Holiday Warning….

As we prepare for the Holiday Season, most of us are dreaming about the aroma of candied yams and our favorite desserts. We are thinking about the excitement that comes with decorating our trees and shopping for those who have been nice, and even some who were a little naughty. But, in all of this, we can’t forget that the Holiday Season can be one of the most dangerous times for some children.

For those children who have been sexually abused, they are often forced to attend family functions where their abuser will be present. They will be forced to be appropriately cordial, if not fully engaged with required hugs and kisses as well as being asked to sit on a lap or engage in any other number of displays of affection that makes the child’s skin crawl. For some, these family events bring pure terror because the child knows they will be sexually abused by at least one, if not more than one, family member or family friend. They are also painfully aware that any sign of unwillingness to engage these monsters in disguise could result in them being scolded or punished by their parent and other family members.

The Holiday Season is also a time when we attend church services and other faith-based activities and these are also prime opportunities for predators to abuse their victims as well. It could be the youth leader, the deacon, or the long-time family friend that you were taught to call uncle. Unfortunately, parents are often so distracted by the joy and excitement of the event that they fail to notice the terror on their child’s face or they mislabel the child’s reluctance to engage the predator as the hormonal tendencies of a moody teenager.

However, before you load up the car and make the trek to your next family gathering or Holiday event, I urge you to have a conversation with your child. Talk to them about their bodies, boundaries, and what inappropriate touching really is.  Ask them if anyone has touched them in a way that has made them uncomfortable. Reassure them that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone that they don’t want to. Ask them if there is anyone that they don’t want to see or be around. Make it abundantly clear that you will be ok with their answer and they wont be forced to engage anyone that they don’t want to. Give them permission to set their own boundaries. Let them know that they wont be required to be out of sight and feel helpless and alone because the adults are talking and don’t want the itching ears of the kids within earshot. Make sure they understand that they always have access to you and the moment they feel uncomfortable about a person or an activity, they can come to you and tell you without fear of being dismissed and not having their worries taken seriously.

No one wants to believe that their family and friends are capable of such horrible deviant behavior, but there are untold millions of kids being sexually abused in these settings every year. There are untold millions of adults who can tell you that the Holiday Season is always bittersweet because it was during these events that they were sexually abused and year after year even after the abused stopped, they were still forced to interact with their abuser. And, while many parents didn’t know what was going on, it doesn’t negate the terror the child felt because they were unprotected in a house full of family and close friends. Not to mention there are so many family members we often view with a jaundice eye or we know they aren’t to be trusted, but we allow others to make excuses for the gut feeling we have that says that person isn’t safe for your children to be around unsupervised.

I urge every parent and care-giver to take this information seriously and share it with others. It’s a magical time of year, but we can’t allow the joy of the season to dull our sensibilities and place our kids in harm’s way. And yes, it can be a downer, but it can literally save your child from being a victim.

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