Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators
About the Guest
Justin HolcombJustin is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. Justin serves on the boards of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) and GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments). He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary...more
Statistics show that 93 percent of abuse victims knew their perpetrators. Pastor Justin Holcomb helps parents teach their children how to protect their bodies from those who would do them harm.
Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators
Bob: Most of the time, when childhood sexual abuse happens, the abuser is someone that the victim knows and trusts. Here’s pastor and author, Justin Holcomb.
Justin: When you’re talking about perpetrators, something that is helpful to understand is the average perpetrator has 120 victims in their lifetime. So, you’re not finding some guy who slipped up and accidentally sinned against a child. It’s a sociopath / psychopath type of personality, who doesn’t have remorse / who is strategic. They get away from being caught / they know how to hide. They are hunting prey—they know how to do that. So, the average is 120 victims.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What are things you can do, as a parent, so your child is protected and ready to defend himself or herself from a potential abuser? We’re going to spend some time talking about that today. So, stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. I’ve already said it this week, but it bears repeating. This is just one of those subjects you wish you didn’t have to talk about.
Dennis: It is. And I was just wondering, Bob—when you grew up in St. Louis, Missouri/ I grew up in Ozark, Missouri—I remember conversations something to the effect of—by my mom and dad: “If someone tries to pick you up on the corner and offer you a ride to school or a ride home, or sees you out in the yard playing and invites you to get in the car, do not go near”—
Dennis: —“that person.”
Bob: What I remember is: “Stay away from strangers offering candy.” I don’t remember anybody explaining to me why—just: “Stay away from strangers offering you candy.” I never thought about anything other than: “Oh, it might be poisoned candy,” “It might be a kidnapper.” I certainly never thought, “It could be sexual abuse,” because that wasn’t even on my radar screen.
Dennis: Nor mine either. I don’t remember ever having a thought, as a child, that they were trying to protect me against someone sexually abusing me.
Bob: But I think it’s important for us to say that’s not because there wasn’t sexual abuse happening when you and I were growing up.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: This is not something that has just started happening in the last 10 or 20 years. This has been going on for as long as there has been human history.
Dennis: Exactly. And we have a pastor, an author, a dad of a couple of girls. Justin Holcomb joins us again on FamilyLife Today. He’s written a book, along with his wife Lindsey, called God Made All of Me. And it’s a children’s book, Justin, to help children protect their bodies. Thanks for doing this! I appreciate this for my grandkids because this does seem like it’s a bigger issue today than it was back when Bob and I were little boys. Do you agree?
Justin: Thankfully, people are shining a light on this issue more and more. And by the way, I’m thrilled to be back.
This is an honor, and this book is the one that we are most proud of from the ones we’ve worked on. But yes, the issue is being talked about. Churches are talking about it. Pastors are talking about it. Parents are talking to their children and other parents about this issue. Thankfully, this is something that is not being hidden or ignored.
Bob: It’s not that it didn’t happen back in the ‘50s. We just didn’t say anything if it did; right?
Justin: It’s been happening since the Fall.
Justin: This is one of the major ways that the evil one distorts and causes destruction. Now, you talk about sexual assault—and that’s the distortion of the union of husband and wife. The next most-influential type of relationship—parent and child—what a great way to wreak havoc, and distort, and destroy—if that’s your intent, as the evil one.
Dennis: I’ll never forget going to a seminar by Dr. Dan Allender, but he made the statement that sexual abuse is the hardest stone the devil of hell throws at a human being. I’ve never forgotten that.
I think he’s right because I think the enemy knows, if he can somehow foul the wiring up when you’re a child, the wiring takes a while to be put back together as an adult.
Justin: Absolutely. And that is an amazing summary of how the Bible portrays that type of abuse and the effects of it.
Bob: This is something that you and Lindsey are passionate about because it’s personal for you.
Justin: We wrote this book because we have two children who, at the time we wrote it, were three and five. They are now five and seven. We started writing this because we wanted to have a book for them, and also, because, when I was ten, I experienced being sinned against in this way by an extended family member.
My wife has worked at a sexual assault crisis center, and her coworker was the children’s victim advocate. They would go to work, and she would just hear stories. She would help her friend, who was helping children and their parents, who had suffered in this way. So, this has been a lot of our life in ministry.
Bob: And I know the statistics vary on this. When you try to nail down how many people have been victimized in a culture, I’ve heard anything from one in five to four out of five. And some of that depends on how you define what you’re talking about with sexual abuse.
