When children ask “what’s sexual assault?” — how do you answer?

Amazon: Annabelle's Secret: A Story about Sexual AbuseJen has appealed to Parenthacker wisdom on painful but important topic:

Due to recent events in our community, the parents on my street have been discussing what to tell our children if they come home from school asking about the words "rape" and "sexual assault." Our group of kids is of mixed gender, and range in age from 4 to 10. I know the older ones have had varying degrees of sex ed., and the talks with them will revolve around the emotional impact of these acts. We are having more trouble with what to tell the younger and less emotionally mature ones. One of the suggestions was "It's a way to hurt someone very badly", but no-one is happy with this; the kids will probably assume it the same as beating someone up.

Any advice on how to go about this would be greatly appreciated.

Phew. Sometimes we have to talk with our kids about difficult topics whether we're ready to or not.

Amazon: Not in Room 204: Breaking the Silence of AbuseOur conversations with my kids about bodies/boundaries has always started with the concept of "private parts." We're very matter-of-fact about which "parts" on a boy and girl are considered private. We talk about "touching," and that the only people who can touch them there (with permission) are parents, grandparents, and doctors. We talk about rights; their bodies belong to them, and only them. The conversations are a lot more nuanced and open-ended (depending on questions they ask), but that's the basic gist.

I would think a conversation about sexual assault would be a step or two beyond this basic discussion, but not much more than that.

How would you discuss the concept of sexual assault with your kids?

RelatedTalking to your kids about puberty

This conversation inspired me to discuss the topic on Momversation: How do you talk to your kids about sexual abuse?


  1. says

    Say it’s when a man or almost grown-up boy does bad physical things to a woman or girl. Beating up isn’t far from that.

  2. D says

    I’m struggling with this myself because our pediatrician of 4 years was recently arrested for molesting hundreds of patients- including recently video taping intercourse with babies and toddlers. We thought we weren’t directly affected until the police interview with my five year old daughter revealed she had been improperly examined. I was in the room and I had no idea that what he was doing was not part of a normal exam.

    My husband and I never thought that anything even remotely close to this could have involved our kids. We fully trusted- even adored- this doctor. It makes me question every relationship of trust I have in my life.

    I don’t know how to explain to my daughter that what she experienced was not an exam. I don’t know how to rephrase the good touch/bad touch conversation. I dont want to make a bigger deal out of something that she might not even ever register as a problem, but I don’t want her to realize when she is 15 that what she experienced in that exam wasn’t normal and have it haunt her.

    Luckily we’ve been moving during the past two months are we don’t have our TV service hooked up so she hasn’t seen the endless news stories that show our previously beloved family doctor being led away in handcuffs looking like the unibomber.

    I will watch this thread closely as I try to find some peace and advice beyond what the counsellers have told us.

  3. Aresdragon says

    Oh my goodness, D – that is awful! I am so sorry to hear that…

    I agree with Asha – the use of a bathing suit to explain where private areas are is a good start, and all that Asha explained.

    Another VERY important topic to bring up is that if your child tells you about an incident where a grown up has touched or tried to touch them inappropriately, that he/she will NOT be in trouble. Molesters love to tell children that the child will get in trouble if they tell about what happened, or threatening to hurt the child’s family members.

    A parent must stress this point to a child, or should the unthinkable happen, the child may wait YEARS before telling someone.

  4. says

    It has to be part of a continuing, ongoing conversation about bodies and safety. I would answer- or offer before the questions come- that “sexual assault” is when someone (ANYONE, male or female, old or young) touches your body in ways that you don’t like and didn’t ask for.

    I want them to know that it is ok for other people to touch their body- and that some ways of touching feel good. But that they, and only they, can choose who touches them, when and how. Some victims feel guilt that they were aroused by the improper touches, so they don’t report it. There is a fine line between scaring them away from all sexual touch, and understanding what touches are wrong. Keep the conversation open and come back to it often.

    Paired with this, I try to explain that surprises are fun and always happy. Anything that makes you feel bad inside is a bad secret and they should tell a grownup that they trust about it.

  5. CH says

    Lots of good answers above. I would also recommend talking to your local rape crisis center or sexual assault program, if you have one in your community. Lots of these groups have age-specific programming for children ranging from pre-K to high school to help talk about good/bad touches, private parts, secrets, and surprises. One program I used to be a part of talked about “secrets that give you an uh-oh feeling in your tummy,” for example.

  6. says

    Well, if you’re wanting to explain it to a youngish child, my explanation isn’t a bad one as it covers a huge majority of cases they may read about or hear about in the papers.

  7. D says

    Thanks, Asha for your kind words. We are very very blessed that our daughter is safe, but really its just luck. When I was dressing the baby or setting up my next appointment, there were times he’d say- oh, let’s go pick something from the goody box!

    He kept coloring books and junk like that for the kids as prizes. This never struck me as strange, nor did I ever feel like he was “alone” with my daughter because there were always so many people around- his staff, other patients, etc.

    Luckily, she was rarely there (maybe 2X a year for the past 3 years for annual exams and flu shots) and I was usually in a hurry to get back to work or get her to school.

