If there was a way that you could raise your child that would almost guarantee that they were safe from exploitation and sexual abuse, would you be signing up right now?
I doubt there are many parents out there who would answer no.
And yet the vast majority of parents are Authoritarian, a parenting approach that I am about to argue puts kids at a far higher risk of being abused than they need to be.
Peaceful Parenting (also known as Respectful Parenting) however can minimise the risk.
Physical abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, these are generally the realm of primary caregivers.
Sexual abuse is slightly different, because although the vast majority of sexual abuse victims were abused by someone they knew well and trusted, there is a wider range of potential perpetrators of sexual abuse.
Family, Family Friends, Teachers, Coaches, Religious Clerics, Activity Leaders, Babysitters and other carers, Neighbours - these people whom you trust and love, people who you teach your children to obey - are the biggest threat in terms of sexual abuse.
No matter how much we want to believe in the stranger in a van, or hanging around the playground or public toilets, trope, it is statistically completely inaccurate. Only 11% of Australian child sexual abuse cases involve strangers, with the US statistics sitting around 14-25%
So how can Peaceful Parenting help protect your kids against sexual abuse? A few ways:
peaceful parents teach consent
Be it changing nappies, tickling or giving Grandma a kiss, Peaceful Parenting believes that children have just as much right to bodily autonomy as adults, and that teaching sexual consent starts at birth.
The younger a child knows that no one, not even Mum and Dad, have a right to touch them without consent, the safer they will be from sexual predators and later sexual assault.
It is very rare for a sexual predator to start out with an overtly sexual action/demand. Part of the grooming process is to slowly increase physical contact - this grooms the child into accepting the slow boundary pushing, but it also grooms the other adults who become accustomed to the predator physically interacting with the child.
In the Royal Commision into child sexual abuse one of the cases revolved around a Sydney Dance teacher. As a Dance Teacher myself, I have followed this case from the beginning. One of the most blatant examples of grooming both children and other adults into accepting inappropriate physical contact as normal occurred at a studio Christmas party where the Teacher had a 9 year old girl straddling his lap whilst he licked the ice-cream she was eating in a suggestive manner. This happened in front of dozens of parents and other teacher’s and only one of those adults (a teacher) thought it was concerning behaviour. When she questioned one of her colleagues the colleague replied how great it was that that the predator had such a close and fun relationship with the students.
You can not get to that point without slowly breaking down boundaries. You can not get to the point of convincing a child that it’s normal to play tickling games in bed, naked, with your teacher, without the slow breakdown of boundaries. You can not get to the point where a child thinks nothing of sending a predator naked photos without a breakdown of boundaries.
The earlier you start to teach your child that everyone is required to have their consent to touch them in any way. The safer your child will be.
Peaceful Parents Stick Up for their Child and Other Children to Other Adults:
In the case mentioned above, the dance studio had over 200 permanent students, which means that there was somewhere around 100-150 families. There were multiple full time teachers, as well as teachers who came in on a semi-regular basis. There were teachers and parents from other schools who saw things at eisteddfods. One adult took concerns to the police. Unsurprisingly she was vilified. As the case evolved it came out that there were many parents who either knew or suspected what was going on, and didn’t report it. When children came forward with complaints they were accused of lying, bullied out of the studio, ostracised by their old friends. There was a culture of don’t ask don’t tell, especially if your kid wants to make it in the industry. I’m sure there were parents who pulled their kids out due to their suspicions. Teachers who left. But only one took her concerns to the police, and the management all claimed that they had no other complaints from parents or staff. They claimed they were unaware right up until the end.
The Royal Commision didn’t believe them, but they did acknowledge that the offender had worked very hard to successfully create a culture wherein he (and his sister/co-principal) were never questioned. If you questioned them you were out. So parents and teachers didn’t question.
If every parent who had concerns had actually gone to the police, he would have been caught years earlier.
