Sexual Abuse: Sexually Acting Out

I cannot express adequately in words how much I dreaded writing this.  Even as I type my stomach hurts and I can feel a growing lump in my throat.  However, it is a blog that I cannot leave out.  For if there is any area, that I have gained any insight this is it.  And if I can protect or prevent one child from sexual abuse or an unsubstantiated outcry, the victory will far surpass the discomfort.

Just yesterday, my fifteen-year-old daughter told me she found out that the young son of some of the house parents at a group home where she used to live had been molested by one the boys they were fostering.  Several of my own children were molested – both by siblings and by my ex-husband.  The first out-cry I didn’t believe…until I later walked in and saw it with my own eyes.  Determined to never allow that to happen again, I immediately called the police when another child made an outcry about an older sibling.  The younger child later recanted.  I have gone left when I should have turned right and right when I should have gone left. I have carefully and honestly tried to be the best parent I know how.  And I have carefully and honestly made mistake after mistake.  Each with its own tragic consequences.  How fragile a child is and how utterly destructive sexual abuse is.  It is difficult to even know where to begin.  So I will start in the middle and ramble on…hoping that my words are of some significance to someone.  Do not be naive.  Each of my children came into my home with “no known history of sexual abuse.” In the years to come, through a series of outcries, I learned that every one of them had been abused in some fashion.  This ranged from literally being prostituted out and raped daily from the time they were toddler to early exposure to pornography and sexual images.  I can almost guarantee you that every child in care has suffered some sort of sexual abuse regardless of what their records state.  Many children in-care come from homes where drug use and alcohol abuse are prevalent – with this comes poor decision making and parties with large numbers of inebriated people.  It is a breeding ground for sexual abuse. So what do you do?  Protect your family (this most certainly includes other foster children) to the best of your ability, create a culture of mutual respect and communication (to the best of your ability) and know your limitations. It is impossible to be everywhere all the time.  Do not tell yourself, “This can’t happen.”  It can and it does. The following is a list of suggestions to help protect your family.  Some may sound extreme but each one comes from my own experience or the experiences of others I have met at foster/adopt conferences.

1.     Do not have more than one child in a bedroom.  If this is absolutely not feasible.  Never have only two.  Three in a room is always better than two.

2.     Replace the typical “interior door” lock with a lock that would be found on an exterior door.  Give each child a key to their own door and keep one key to each door for yourself.  If a child loses their key or if it suddenly goes “missing,” take the lock off the door and take it into a local hardware store to have it re-keyed.  The door handles are really very simple to remove.  Just take out all the screws and pull the door knobs out. There is generally no charge to re-key a lock at a hardware store or at most a few dollars for the new key.

3.     Consider placing alarms on all bedroom doors that are installed and monitored through a separate company such as ADT.  This works MUCH better than the simple alarms you could get at a home-improvement store which can easily be switched on and off by the child without your knowledge.  These alarms are well worth the added expense which truly is not at all substantial.  There is an initial investment of approximately $100 per door alarm but no added monitoring fee if you already have a home burglar alarm system.  If you don’t already have a burglar alarm system, it might be something to consider as well.  There are many coupons and discounts if you shop around. In the past, I have paid around $45/month for the monitoring. If the company is aware you are comparing prices, sometimes they will even waive the initial instillation and/or equipment charges.

4.     Consider motion detectors for the house at night. These could be installed and monitored through an alarm company or could be purchased individually from a walk-in store or via the Internet.  I have spoken to some parents who placed the alarms between children’s beds at night when they had to have more than one child in a room at a time. 

5.     Baby-monitors can be used in conjunction with motion detectors in a child’s room at night.  Just be sure to place the monitor out of reach from the child – if the motion detector is turned on.  That way, it can’t simply be turned off each night and back on in the morning.

6.     There are many sites on the Internet that sell monitoring devices for parents.  Everything is available from spy sticks that will pull up all material, texts and sites EVER accessed from a smart-phone or computer even if previously deleted, to GPS tracking devices, and hidden cameras. 

Be ethical in your use and placement of devices such as cameras. Limit them to hallways and central living areas but do not take lightly your role to protect your children.  You must be alert and aware at all times.

7.     Do not allow blankets and perhaps even stuffed animals to be taken out of the bedroom.  Blankets provide a “portable” setting for sexual abuse to occur and stuffed animals provide a lure for small children.

8.     Seek quality treatment - not merely prevention.  Safety plans are great but do nothing to eliminate the problem.  Sexually acting out is the term used when referring to someone under the age of 17.  This is quickly renamed sexual molestation with one single birthday.  Seek out quality programs to help your children overcome their addictions.  There is financial assistance or complete payment the the treatment often available from post-adopt services and Medicaid.  Another option is to request that CPS agree to “joint temporary managing conservatorship” for that child on a short-term basis.  This would place an adoptive child both in foster care (temporarily on paper only) and in your care at the same time.  Result - the state will pay for their treatment program (which are often too expensive for even a financially stable family to afford without assistance).  Several months after successful completion of the program you select, the child is released from CPS and placed solely in your care. Do not bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away. It won’t. And just seeing Joe the counselor down the street may do little good.  There are quality juvenile sexual offender treatment programs in every state.  Once they turn 18 that treatment program has a new name – prison.

I can assure you I did not begin with such an approach to sexual abuse.  All of this came from necessity and experience.  I am horrified by all my mistakes early in fostering – such as allowing a whole group of kids to fall asleep in front of the TV watching movies on week-end night. Then, leaving them there as not to wake them. Or, allowing girls to shower (with bathing suits on) together after going swimming.  These are things I did as a child that were innocent and caused me no harm.  When I set out to foster and adopt, I wanted to treat the kids “just like my own children” with little comprehension of the fact that I was creating an environment where sexual abuses could easily occur and go undetected for years. That is the tragedy of the mistakes we make as foster/adoptive parents. Our mistakes, innocent as they may be, can have such far-reaching consequences for us and more importantly for those children we hold most dear.

Posted on September 29, 2014 .