Hiding in Plain Site: Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

Hiding in plain sight…

• Amanda (14 yrs.) always wears long sleeves to cover the numerous self-inflicted cuts and burns on her arms.

• Cari (8 yrs.) suddenly begins wetting her bed at night.

• Joshua (5 yrs.) is discovered having oral sex with his 3 year-old sister in the hall bathroom.

As adults, we may think that children who are sexually molested would naturally alert someone about their abuse. Not so! In fact, an alarming 73% of child victims don’t tell anyone about their abuse for at least a year. Another 45% of victims keep it to themselves for at least 5 years, while still others NEVER disclose their abuse. (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007)

Children who have been molested may… or often MAY NOT… display behavior that is indicative of sexual abuse. For children who are acting outside their norms, be alert to these potential warning signs:

  • Knows more than normal about sex for their age
  • Masturbates excessively
  • Has a sudden fear of touch or is frightened of a certain person(s)
  • Starts wetting the bed or has nightmares
  • Changes eating habits
  • Can’t sleep
  • Exhibits low self-esteem
  • Seeks excessive attention
  • Seems depressed
  • Begins self-mutilation (e.g., cutting, burning, hitting, etc.)
  • Shares suicidal thoughts or actually attempts suicide
  • Uses drugs or alcohol
  • Has problems at school or is frequently absent
  • Sexually abuses others
  • Tells stories about a “friend” being abused

It’s important to keep in mind that if a child displays any of the above behaviors, that does NOT automatically mean that the child is a victim of sexual abuse. It does, however, indicate that something may not be “right” in that child’s life, so it’s important to further explore potential root causes of the behavior. If you are concerned that child in your life MAY be a victim of abuse, please refer to our 7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure outline for a step-by-step tutorial of how to have the conversation and what to do if a child discloses abuse.

The number of child-on-child (or youth perpetrated) sexual abuse cases is on the rise in our country and as kids head back to school, it’s important to be attentive to changes in a child’s behavior, habits, and moods. To help, we invite you to download our free infographic called, “Child Clues,” which offers an at-a-glance list of the 9 primary warning signs that may indicate a child is in trouble and needs help.

Get CHILD CLUES!

I encourage all of us to be better informed about these potential warning signs so we can protect ALL the children in our lives! ♥

*Please note: Any names, ages and specific examples of child abuse have been altered to protect the identity and privacy of child victims and their families.


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.


10 Campus Safety Tips Every College Student Should Know

As summer winds to close, many kids are preparing to head off to college, be it near home or far away. This leaves many parents pondering, “Will my child be safe on campus?”

This question is especially salient for parents of incoming freshmen who will be away from home for the first time. For these young adults, going to college may be their first opportunity to experience a significant degree of independence. With that independence comes a high level of responsibility, including making daily safety choices. So, how can you as a parent help prepare your freshman (or returning student) for life on campus?

Straight Talk

Mom and Dad, it’s important to be totally straight-up and honest with your teen about what campus life will be like. Take the time to sit down and discuss this… it doesn’t have to be a scary conversation, but it does need to be real. In fact, it’s a good idea to begin prepping your teen for safety while they are in high school (many of the same rules apply).

Expect your teen to seem frustrated or bored by the conversation and try not to let it bother you. Believe it or not, they will be listening and, with a little savvy and luck, may even engage in the conversation with you. One of the reasons this conversation is SO IMPORTANT is because students, especially new students, are at higher risk to become victims of sexual violence. In fact, the majority of sexual assault cases happen to new students in the first two (2) semesters on campus.

Here are 10 campus safety tips to review with your kids as they head off to college.

1. Trust your gut, but err on the side of caution.

Your young adult will be making all sorts of new friends and acquaintances as s/he begins life on campus. Before sharing too many personal details or trusting someone implicitly, be sure s/he understands the importance of really knowing that person. If s/he has even an inkling that something isn’t straight-up — you know, that funny, uncomfortable feeling you get in the pit of your stomach — the time isn’t right to throw his/her trust in the ring. Encourage your teen to be careful and have faith in his/her inner-self.

2. Prep and use your cell phone.

Before arriving on campus, program emergency numbers into your teen’s phone so help is readily available at the press of a button or a quick Siri request. Mom and Dad, you should already be programmed in — other numbers to include would be:

  • Campus police
  • Residential housing office
  • Campus health clinic
  • ICE (“In Case of Emergency”) Contact — this may be Mom, Dad or someone else you know that lives close to campus. Program “ICE” at the beginning of the contact information; emergency responders are trained to search for ICE on cell phones. There is also “an app for that”.
  • Taxi service: this is helpful for times when your teen needs to get back to a dorm or house late at night and is by himself. Have him be sure to ask the taxi driver to wait until he physically enters his housing unit before leaving.

Your new college student should keep the cell phone charged and with him at all times! Remind him to be careful of using geotracking software or “check-in” features found on many social media apps such as Four Square , Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook to identify a current location. That can open up all kinds ‘o trouble.

