I usually write exclusively for parents interested the business of child performing. This post will start that way – the inspiration for this – but it’s quickly going to go into some passionate feelings I have for all parents. So please read, consider, and share if you think this can be helpful (and I’m really hoping it can). It’s taken me a long time to write this; school, family, auditions, all pile up…and, frankly, it’s a tough subject and I wanted to provide you with as much accurate information as possible.
Recently, several model moms discovered that there were photos of their children (or children we know) along with many other kiddos on some “chan” sites. Now, I will admit that I took a look at a link for about two seconds and the children I saw were fully-clothed and pretty innocent-looking. Some children we did not recognize were young girls (as little as one in a full-on carseat) that had a lot of makeup on and done-up hair. (Remember I am a real makeup prude for kids -- especially mine -- but I don’t want to get all judgy – time and a place for everything and it’s hard enough to be a mom without other judgy moms). These particular sites are called “chan” sites (I believe) and are like whac-a-mole sites…impossible to eliminate because they come as fast as they go and skirt legal vs illegal activity and are based out of the country and travel through all sorts of servers to protect the anonymity of the origins. Ok, creeped out much? (I just want to add that I visited a site for only two seconds because I quickly realized I wanted NOTHING even connected to the stuff that could end up on my computer or the viruses or the whatever related to the garbage.)
Moms I interact with FREAKED OUT. You probably would too. I told my wife and she FREAKED OUT (although no one seemed to see my daughter anywhere).
Guess who didn’t freak out.
You see, my kid is out there. You can go on Macy’s, Belk’s, Target, Hanna, J. Crew (etc., etc.) and see child models. Heck, many of us put photos of our kids on Facebook and Instagram all the time (I do). My kid is fully-clothed, looks age-appropriate, and just happens to be a seven-year-old girl. Guess what? If some creeper is going to get all worked up over my kid…it could just as easily happen to any kid, model or not…whatever. I HATE that it could happen; it SICKENS me; and it’s just plain WRONG – don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to argue THOSE points. But what am I going to do? Hide my kid behind a veil or keep her inside her life? We let our schools post photos of our kids planting trees and stuff. Perverts who like photos of kids planting trees? Probably exist.
However, the ODDS of your child and mine ending up on internet creeper sites are so minimal that as EFFED UP as it may be, you just cannot worry about it. If you post scantily-clad, sexy-pose photos of your kid, maybe worry about it more.
Now here’s where I’m going to get really passionate. Look back at my title: Are we worrying about the wrong thing?
If you’re worried about where your kid shows up on the internet, YES, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
Now this part is for ALL parents – not just those of kids in the public eye.
Mic check. Testing…1, 2, 3…
You know what we really need to worry about? Our children being sexually abused. You know why? Because this actually DOES happen to many kids. The statistics are staggering. I’m passionate about this because I cannot even count the number of family members, friends, and students I have worked with over my twenty years in the classroom who have been sexually abused. I’m not even going to divulge the range of people who are so close to me who have endured that vile atrocity because it’s their story to tell – but trust me; it’s many.
Let me throw some numbers at you.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, ONE in FIVE girls and ONE in TWENTY boys are victims of child sexual abuse before they reach adulthood. This is ALL kids and these are only statistics based on actual reported acts in the United States. The statistics align with adults’ recollections of their experience with abuse, although adult males tend to report that they experienced child sexual abuse in slightly higher numbers than actually recorded in crime databases. Overall, this translates into slightly less than 10% OF ALL AMERICAN CHILDREN experiencing child sexual abuse. Even worse: only about 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities! (I want you to know that my I have done my well-trained due diligence to verify that the websites I used for this present reliable, well-researched statistics, so you can trust my sources.)
Now here’s the one that should make you stop dead in your tracks.
90% of the victims of child sexual abuse are victimized by someone they KNOW. 60% are known to the offender but are NOT family and the remaining 30% are family members. It kind of turns out that “stranger danger” is BS.
