A tragic story unfolded along the West Coast. 42-year old mother of two Christina Anderson was murdered, her charred remains found in the house of the primary suspect, 40-year old James DiMaggio. DNA tests confirmed the body of a young boy also found at the scene in Southern California was that of Christina's 8-year old son, Ethan. An Amber Alert was issued for Christina's 16-year old daughter Hannah who had been abducted by DiMaggio. This horrible scenario concluded in a remote area of Idaho where DiMaggio was shot and killed… the silver lining is that Hannah was rescued and taken to safety.
Various news reports stated Hannah's friends shared with investigators clues about DiMaggio's abnormal behavior towards Hannah. Reportedly, DiMaggio would call and send texts to Hannah that made her uncomfortable. Additionally, he allegedly confessed to the 16-year old, “Hannah, I have a crush on you“, as well as making a comment about wanting to date Hannah if they were the same age.
While many facts and details have yet to be sorted out, there is an important discussion point in all of this for parents and kids… gut instincts are often right.
Kids will talk about being “creeped out” by someone… by another kid or teen, or even by someone older than they are. So, how can a parent set the stage for kids to share their gut instincts and concerns?
1) Encourage your child to trust her gut. It's sometimes tough for kids to talk with their parents or other adults about these gut feelings for a variety to reasons… to name a few: embarrassment; not wanting to get someone in trouble; or even thinking they themselves are wrong or just “imagining” things. Listen to and acknowledge concerns your children have… about anything! Starting with the *small stuff*, you can encourage continued candid and open dialogue with your child which can lead to her feeling more comfortable about sharing *bigger stuff* with you in the future.
2) Know the signs of “grooming.” Grooming is a common practice of sexual predators where they draw children into sexual relationships by earning their trust and secretly increasing sexual contact/conduct, often resulting in molestation. Predators will “test the waters” to see how children will respond. Grooming behavior can include actions such as complimenting a child, flirting with or touching a child, or even offering gestures to win a child's affection, such as giving gifts. Be aware of the signs of grooming and listen to your child if he shares with you that someone is making him uncomfortable. As with so much in life, open communication is imperative. Remember, over 90% of children who are sexually abused know, love or trust their molester.
3) Listen, believe and respond. If your child shares with you they are uncomfortable around someone, listen and acknowledge those concerns — as with other abuse, the most important thing you can do is to believe what your child is telling you. Depending on the information and concerns she shares, try not to panic, but respond in a calm, controlled manner… then take appropriate action. That could involve anything from simply keeping your child away from the person making her uncomfortable to contacting authorities to report suspicious grooming behavior or even abuse. Also, encourage your kids to look out for their friends and let you know if they are struggling with someone. Parents and other caring adults often need to collaborate with one another to help keep kids safe from predators.
I can't emphasize enough how crucial it is to have conversations with children about this issue. Remind them if they ever feel uncomfortable around someone, they need to let you know ASAP. Trust their gut. And trust yours, too.
Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at www.gingerkadlec.com.