Why your organization is vulnerable to child sexual abusers

person-human-child-girl (1).jpg

One in ten children will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.[1] This is a painful reality but one which we must confront. Child sexual abuse in our culture is rampant, and though disclosure rates may be increasing, the vast majority of cases remain unreported.[2] For those of us who work or live with children, it is our sobering responsibility to do everything we can to protect them. No racial, ethnic, social, economic, or geographical group is exempt. Nor are our churches, non-profit organizations, youth sports leagues, or schools.

Though it is imperative that we be educated and prepared, training on this subject is sorely lacking. Two-thirds of teachers, for example, do not receive specific training on preventing, recognizing, or responding to instances of child sexual abuse.[3] A quarter have never received guidelines on the mandated reporting requirements of their state.[4]

Do not be among them: your organization is vulnerable to sexual predators. So let us dive a little deeper into the facts and consider why.


Who are sexual predators? – They’re not Strangers

Ninety percent of sexual abusers are known to their victims.[5] These predators could be neighbors, friends, or family, and they will look and act like everybody else. They can be found in places where children gather, such as schools, sports leagues, churches, recreation centers, and family gatherings. Do not overlook that last one: thirty percent of victims are abused by family members and an astounding sixty percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family trusts.[6]

This data also has significant implications for our dependence on background checks. These investigations can provide helpful information about criminal records or credit reports, but background checks do not actually catch predators. In fact, abusers can operate for years before ever encountering the criminal justice system. Even when they do get caught, very few of them actually get convicted. This means that the databases that background checks rely on, only contain a fraction of the data that represents all sexual abuse activity.

Who are abusers? - They can be other children

Other children can also be sexual abusers. In fact, this is the case forty percent of the time. In contrast to adults, juveniles who commit sexual offenses against other children are more likely to do so in groups and at schools.

Again, all of this this means that the places where children gather are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators. This also means that we must reconsider our idea of who to look out for. Only ten percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by a stranger.[7]

Tip: Do not make premature assumptions about who you know. This issue is more widespread than most people realize, and abusers are generally closer to us than we realize.  

Where and when does child sexual abuse occur?

In order to understand why your organization is vulnerable to sexual predators, consider where and when child sexual abuse occurs. Residences are the most common locations for child sexual abuse—84% of cases among children under the age of twelve occur in the victim or perpetrator’s home. Among twelve to eighteen year-olds, this is the case 71% of the time. Parents should take note of this trend in developing strategies for avoiding child sexual abuse. This plague is often found in our own homes.

Additionally, incidents of sexual abuse are most likely to occur in the mornings between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. and afternoons between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. For older children and teenagers, there is also a peak in the late evening hours.[8] These, unsurprisingly, are some of the least supervised times of the day. Sports leagues, after-school programs, church youth programs, childcare centers, and schools should be especially mindful of these statistics in arranging adequate supervision and safeguards for their children.

It is worth adding that the Internet further complicates the issue of child sexual abuse. The numbers are small, but they remain a significant part of the problem. 9% of ten to seventeen year-olds receive unwanted sexual requests while on the Internet.[9] One in twenty-five receives a solicitation in which the solicitor tries to make offline contact.[10] If your organization makes use of social media outlets, you should be especially mindful of these dangers. Child sexual abusers will use digital resources to target and groom their victims.

Who do abusers target?

Any child can be a target of sexual predators. Children are taught to respect authority, and all children need love and desire attention, which predators use to their advantage. However, abusers often seek out more emotional and physically vulnerable children whom they profile as “needy.” Children of single parents, for example, are more vulnerable because single parents may welcome an offer for babysitting in order to gain a much-needed break.

Socially disengaged children who prefer isolated play may also be at greater risk, as well. Though it is tragic, sexual predators also target children with developmental disabilities. They do this because they know that the testimonies of these children are less likely to be taken seriously if they attempt to inform parents or authorities. In general, sexual predators are looking for easy targets—unsupervised and “needy” children. This helps to explain how six to eleven year-olds are the most targeted group.

One of the tactics employed by predators is the “beautiful eyes test.” Abusers (this is common among sex traffickers, too) will approach a child and give a compliment, such as “you have beautiful eyes.” If the child responds in a confident or thankful manner, they move on. But if the child responds in a shy or downcast manner, they may have found their target. It is critical that we be protective of children who seem emotionally or physical marginalized in our organizations and families.

What can you do?

Child sexual abuse is more widespread than we realize. It is also closer to home than most of us realize. These overwhelming statistics illuminate dark realities about our world. Your organization, whether it be a school, church ministry, sports league, or non-profit group, is vulnerable to child sexual predators.

The same must be said of your family. We must begin by naming this terrible truth. Then, we must take note of some of these statistical patterns and develop more effective safeguards then mere background checks, as we seek to better protect our children.

Training every volunteer and staff member of your organization is a fantastic way to help prevent these tragedies. Check out Safehive’s Sexual Abuse Awareness and prevention course to find out more.

 Written By: Daniel King

[1] Townsend, C., & Rheingold, A.A., (2013). Estimating a child sexual abuse prevalence rate for practitioners: studies. Charleston, S.C., Darkness to Light. Retrieved from www.D2L.org.

[2] Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2012). Child and youth victimization known to school, police, and medical officials in a national sample of children and youth. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, (No. NCJ 235394). Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

[3] Kenny, M.C. (2004). Teachers’ attitudes toward and knowledge of child maltreatment. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 1311- 1319.

[4] Sedlak, A.J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., and Li, S. (2010). Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress, Executive Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

[5] Whealin, J. (2007-05-22). “Child Sexual Abuse”. National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.

[6] Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.

[7] Finkelhor, D. Characteristics of crimes against juveniles.

[8] Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[9] Jones, L,. Mitchell, K., Finkelhor, D. (2012). Trends in youth internet victimization: Findings from three youth internet safety surveys 2000–2010, Journal of Adolescent Health 50: 179–186.

[10] Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., Ybarra, M. (2008) “ Online “Predators” and their Victims: Myths, Realities and Implications for Prevention and Treatment” published by American Psychologist, 63(2), 111-128