Children who experience abuse by someone they know are far more likely to experience significant problems with trust, feelings of worthlessness, and are very likely to have suicidal ideation. These internalized feelings may lead to significant problems forming meaningful relationships and partnerships as children become adults…and there is evidence that children who suffered prolonged abuse from family members are far more likely to experience so-called acquaintance rape (political statement: rape is rape whether you know someone or not, so we’ll just say “raped by someone they know”).
An extensive report authored in 2010 by former FBI Investigator Kenneth Lanning (sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children along with the Department of Justice) offered this important information:
“Acquaintance molesters are still, however, one of the most challenging manifestations of sexual victimization of children for society and professionals to face. People seem more willing to accept a sinister, unknown individual or ‘stranger’ from a different location or father/stepfather from a different socioeconomic background as a child molester than a clergy member, next-door neighbor, law-enforcement officer, pediatrician, teacher, coach, or volunteer. Acquaintance molesters often gain access to children through youth-serving organizations. The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. He is not simply an anonymous, external threat.” (Emphasis mine.)
One of the most important things you should learn about, as a parent, is the process of “grooming” – how a potential perpetrator of child sexual abuse gains trust in YOU as well as your child to create a situation in which that person can victimize a child. One thing very true of child performers is that they are exposed to close contact with adults who could potentially create “grooming” situations hospitable to abuse – but honestly, it can happen in church, on a sports team, at karate, or at Thanksgiving dinner.
I could go on forever with facts and statistics…and I will provide you with the links to all the sites I used for my research, including helpful information to learn about child sexual abuse, how to talk to your children, signs and symptoms and even the sex offender registries (handy to check when your children are starting new activities, etc., but remember these crimes are VERY UNDER-REPORTED so the offenders may never have encountered the justice system in any form). And don’t even get me started on the plea bargains offenders can take to avoid trial that make their crimes seem minimal “on the record.” I served on a jury in which a man charged with forcing a young boy to perform and receive oral sex was pled down to “sexual contact with a minor” – a fourth degree felony with a relatively short sentence – from First Degree Sexual Assault (which is the legal charge for RAPE in CT)…and a man my family knows well who was caught file-sharing as well as possessing a lot of child pornography on his computer who pled that down to something like one obscene photo or something. (The justice system in this country is effed up, but that’s like another entire blog I could write.)
So please. Worry about the right things with your children. You CANNOT be too careful about this.
Do not let your child spend unsupervised time without you or a very, very, very trustworthy person (and remember the whole “grooming” thing? They make themselves seem very, very, very trustworthy!). Re-think sleepovers – even with family members. Host them at your house or discourage them entirely. I’m sorry – I know that is really lame and maybe over-cautious parenting, but my child is much less likely to suffer from the tears of reacting to mean old mom than being abused by a known person. Heck, I worry about this more than any likelihood my child will be harmed by a giant, red, three-month-old perfect Monsanto strawberry. Or riding her bike in the road.
Talk about this stuff. With your kids, your spouse, your friends. If you think it hasn’t happened to people you know, you will become quite aware how widespread it is once you have those conversations.
And please share this. Share these links. Let your friends know what they need to worry about. The bicycle helmet? YES, of course. Drowning in the pool? YES. But this one – child sexual abuse – is more likely than any of those. We TALK about the helmets and the pools – so maybe that’s why they happen less. We hear the horror stories of drowning and we make our kids have a healthy fear of the water and we teach them to swim. But do we teach them to do as much as possible to protect them from sexual abuse?
We’d better start. NOW.
Reactions? Thoughts? Post here, on my Facebook page (The Bizzy Mama) or via email: theBizzyMama@gmail.com
National Center for Victims of Crime, Child Sexual Abuse Statistics:
The Lanning report on child molesters:
National Sex Offender Public Website (lots of publications/guides/etc.; not just sex offender registries)
...and a direct link to their "Common Questions" page where you can read about many things including grooming:
Stop It Now! Resources for preventing child sexual abuse:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- includes information on reporting child sexual abuse (among many other things):