Justin: We’ve been going with one in five because no one argues that one. It probably is more, but I don’t want people to get tripped up on stats. One in five is horrible, and it does depend on how you define what sexual abuse / sexual assault is. So, we use a broad definition. We don’t just want to have a narrow definition of what constitutes for abuse, but we don’t want to have it so broad that absolutely everything can fall under the abuse category. That doesn’t help—it doesn’t help the victims / it doesn’t help the cause. So, one in five children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and no one undermines that statistic.
Bob: What’s going on in a person’s heart?—because this is something that just sounds so abhorrent to me.
Justin: Sexual abuse is mostly about power. It’s not only about power—but it’s really important, when you’re talking about sexual abuse, it’s not only talked about as if it’s about sex. Sex is used as a tool to abuse power and to have control over someone else. So, a lot of child sexual abuse is actually about power / misuse of power and its effect. The reason you can’t wrap your mind around it or even imagine it is because it’s such a distortion that you, thankfully, shouldn’t have categories for it.
Justin: It should be that shocking because it is that shocking. This is the effect of the Fall. Yes, the Fall makes us greedy and angry and, maybe, eat too much or not eat enough—or however we do that—but it also—one of the effects of the Fall is this type of destruction and abuse of a very vulnerable person who needs the very person, who’s harming them, to protect them.
Bob: And the reality is, in the area of our sexuality, all of us have been affected by the Fall. We all have—
Bob: —sexual sin that we’re processing / dealing with in our lives. So, one category may be more destructive than another category; but none of us can throw a stone cleanly on this one.
Justin: Well, when you’re talking about perpetrators, something that is helpful to understand is the average perpetrator has 120 victims in their lifetime.
Justin: So, you’re not finding some guy who slipped up and accidentally sinned against a child. It’s a sociopath / psychopath type of personality, who doesn’t have remorse / who is strategic. They get away from being caught / they know how to hide. They are hunting prey—they know how to do that. So, the average is 120 victims.
Dennis: So, you were impacted by a relative / an extended family relative.
Dennis: That’s usually where the perpetrator is. Am I correct on that?
Justin: Absolutely! You were talking about stranger-danger—and appropriately. The people who told you that were saying very good and true things. They could have said more, but they probably didn’t know.
Only seven to ten percent of perpetrators are strangers to the child. Approximately,
34 percent are family members. The other 59 percent are acquaintances of the family or child. So, 34 percent family—so, parent, cousin, uncle, sibling / 59 percent acquaintances—the next door neighbor, the coach, the youth pastor, the teacher. Only 7 percent is left that are strangers. So, 93 percent are known to the family or child.
Bob: So, “Beware of strangers,” is a good message to children; but it leaves them vulnerable in this area to a whole lot of potential perpetrators. In your situation, was it a one-time or was it a repeated situation where you were abused sexually?
Justin: The first one was a grooming moment. That’s what they do—they groom. They kind of take a step toward and see if there is an initial strong responsive, “No!” or they might get caught. So, the first encounter was a grooming. The second one was the real one.
That’s when I went and talked to my parents.
Bob: And a grooming moment, as you describe that—can be something like: “Man, you’ve got some nice muscles for somebody who is ten. Take your shirt off and let me see those muscles.”
Justin: Yes. And it can even start in churches or schools—where the adult will start playing games that require closeness physically, or a tickling game, or hiding candy game, or just so—it’s just anything to get the guard down. That’s the thing—the grooming. Some of them will groom for weeks or months because they know what they want to do, and they are patient. It can be a one-step grooming, or it can be months and months of grooming.
Dennis: And this really explains the strategy behind your book. Your book is a book to children. It’s really talking about being protective of your body. It’s a parent having an intimate conversation with their child, starting out in general, about just how they’re made, and who they are, and how a parent needs to protect their child’s body and teach the child to think about his or her body.
Justin: There are really two big threads through the book. One is the theological—you said, starting in Genesis—it’s a doctrine of creation applied to children.
Dennis: “Male and female He created them.”
Justin: And He created them good—we start off with that. Then, we also get very practical. So, there are some theological foundations. On that theological foundation of: “God created you, and He created you good in your body,”—based on that—“Then, here are some practical things that take place about secrets, and private parts, and appropriate touch.”
And this is the problem that we’ve bumped into, as parents—Lindsey and I. We had a few books—that we were taking three pages from one book, and three pages from another book, and three pages from this third book—and kind of making it a collage.
Justin: We thought, “We just want to have the book that has Bible verses in it, the Christian story, and then, launching from that.” We wanted to tell children: “Hey when God made—you know, on Day One, Day Two, Day Three—He called it good.
“When He made humans, He called them good, good—very good.”
And launching from that: “He made all parts of your body,”—just being able to apply the biblical doctrine of creation to undergird the dignity of a child—that’s a fun thing to do. And that’s what—we wanted to start there, and then, launch and apply that to this issue of abuse.