3. The Buddy System works!

Whether it’s a roommate, a fraternity brother or sorority sister, or a friend down the hall, stress the importance of always letting someone know your college student’s plans and location. Have your teen share her class schedule with a friend or two and do casual check-ins when she returns. If heading to the gym, cafeteria or library, again just touch base and let a friend know her plans. Encourage her to ALWAYS bring a friend along to any party, agreeing to have one another’s backs. It’s good to have an “out” contingency plan if one or both of them are uncomfortable — they should identify a code word or signal to help gracefully (and safely) exit the situation. It’s amazing how often that comes in handy!

4. Be aware of your surroundings.

Whether it’s walking to class, studying at a quiet table at the back of the library, taking a shower in the dorm or parking the car, it is vitally important to be vigilant of surroundings. Encourage your teen to ask…

  • Are there people around me?
  • Is this a well-lit area?
  • Have I told someone where I was going to be and at what time to expect my return?
  • Do I really know the person from whom I’m accepting this ride to class?
  • Are my doors locked?

If your teen ever thinks s/he is being followed while walking, instruct your teen to try crossing the street to see if the person continues the pursuit. If that person does and your teen is at all uncomfortable, tell him/her to immediately pull out the cell phone and dial 911 or the pre-programmed number for campus police. If followed while driving, have your teen try taking a few turns —if the vehicle of concern continues to follow, immediately dial 911.

5. Lock your doors.

This seemingly simple concept is often overlooked. This includes dorm rooms, apartments, classrooms and labs (if your college student is alone) and car doors. S/he should make a habit of having his/her keys ready when arriving at the door to avoid fumbling around for them. Before getting in a car, s/he should be sure to check the back seats. Also, DO NOT attach any personal identification on any keys.

6. Drink responsibly.

Let’s face it… alcohol is accessible on most college campuses. Parents, it is imperative that you talk with your teens about responsible drinking, a conversation that should include abstinence. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 and there are very real and severe legal, and life, consequences for underage drinking. It may feel like a tough conversation to have, but it’s one where you need to share your personal parenting perspective with your child, as well as possible legal ramifications for your teens should they choose to break the law and consume alcohol before they reach the legal drinking age. It also means if your teen chooses to drink, s/he needs to know to NEVER get behind the wheel of a car… or ride in a vehicle driven by someone else who has been drinking… or let a friend drive drunk. Also, be sure to share with him/her the dangers of leaving drinks (both non- and alcoholic) unattended. If a drink is left alone, it should be dumped. Finally, reinforce the importance of the Buddy System.

7. If you are ever a victim of sexual assault… DO NOT keep it a secret!

Sadly, rape and sexual assault happen far too often on college campuses. Various studies have found that 20% to 25% of college students have been victims of attempted or completed rape nearly half of those victims didn’t tell anyone about their assault —and only an estimated 10% report it to authorities. Why, you may ask? There are a variety of reasons including shame, feeling responsible, guilt, or even fear of getting in trouble for drinking or taking drugs. According to Campus Safety Magazine, “College freshmen and sophomore women appear to be at greater risk of being victims of sexual assault than are upperclassmen.” In fact, 84% of the college women who reported incidents said the assaults occurred within their first four semesters on campus. Remind your teen that it could never, ever be her fault if something like that happened to her. Reinforce the importance of the Buddy System and making good, safe decisions about the people with whom she is socializing.

A flagship online system now exists, called Callisto Campus, which gives students who are victims of sexual assault (or attempted sexual assault) disclosure and reporting options that make them feel safe. I strongly recommend that you visit the Callisto Campus website and actively advocate for your son or daughter’s school to participate in this new and critical resource.

8. Guard your social media footprint.

In today’s digital world, nearly every action you take has the potential to be publicly shared. Things your teen may think are okay or cool today, could very well come back to haunt him/her. Reinforce the importance of NOT sharing photos that include images with the potential to taint your teen’s reputation with the college or university, scholarship programs or potential future employers. A good litmus test: “If you can’t show the post to Grandma, DO NOT post it!”

9. Have your fellow students’ backs.

Students really need to look out for one another. Have your teen keep a watchful eye out for friends and fellow students while out-and-about on campus… and seek help as needed. If s/he sees someone being victimized, immediately call 911 or contact the campus police. Students on campus are in it together and looking out for one another does nothing but improve the college experience for all.

10. “Remember who you are.”

These four simple words pack quite a punch and offer a positive reminder to kids that you trust them to make good decisions while they are away from you. I highly recommend this simple, empowering validation– it works!

Want more information?

In addition to reviewing the campus student safety information for your young adult’s campus, I encourage to check out these websites that offer additional super safety information for all students on campus:


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: Identifying Safe Adults

As part of a “Companion Series”, Dr. Amelia shares backstory information with parents and care givers about identifying Safe Adults in children’s lives, the importance of doing so and how to talk through who should be a Safe Adult for a child.

This video accompanies the “Believe Jeeves!” video for kids called, Who Are Safe Adults?

