriately toward me when I was a child. Whether it was a family friend always offering to allow me to "sit on his lap" while he drove places or a step-father who did much more than that. Things like this weren't talked about nearly as much back then but that certainly doesn't mean it didn't happen. From talking to other female friends in college and beyong I learned that MANY females had disturbing things happen to them while growing up to varying degrees. I only wish my mother would have looked for signs and saved me.

    November 17, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vicious Circle

      Agreed M.D. , Dom625 There are a lot of people who should be acting paranoid and why not if it means another kid gets to keep his or her innocence? I mean my god there is an organization called nambla that supports the idea of relationships between young boys and men.. There is no reason for people to prey on these children..NONE. First offense... DEATH

      November 17, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
  5. Vicious Circle

    One of the things this article should also point out is that there are other children who have been molested and then they go out and molest other children as a learned behavior. You ALWAYS have to watch your younger kids around older children regardless of their age. I try not to ever use the word HATE but I will always HATE pedophiles with a passion. I would take an executioner job with no pay if these types of crimes could receive the death penalty. I wouldn't bother to take a lunch hour..just non-stop execution 24/7 with a big smile.....

    November 17, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joemama

      I agree Vicious. I just told my husband today, "If I ever found out someone molested either one of our boys, I would want to kill them. I wouldn't just want them to die, but I'd want to KILL them with my bare hands; so I could see it in their eyes as they died." I am not by any stretch of the imagination a violent person. In fact, I'm quite the opposite, but to think of someone raping my lovely, funny, tender-hearted, innocent child...BAM! Dead meat. I wouldn't even feel bad. In other words, Vicious, I would cover your lunch hour for you. Go have an egg-salad sandwich or something to keep up your strength. See you in a half hour.

      November 17, 2011 at 19:52 | Report abuse |
    • sdp(parentof4)

      I just want to say that I agree with Vicious Circle about kids that have been molested acting out sexually on other kids... I hate to say this is one of my reality I am having to deal with that is the hardest most cruel thing for anyone I think. My step daughter that we have had custody of for over 4yrs now was molested by her moms boyfriend and when she finally told me about it we had no idea how bad it had affected her until my babygirl3yrs old started acting weird and told me one night the reason she was to scared to sleep in her room was cause sissy woke her up one night when she was asleep in her bed trying to put a toy tool in her booboo and tutu...yes, this is the most horrible thing any parent would ever dream of having to deal with, for me anyways!! Now, I have not one child but two that I am constantly having to watch and get on to b/c I keep catching them trying to touch each other or hump on furniture... No one wants to believe that this type of thing is really happening everywhere but the truth is IT IS!! And there is no telling how many blended families there is as well as other families with the same thing going on and don't even know about it too!! This has to be stopped and I really wish there were more places that specialize in this type of problem out there to help families with the feelings and anxiety and sexual behaviors they are faced with dealing with -with their kids and help them to make it stop and council the kids to reaching out when they get it on their mind instead of doing the behavior or something b/c I for one have tried to reach out everywhere and very few have anything offered to help you when your family is falling apart by the original abuse that took place! I think they should all have to be forced to endure same punishment before the death of them!! But sad thing is even though it might help your heart by knowing they were punished for it, it can't fix they problems they have already created and still have to face the issues when their dead... and also, the TV shows on tv the kids are able to watch has a bigger impact than most realize on these young kids..like Family Guy..I HATE THAT SHOW AND NEVER ALLOWED MY KIDS TO WATCH SUCH GARBAGE!! Why would parents want kids to watch cartoons showing sexual acts and nudity and such with bad langauge on it?? I for one would give my life for more money put towards the research and whatever else is needed to bring this issue up to a priority and have death penalty and more help available and more awareness for everyone to save any family from having to face this and save a child!!! I haved prayed for so long pleading with GOD for what I could have done different or to make my kids deserve this... it kills me everyday and I just want to say parents should want to know the truth about sick things happening in the world so they can protect their kids instead of shunning it even being brought up cause they dont think it can happen to their child! Its just so sad for kids to have to go through and for parents to have to be left trying to pick up pieces of there kids and help them overcome this terrible thing that happened!!

      December 26, 2011 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
  6. partysstink

    Also make shure of your clame. I was accused of molesting my step daughter the kids were taken i was arrested and went to jail 2 years latter she admited she lied because she didnt like that i grounded her for sneaking out. Im not saying this is always the case but i lost 2 years my wife son and family and im still tring to get people to get past it and belive i didnt do it.

    November 18, 2011 at 07:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • atroy

      I don't know what the ratio of false accusations to truthful accusations is but false accusations do happen and they ruin peoples lives. As important as it is to talk to your kids about things like "good touch, bad touch" it is equally important to continually teach your children about the difference between truthfulness and

      November 18, 2011 at 17:16 | Report abuse |
  7. Natalie

    I grew up in a 3rd World Country and I can say my sister, I or my best friends never experienced anything like this. People were poor but not molesters, I think there are many sick people in this country, I have no idea why! What is wrong with them? I am sorry to offend few people out there but if we make few examples by castrating few pedophiles, many more will learn to control their behaviors. There in no one who can convince me that it is OK to molest a child and run free to another town or state to molest more children. Fear makes wonders and pedophiles should live with a fear that if they touch a child, they will have consequences.
    I'm sad I have to tell my kids not to hug, not to be nice and kind to strangers, not to look other people in the eye, don't do this and that like it is kids fault!

    November 18, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dom625

      It's not necessarily that we have loads of sick people here in the US. It's that abuse cases create national headlines and sensational news stories, both of which sell newspapers and magazines and boost television ratings. Sure, we need to know these types of things, but today's hyped-up media is sometimes too much.

      I agree with the castration of pedophiles, though. Let the punishment fit the crime.

      November 18, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
    • foreigner

      I too am from a third world country. As a victim i will tell It DOES happen out there too, but it is just not talked about. It is a taboo subject and the victims are too scared and embarrased or ashamed to tell anyone.

      November 18, 2011 at 14:58 | Report abuse |
    • roma

      I am from a 3rd world country. We were poor . I was molested.

      November 18, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • Momtoone

      Castration will not stop the problem. They will find a new "tool" to inflict the harm. For these people, it isn't about sexual gratification, it is about power and control.

      July 27, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
  8. roma

    i am from a 3rd world country. we were poor . i was molested.

    November 18, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. dee

    They need to put these pieces of crap to death. Tattoo child rapist on their faces and put them in the general population in prison. They won't last a day in there. They have to make more heavier laws on this! To me anyone who messes with a child don't need to be alive!!!

    November 18, 2011 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Boes73

      Agree with you 100000000%

      November 20, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
  10. with kids

    Don't be paranoid? One in four girls is molested. Look around. That means a fourth of the girls in your daughters class will be molested. If there are 8 girls on your block, two will be molested (and I agree that the real numbers for boys are probably much higher than reported, at least as high as the girls). That would make any mom paranoid. We are just trying to make sure our daughter/son is not one of the victims. Calling it paranoia seems very strange when it is a real and pervasive threat to children everywhere, in every socioeconomic and cultural group. And these numbers don't even include all of the children who never told anyone.

    December 7, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Boo hoo Baynor

    All child molesters must be executed. Lets start with Sandusky

    December 8, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.