Bob: The book we’re talking about is called God Made All of Me, a book to help children protect their bodies, by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. And Justin is joining us on FamilyLife Today to talk about this book.
I’m assuming this is a book you would read to a child long before you’d ever have any kind of birds and bees conversation with this child.
Justin: Absolutely! Well, our belief is that we should be having lots of little talks—
Bob: That’s right.
Justin: —not one big talk, way too late.
Justin: If we know that the average exposure to pornography is ten to eleven—or maybe, even worse now—we need to be having some talks sooner. The more you can make things normal about talking about body parts and all of that, the better.
Dennis: What you’ve done here is very simply, and yet, creatively—put the cookies on the lower shelf, where a child can begin to converse with the parents. The thing I liked about it is—we were trained by our parents to protect ourselves against strangers around candy, or gum, or accepting a ride. This really is getting into the issue, though, of where the real danger is—which is around touching. This can happen, seemingly, in a harmless fashion with an extended family member.
Justin: Yes. The appropriate and inappropriate touch category—that’s—the whole book is really practically centering around that: “What are private parts? How should you think about them? What are they called?” Then: “What is appropriate and inappropriate touch?” And putting into the child’s mind the idea that they can say, “No,” to certain touch; and it doesn’t have to be inappropriate. They can actually say, “No,” to just hugs and kisses; and that’s okay.
Now, we still want our children—
—we’ve done this with our little girls. We still want them to be respectful to their grandparents. One of my favorite stories—was my father / my mom and dad. They are very involved in our family. They are very close—two hours away—we see them all the time. A few years ago, my dad was leaving after a visit. He said, “Hey!” to one of my daughters: “Sophia, come over here and give Grandpa a hug and a kiss.” She said: “No, thank you. Can I give you a high-five?”
He said: “Oh come on! I’m getting ready to leave. I won’t see you. Give Grandpa a kiss.” And I looked at my dad and I was like, “Hey, let’s go talk for one second, Dad.” He’s a hugger/kisser. I mean, he’s so affectionate. I’m like: “You’re so affectionate. This is beautiful and wonderful. I love it, but do you want your granddaughter thinking that, when a man begs for physical affection, that she should give into that?” He got it right away and said: “Absolutely not!” “I mean, right now, she’s just enjoying the fact that she doesn’t want to give you a kiss,”—he has a beard. And the whole thing was—he had a big beard. She didn’t want to get the prickliness on her face. And he said, “I got it!”
So, just walking our parents through that and say:
“Hey, I mean, I still want her to say, ‘No,’ respectfully; but I want her to also have that be respected by you.” And he got it. This is a difficult conversation. I mean, my wife and I deal in the topic of abuse and prevention quite a bit. The thought of talking to my children about this was daunting to me and my wife. So, we get that this isn’t an easy conversation for parents to have.
The goal is for the book to be a tool. We’ve heard of parents sitting down and reading the book, cover to cover, and launching into a great conversation. Parents have added to it—things that they want to do. Some parents went through parts of the story—just a little bit / kind of piecemeal—and then, stopping and having a conversation. Next week, do another piece. So, it’s a tool that the parents can use however they want. You get some good parents—love their kids—they’ll figure it out. But this—we wanted this to be something that they could wield against those that would want to harm them.
Dennis: Everybody has got a context. You have a context which makes you more sensitive around issues that surround this subject than me because I didn’t have—an experience like you had.
I’ve got to tell you—as a grandfather, I have sought to hug and kiss my grandsons and granddaughters. I never had the thought—
Dennis: —that by asking for a kiss from my granddaughters that I was somehow—maybe, when I said: “Oh, come on. Come over here and give me a hug and a kiss,” that I somehow was contributing to thinking that: “If the opposite sex pleads / if they initiate, that you’ve got to be careful.”
Bob: “If an adult or an authority figure in your life asks for it—
Bob: —“you need to respond.” I’ve never had that thought either; but I’m thinking back to every time my grandkids have left, and we’ve hugged and kissed goodbye—and I think your point is—there is nothing wrong with that until the child says, “How about a high-five instead?” Then, the parent needs to go: ‘Gotcha! High-five!’”
Justin: When I leave to travel, I’m hoping my girls give me a hug and a kiss.
Justin: I get it! That’s exactly it—what you guys have described is exactly it—which is, usually, the child is going, “How about just a high-five?” And they might give you the high-five; and then, you are getting the hug and kiss next—like my father did. He offered the high-five, and she was like, “Okay, I’ll give you a high-five.” Then, she went over and gave him a big hug.