We can not rely on others, even mandated reporters to stick up for our children, we have to be prepared to do it ourselves, and to stick up for other children, no matter the cost. Peaceful Parents get an awful lot of practice at this. We are constantly having to defend our parenting choices and having to stick up for our kids to other adults who disagree with our parenting choices. Which makes our kids less likely to be victims (a predator isn’t going to pick the kid with parents who stand up to other adults, when they could pick the one who’s parents teach their kids to do as they are told) and enables us to gain practice in being advocates for other children.
Peaceful Parents Teach Their Children to Stand Up for Themselves and Others:
As part of teaching consent to our kids we teach them what to do and say if someone is pushing their boundaries or doesn’t ask for consent.
As part of teaching our kids to take turns rather than “share” we teach them what to say and do if someone wants to play with something they are not finished with yet.
As part of teaching our kids to problem solve with words not violence we teach our kids what to do and say if someone is bullying, or pushing or snatching.
As part of teaching our children that children deserve respect too, and adults do not deserve more respect simply because they are adults, we teach them that no one has a right to treat other people badly.
As part of standing up for our own kids to our parenting peers, we teach them to be up-standers. To intervene when they see these things happening to another child. Thus Peacefully Parented children are far more likely to be capable and confident in standing up for themselves and others, even to adults.
Peaceful Parents Don’t Teach Their Kids to Obey:
Peaceful Parents have quite a vew issues with the concept of obedience. But for the sake of this blog post, i’m only going to talk about how obedience is a risk factor for sexual abuse.
Obedience is so easily manipulated. “Make sure you behave and do what the neighbours ask” is all well and good until the neighbour is saying “Remember mummy said you have to do as I say”, whilst telling your child to kiss them.
“If you don’t do this, I’ll tell you father that you were talking back and you’ll be punished.” It’s pure blackmail fodder.
Peaceful Parents Discourage Secrets and Teach their Kids that they will Always be Listened To, and Given the Benefit of the Doubt:
Secrets are a sexual abuser’s best weapon. “If you tell anyone what happened I will hurt them”, “let's just keep this between us, it’s our little secret”, “who’s going to believe you anyway?”, “If you tell, you will get in trouble.”
These are all claims that sexual predators make every day. In fact many predators actively look for children who are good at keeping secrets or believe that they should keep secrets. Teaching your child that “We don’t keep secrets in my family” is one of the most recommended child protection tactics.
However it also has to be backed up by the child knowing that their parents will always listen to them, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Teaching your child that they shouldn’t keep secrets is pointless if you brush them off when they try to tell you something, or constantly question their trustworthiness.
They will stop coming to you.
Peacefully Parented Kids are Not Worried about Getting In Trouble:
Peaceful Parenting is about resolution and natural consequences, not punishment. Kids who are raised this way have no reason to fear getting in trouble, which means they have no reason to hide information or lie about something they are doing. They also have no reason to believe a predator claiming that they will get into trouble if they tell what’s happening to them. And sexual abusers are great at convincing their victims that they (the victim) is in the wrong. (They also like to play the “if you tell then I will get into trouble” card too.)
Peacefully Parented Kids Have an Internal Moral Compass:
Because they aren’t worried about getting into trouble, peacefully parented kids tend to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Not just because they might get caught. This makes them far more resistant to peer pressure and the “we won’t get caught” mentality.
Peaceful Parents also like to let their kids practice sorting out their own problems and making moral decisions, which means the kids are in tune with their gut.
Peacefully Parented Kids Have Been Allowed to Make Decisions About their own Safety, Health and Identity:
This builds on the last sentence above. Peacefully Parented kids have been allowed to make decisions that affect their bodies. From how and when their hair is cut, to how high they can climb that tree. This means that they have a healthy understanding of risk, the ability to listen to their gut and identify risky situations, and are used to having control over their bodies.
Peaceful Parents Don’t Moralise their Child’s Behaviour:
“Be a good boy Johnny and help Father Tom”
“Big boys don’t get upset”
“Good Girls do as they’re told”
“Why did you do that? That’s naughty! You’re a naughty girl”
“You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit”
“What a good girl you are for helping”
“Santa won’t bring you any presents if you are naughty”
“Good boys don’t tattle.”
Moralising children’s behaviour is rampant in our society, and once again, it’s something that seems benign until an abuser uses it to their advantage.
