An Overlooked Child Vulnerability to Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

As we think about children who are most vulnerable to sexual abuse, we may immediately imagine children who are impoverished, living in rural areas, or even in single-parent homes. But there is another subset of children who many of us don’t readily recognize as being susceptible to sexual predators…

An Overlooked Vulnerability

An often overlooked or perhaps disregarded aspect of child vulnerability to sexual abuse is actually embedded in our culture—we may not recognize it in ourselves, but we pass it on to kids in our expectations. This vulnerability relates to children with a high drive to achieve or a strong desire to please others.

The most recent and glaring example of this can be found in the conviction of USA Gymnastics Team physician Larry Nassar who sexually abused more than 150 young athletes, many in the presence of their parents.

Competition and a desire to be the best can place children in a position of succumbing to predators in positions of authority; predators who use those positions to target, exploit and abuse child victims. Parents sometimes unwittingly place their children in harm’s way by trusting people who can help their children succeed, but who may also have ulterior motives.

“My parents, who had my best interest at heart, will forever have to live with the fact that they continually brought their daughter to a sexual predator, and were in the room as he assaulted me.” ~Marie Anderson, swimmer

According to news reports, gymnast and two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney underscored the very issue so many children face as they put themselves in positions of vulnerability while trying to attain specific goals or ambitions. “I had a dream to go to the Olympics,” she shared, “… and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

Making Children Less Vulnerable

Is it possible to help children pursue their dreams and still keep them safe? Here are two important and relatively straightforward ways to start:

1. Educate children about body safety and the basics of sexual abuse prevention. Starting at a very young age, parents and caregivers can instill body safety rules in kids in ways that are not scary and actually empower children. For tips about teaching kids basic safety rules, as well as how to foster conversations with your kids about sexual health and safety, visit our blog, Dr. Amelia’s vlog or my “Sue Says…” video vignettes for parents.

2. Know the child protection rules and guidelines for organizations in which your child is involved. Any organization, club, church or school in which your child participates should have rules about sexual abuse prevention as well as basic child protection and safety guidelines. Ask to see those guidelines and talk with officials in the organization about how those rules are practiced. We recommend that all staff and volunteers of youth-serving organizations attend Darkness to Light’s “Stewards of Children” training which helps adults understand the issue of child sexual abuse, learn how to identify and respond to allegations of abuse, and establish policies and best practices to ensure the safety of children in their care. Here at TBCAC, we offer this training for FREE—contact our Prevention Coordinator, Elizabeth Pine at if you are interested in learning more.

About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.

Doc Talk: Abnormal Sexual Behaviors in Children

Dr. Amelia addresses normal vs. abnormal sexual behaviors in children in this episode of “Doc Talk”. She answers questions including:

  • “If my child has been sexually abused, will s/he go on to sexually abuse others?”
  • “What resources are available to my child to help him/her heal from being sexually abused?”
  • “My child has exhibited abnormal sexual behavior towards other children… what do I do?”

References and tools for parents and professionals mentioned in this video:

About Dr. Amelia ♥

Amelia Siders, Ph.D., LP, serves as the Clinical Director for TBCAC and has been working in the mental health field since 1994. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Amelia specializes in assessment, treatment, and advocacy for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional, behavioral, trauma, and substance use disorders. She has been trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EDMR, as well as several other trauma-informed interventions including Trauma Incident Reduction. In addition to overseeing counseling and therapeutic services at TBCAC, Dr. Amelia serves as an expert in child abuse prevention and intervention and provides testimony in court cases related to areas such as child abuse disclosure rates, false allegations, statistics, trauma symptoms and even grooming and offender behaviors. Additionally, she offers consultation for prosecutorial teams on psychological assessments conducted on both clients and alleged offenders that may be used in court. She and her team of onsite therapists also help prepare both families and children for the trial process by offering support and education about ways to feel more confident and less anxious when providing testimony. Dr. Amelia became passionate about working with children and families who have been affected by abuse when completing her internship at the Center for Child Protection in San Diego, California. Dr. Amelia lives in Traverse City with her canine companion and beloved TBCAC volunteer, Jeeves.

About Jeeves ♥

Jeeves serves as a loyal volunteer sidekick to Dr. Amelia, providing sweet, loving wags to hundreds of child victims and their caregivers for the past several years. A Havanese, Jeeves has hair instead of fur which helps people visiting the Center who may have allergies. As the TBCAC mascot, Jeeves welcomes any and all opportunities to receive belly rubs and hugs!