What I want to see with my child is for her to explore the fact that she has some self-governance—that she is allowed to say when someone stops touching her. We used to play a game when she was a little infant on purpose. It was a tickle game. I would tickle, tickle, tickle until I was like, “Okay; I will tickle until you say, ‘Stop,’ or “No more.” As soon as she would say, “Stop,” I would stop. I just wanted her to get trained to—when she says, “Stop,” / when she says, “No more,”—it stops. She has an expectation of that now. I want that to be applied for the rest of her life—when she’s 15, and 21, and 35—like I want her to have that sense of expectation.
Bob: And I’m thinking of that game—I think that’s a great idea. I’m thinking I’d carry it one step further, which is:
“Okay; now, the next time you tell me to stop, I’m not going to stop. What I want you to do is scream.”
Bob: “I want you to scream, ‘MOMMY!’ just as loud as you can,”—because there will come a time when she’ll say, “Stop!” and somebody won’t. She needs to know what to do when the person you say, “Stop!” to doesn’t stop.
Justin: I like that a lot.
Justin: I really like that.
Dennis: As you were talking, I was also thinking about the healthy side of this—which I do with my granddaughters and grandsons because I didn’t do it with my sons and my daughters—is I had three kinds of hugs.
Bob: Hang on. Before you tell us about your hugs, let me just remind listeners—the book we’ve been talking about today is called God Made All of Me, a book to help children protect their bodies. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go online and get a copy and read this to their children / grandparents could read it to grandchildren—but this is a book that needs to be read to kids today. It’s called God Made All of Me. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we can have a copy of the book sent to you.
Now, tell us about the three kinds of hugs.
Dennis: Well, I had three kinds of hugs—a baby bear hug, a momma bear hug, and a papa bear hug. And the baby bear hug was [making sound like] eek-eek-eek, and a very gentle hug. They’d get used to this—all of them—whether they were my kids or, now, my grandkids do it. They will actually get the baby bear hug—they’ll kind of close their eyes, and smile, and go, “Mamma bear hug.” So, I give them this warm, just kind of dreamy hug; and, then, their bodies stiffens, and they go, “Papa bear hug.”
Justin: They brace for it.
Dennis: Yes. [Laughter] And I give them this really papa bear hug, and growl a little bit, and tell them I love them. I think we need to be careful in this culture. This is my exhortation to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I think we need to be careful of not allowing the distortion of the culture / the destruction of the enemy to rob us of one of the great privileges of physical closeness.
It just needs to be appropriate and it needs to be in public.
Bob: So, how can you tell the difference between an uncle, who is saying, “Give me a papa bear hug,” and somebody who is—
Dennis: Well, you heard me say, “It needs to be appropriate—
Dennis: —“and it needs to be in public.”
Bob: But Justin, if you’re a parent and your brother wants to do papa bear hugs with your daughter, when does your antenna go up and say: “Wait, wait, wait! Something might not be right here”?
Justin: If they do it against my child’s wishes—
Justin: —if they seem to do it with no one else around.
Justin: Some parents—many people have a gut instinct on that. I encourage people to go with their gut.
Justin: The need to be alone with a child / the need to violate the child’s wishes are the two big ones.
The point that you made about not wanting the destruction to take away and rob us, I could not agree more because we have to thread the needle regarding this issue because we don’t want to instill radical fear into children.
I want parents to be involved in preventing and recognizing threats. The best way is to give children appropriate affection because, when you have a lot of that, then, they learn what inappropriate affection looks like. You need to give them the categories, and the words, and teach them, but the experience of good affection from family and friends is a great defense because they will have a category for not safe.
And what you are doing in those hugs—you’ve prepared your children and your grandchildren for good love from someone who loves them, and that’s a gift.
Bob: Well, hugs that happen, with the whole family standing around—that’s different and that’s not the kind of threatening behavior that is the same as when a relative wants to hug in private.
This is a part of how you can help your child be prepared and know differences.
You outline in the back of the book you’ve written for children, God Made All of Me—
Bob: —you outline nine ways parents can proactively help their children be prepared for the potential of being sexually abused / how they can recognize that something inappropriate may be happening here. And we’re going to expand more on that tomorrow.
Let me tell our listeners how they can get a copy of the book, God Made All of Me, which is a book you’ve written to help children protect their bodies. It’s a book designed for parents to read to kids; and this would be, again, as we’ve said, for kids who are two, to seven, to eight. I mean, you can read it to older kids, but it’s really written for young children. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the book that Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have written—
—called God Made All of Me.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can order from us online if you’d like; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order by phone—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the title of the book—God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies—by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to start to take a look at some of the things parents can do—some of the ways we can help our children learn how to protect their own bodies. Justin Holcomb is going to be back with us tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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