“Good boy’s don’t tattle” says Father Tom after sticking his hands down your child’s pants.
What a good girl you are for helping me, now because you’re such a good girl and I know I can count on you, I’ve got something else I think you can help me with…….” says the babysitter.
"What are you doing in here? You know that’s against the rules, I think we might need to teach you a lesson for being such a bad boy” say the older kids at school.
Moralising your kids behaviour is quite frankly giving abusers an easy way to manipulate your kids.
Peaceful Parents Expect other Adults Treat their Children Respectfully:
Because we believe that children are just as deserving of respect as anyone else, we won’t put up with someone yelling at our kids, or threatening them, or smacking them or calling them names. Even if that person is an adult. And even if that person is someone in “authority” over our kids. We are regularly calling out other adults on their double standards, and standing up for their kids rights. And often this means that we will remove our child from an environment if the adult involved has continued to be disrespectful to our child or the children in their care in general. School, activities, church, even family members. If they can’t treat children with respect, then we’re out.
We have a tendency to seek out like minded parents, because it can be really isolating swimming against the tide, but because we are actively seeking out people with the same values as ours, we’re not going to enroll our kids at the dance studio that promises fame, as long as you are prepared to be treated like dirt in order to get there. If the parents at soccer are yelling abuse at the kids, we’re going to complain and pull our kid out, and find a club where that doesn’t happen. If the school’s response to your complaints about bullying is that kids have to learn to deal with it because it builds character, we leave.
Which means two things. 1: We try to surround our children with adults who respect them. They have multiple allies and advocates.
2: That Peacefully Parented kids grow up being respected. And when you grow up being respected, you know what it feels like, by knowing what respect feels like, it’s a lot easier to identify disrespect.
Disrespect sets off alarm bells for you.
Peacefully Parented Kids Are Not Used to Violence, Coercion, Bribery and Threats:
Again this follows on from above. Because our kids grow up without coercion, bribery, threats and violence being “normal” in their household. Threats, Bribes, Coercion, and Violence all stand out.
When a child is regularly coerced into doing things they don’t want to do, then the parent has done half the grooming for the perpetrator.
When they are used to being manipulated and bribed or even blackmailed, they no longer recognise it, it’s normal, so it doesn’t set off any alarms for them.
When threats and violence are used to control on a regular or even daily basis, then the child is conditioned to expect and accept threats and bribes as normal. They have no internal warning system anymore. It’s like their smoke alarm kept going off every time they made toast so they took the batteries out.
All abusers use threats, manipulation, coercion, bribery, and violence to get their victims to comply. If your kids have never had it be normalised, then they are going to be able to recognise the dangerous behaviour.
Peaceful Parents are Researchers:
Most people don’t go down the Peaceful Parenting route by instinct. At least not an overall instinct. They may instinctively feel that Cry-it-out doesn’t sit right with them, but it’s the reading and research and networking that they do from that point eventually leads them to Peaceful Parenting. They may instinctively rebel against the way they were raised, but it’s the research they have to do to be able to justify their choices to the 10million people who will tell them they are wrong, that really solidifies their approach. Right from before birth, all the way to the teen years, at whatever point someone comes to Peaceful parenting, there will be an impetus, which may be instinctive, but there will be so much push back. And being constantly subjected to pushback forces most of us to read, to research to investigate, to clarify our views and feelings. So by the time you’ve been doing this peaceful parenting thing for a couple of years, we are pretty accustomed to reading everything and anything there is about child development. Child safety information is one aspect of that.
Authoritarian parents, in my experience tend to either fall back on the “this is how my parents did things and I turned out fine” argument or the “my religion/God says” argument to completely dismiss research and evidence. Or else they never even think to research their parenting practices and evaluate whether they are worth keeping or if they could be doing things better. They just do what they know, and stick to their confirmation bias. So if you did a survey taking 20 average authoritarian (or permissive parents,) and 20 average peaceful parents and asked them to identify as many child (sexual) protection recommendations as possible in one minute, my money would be on the peaceful parents. They’re more likely to have sought out the knowledge required to teach their kids the tactics that will help keep them safe, even without taking into account how much influence the dismissal of obedience and coercion and moralising, or the promotion of standing up for yourself and not letting people disrespect you just because they are adults, has on the child’s likelihood of becoming a victim.
so how does this compare to Authoritarian Parenting?