 

For more, visit the companion video lesson for kids:

Believe Jeeves: Who Are Safe Adults?”

Talking Points and Facts About Helping Your Child Identify Five (5) Safe Adults including a letter you can send to your child’s Safe Adults.


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!


Doc Talk: 3 Reasons People Don’t Report Child Abuse

There are three (3) primary reasons people worry about or hesitate reporting suspected or known child abuse to authorities. Dr. Amelia tackles these reasons and worries, and explains why it’s so important to challenge these thoughts in the interest of protecting kids in this issue of “Doc Talk.”


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!


Understanding The Three “A’s” of Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Before we can begin protecting our children from sexual predators, it’s important to educate ourselves and understand what factors enable predators to molest children. There are Three A’s that must exist in order for someone to perpetrate sexual abuse…

  1. Access
  2. Alone time
  3. Authority
#1. Access

Makes sense, huh? But what exactly is “access?” Many people think that most children are sexually abused by strangers lurking in dark corners or hiding in bushes. The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family. Given that most predators are people children already know, access can happen virtually anytime.. anywhere. At home. At school. On the playground. On the school bus. At after-school or club activities. At church. You name it.

The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family.

Think about the people in your life who have “access” to your children.

#2. Alone time

Now think about those people you either trust to be alone with your child or who are alone with your child and you don’t know it. As educated and caring parents or caregivers, our challenge is to limit the risk to our children by restricting time children spend alone with other people, both adults and other kids. You can guide how children are supervised in everyday situations at home, at childcare, swimming lessons, play dates, neighborhood play and sports. You have the power to assess risk, ask questions and shape the nature of time a child spends with others. Here are a few tips:

1. Set expectations with caregivers. This can actually be pretty easy! For example, post expectations in your home for babysitters, family members and friends who visit. Expectations can include things like:

  • All members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities.
  • If you do not want to hug or kiss someone hello or goodbye, then you can shake hands instead.
  • We don’t keep secrets.

Ask organizations (day-care, school, clubs, churches, etc.) about their policies and practices regarding one-on-one time with children. TBCAC offers guidance to organizations about how to create these types of policies to protect children through our Stewards of Children child abuse prevention program.

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways…

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways by simply saying things like:

  • “We want Sara to know that she has control over her body and boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent. That way, if someone does have bad intentions, she is able to stand up for herself and immediately tell someone she trusts.” 
  • “When Liam asks you not to hug him, please stop and be respectful. We should always ask before giving any touch. Let’s try it together…‘Liam, may I give you a high-five?’”

2. Teach children what’s “okay”, what’s “NOT okay” and what to do “IF”… having conversations with your child about body safety and body boundaries can and should start EARLY! For more tips about talking with your child about this, see “Four Easy Ways to Teach Body Safety to Kids.

Teach children that if anyone asks to see or touch their private parts, or asks them to see or touch someone else’s private parts, the answer should always be “no” and to immediately find and tell the nearest adult. Create a safety circle that helps children identify at least two trusted adults in each of their networks; this helps them feel safe enough to say “no” and to report.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”. Surprises are supposed to be ‘fun’ things like getting a sibling a birthday gift or surprising someone during the holidays with a visit. Secrets on the other hand should NEVER involve touches to or seeing private body parts – talk with your kids about being sure they tell you if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”.

3. Model the behavior you want your children to see. I can’t emphasize this enough — children truly learn what they live and will act as they are taught to act. Show respect for other people’s body boundaries by doing simple things like asking for permission before giving someone a hug or kiss. Model protective behaviors when your children’s friends come to visit by letting their parents know who is at home and that no one will be spending any alone time with their child at your house. Seemingly simple statements such as this reaffirm with your children that no one should be alone with them either, when they visit other friends’ homes.

#3. Authority

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does. Parents. Step-parents. Boyfriends or girlfriends of parents. Family members including older or physically stronger siblings. Class mates. Friends. Coaches. Teachers. Instructors. Clergy.

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does.

Authority is projected to child victims through threats, promises or requests to keep secrets. When talking with children about staying safe, it’s important for you to be sure they understand that NO ONE, regardless of who that person is, how important that person’s relationship may be to the child, what kind of job that person may have or how big and strong that person is, that it is NOT OKAY for anyone to touch or ask to see a private body part of your child’s. Help your child understand that s/he should come to you if that ever happens… and have your child identify another adult or two s/he would be comfortable telling, as well.

Know that threats are often made to child victims — threats against them, you, their siblings or even their pets. Sadly, threats are often effective ways to keep children silent, as kids want to be brave and protect themselves and people they love. Have open conversations with your child that if anyone makes a threat against them or someone they love, they need to tell you (or one of the safe adults they have identified) right away! The same goes with keeping secrets or receiving excessive gifts or favors (other common tactics of sexual predators).

Educating yourself about The Three A’s of Sexual Abuse is the first step. Carry it forward and teach your children practical ways they can help stay safe, too. And always remember to trust your gut… if something doesn’t feel right, it often isn’t.


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.