A lot of the top tactics for preventing child sexual abuse can easily be used by parents f any parenting approach.
The problem that I see with Authoritarian Parenting is that you are creating unnecessary confusion for your child, and often acting in ways that are counterintuitive to the messages that you want them to internalise around sexual safety.
When you smack your child, or tell them they have to hug their brother and apologise even if they don't feel like it. When you tell them they have to give grandma a kiss because that's 'being respectful" to your elders. When you tell them they have their hair cut because "I said so and i'm in charge" - how do you expect your child to actually believe you when you say that their body is theirs and that no one can or should force them to do things they don't want? that they have the right to decide what happens to their body?
When you teach your child to obey adults and anyone older than them, because they are older, because that's being respectful, because adults are in charge you have to take the risk that one of those adults might use that to their advantage.
When your child skins their knee and you tell them to stop crying, or your toddler is having an emotional meltdown so you put them in time out and ignore their crying. When you tell your kids "i don't care who started it, you're both punished" or "stop telling on your sister" - how do you expect your child to feel that they can actually come to you anytime and tell you about anything without being dismissed or punished?
When you ignore hurt kids (that aren't yours) out and about your children are learning by example to ignore other people's pain and problems.
When you use praise and shame (moralisation) as behaviour management tactic your kids will do anything to get praise. Anything.
When you regularly ignore your kids attempts to ask for help or gain your attention, your kids start to gravitate towards others who give them the attention they crave.
When you see everything as an us(parents) vs them(children) dichotomy then you easily fall into the beliefs that children are manipulative, annoying, trying to pull the wool over your eyes, trouble, liars. (This only gets worse as the teen years set in.) Making you subconsciously less likely to believe a child than an adult.
When your child is used to bribery, coercion, threats and violence, they won't even blink when someone uses these tactics to groom them for sexual abuse.
When your kids fear getting in trouble, no amount of you telling them that they can tell you anything is going to make them actually tell you.
You can teach them the underwear rule and claim that you'll always be there to listen and believe them as much as you want, but if your everyday actions prove otherwise, then what exactly was the point?
NSOPW - Talking to your child about sexual abuse
Child In Mind Institute - 10 Ways to give your child the skills to prevent sexual abuse
National Sexual Violence Resource Centre - Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Lauren's Kids - Safer Familes
Darkness to Light Foundation - 5 Steps to protecting children
Stop It Now - Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Body Safety Australia - Reading List & Resources
Background Information on Case Study 37
Concerns raised about Sydney dance teacher Grant Davies nine years ago - Sydney Morning Herald
Paedophile dance teacher Grant Davies tormented wife, royal commission told - Sydney Morning Herald
Paedophile dance teacher Grant Davies’ sister ‘failed to see red flags’. - Mammamia
Father confronted dance teacher over abuse - Sky News
Royal Commission transcripts, evidence and findings - Royal Commissions Australia
Also - if you would like information on choosing a safe dance studio for your kids, please feel free to contact me via Facebook or email
Statistics and Facts on Sexual Abuse of Children
National Centre for Victims of Crime (USA)
Australian Government - Institute of Criminology
What Is Peaceful Parenting?
Parenting Beyond Punishment - FAQ
Peaceful Parent Institute - The Peaceful Parenting Philosophy
AHA Parenting - About Peaceful Parenting
How to/online courses and other resources on Peaceful Parenting
Peacefully Parenting an growing child -Attachment Parenting International
12 Tips to transition to peaceful parenting - Dr Laura Markham
Peaceful Parents Happy Kids
Peaceful Parenting Australia - Courses
L R Knost - Peaceful parenting books from a Christian perspective
Dr Daniel Siegel - Neurobiology and Child Development expert
Alfie Khon - Motivation expert (education and parenting)
Hi I'm Nicole