    My first reaction when I heard the news was- of _course_ I’ve never left him alone with her. But then my husband and I stewed over it and realized we couldn’t be sure. It never even registered about the goody box thing until we really thought about it. I had been to see him over 40X in the past two years with my son, I felt like I knew this person better than I know my daycare providers, neighbors and playdate partners in many ways.

    So here is the problem. We had the good touch bad touch talk about only “you, parents, doctor”. But we also had the- “sometimes when you go to the doctor things, like shots, have to hurt to help you” or when going for a UTI type problem “I know its embarassing and uncomfortable, but the doctor has to look down there to see what might be wrong.”

    There is still a chance she was molested outside of an “exam”, but she wouldn’t think anything of it. She would have probably thought it was an exam.

    I cannot find any online resources, or anything in any of my parenting books about what to expect from a pediatric genital exam. Not for routine well visits, not for infections/rashes.

    The prosecutor told us that digital penetration is rarely necessary. She also told us that even if we had been watching him, he had honed these molesting skills for years and was savvy enough to hide things well and weigh his opportunities.

    It would be wonderful if Momversation or Oprah or SOMEONE could do a piece on this. Hundreds of families in my town may have been spared the pain if this man was caught earlier.

    He had exam rooms wired with cameras and they are now going through hundreds of hours of footage with facial recognition. They took pictures of our kids for reference.

    I feel like the most gullible person on the planet. My husband and I are both educated professionals. No matter what anyone says I will always blame myself- wonder how I couldn’t “tell” or why I didn’t “get a creepy feeling” when we saw him. I thought he was a kindred spirit in many ways- a loveable geek who collected junk from ebay and had a messy yard because he was so busy doing his life’s work- just like us. I was so wrong, and my child has been damaged because of this.

    Circumstances- her being older, her being healthy and my son being a boy- likely saved us from a far worse fate.

    I am telling this story partially as a sort of therapy for me to get it out, but mostly because I want people to know that after this I truly believe that all of us have someone in our circle of trust that does not deserve to be there. Even parents that raise great kids, parents that are smart, parents that “get it”, parents like US- we have these people in our lives and we think we know them.

    I struggle with what to do- how do I keep her safe without being a helicopter parent? Should I keep letting her ride the bus? Go on sleepovers? Go on playdates? What about when I travel on business? What if I have another baby? Can I ever trust a sitter? Every day is leap of faith.

  8. Chakolate says

    I don’t know if this will help, but…

    When my niece was eight, she heard the word on tv and asked, ‘What is ‘rape’? My sister and I were caught with our mouths open, but my BIL quietly said, ‘It’s taking a woman’s favors when she doesn’t want you to.’

    This satisfied my niece. And I learned that you don’t have to be especially graphic in describing stuff – age-appropriate euphemisms will work well.

  9. Greg says

    Simple and honest answers are best. Kids will let you know when they want more info. And make sure you understand what they are really asking.

    There is the apocryphal story of where a little boy asks his dad, “How did we get here?” The dad goes into great detail about dating, marriage, sex, conception, and birth. When he finishes the boy say “Ok, but when we moved from our old house, how did we get here? Car? Airplane…”

  10. JenN says

    Jen here – thanks, everyone. I suspect when the emotional overload of betrayal and guilt lessens, we’ll be trying to figure out why we couldn’t think of these things for ourselves. For now, however, we’ve gotten some rational advice, and several good resources.

    D., I’m sorry for what happened to your family and community. I hope you’ve gotten something worthwhile from these answers as well. As my SIL said, each day is a step away from the past, and we’ll be a little better prepared to handle the future.

  11. says

    I have a 6 yr old…If confronted I would probably just say it’s when someone hurts another person’s private parts. The generic “someone” is actually something I ALWAYS try to do to keep from discriminating against a gender or group. Police officers don’t arrest “bad guys” but “people who break the law”. I often refer to people as “guys” and my child is a VERY literal child…You can’t really joke with her b/c of it. (When I was a kid I would say, “Guess what…” and someone would reply, “Chicken BUTT!” SOOooo not funny to my daughter when she was younger. She gets word play a little more now…but if I call her booger, she says, “I’m not a gross thing from my NOSE.”) Generic…basic. As best I can.

  12. Becky C. says

    Thank you D, for being so honest about your experience. I think most of us just trip along assuming NOTHING like that could happen to us, because we know our doctors and caregivers. But I think you opened a lot of our eyes and certainly made me more aware of how this can happen even when it seems impossible. If you feel comfortable with it, would you mind sharing with us a newspaper link to the case or tell us the geographic area so we can get more details on our own without asking you a bunch of questions?
    I think another dimension that you could add to answering the question about what is rape or sexual assualt is to explain that it is not only about hurting someone physically, but also about making them feel bad and alone. Some kids will get that and it might make the connection for them. Hope this helps someone.

  13. Paige says

    D–I’m so sorry for all your family & community are going through right now. Thank you for bringing this up as part of how to discuss “bad touching” with kids–especially little ones. We struggle with how to teach my 3 year old that no one can touch her private parts without her permission–as she has horribly sensitive skin & has pretty much perpetual diaper rash–even now that she’s potty trained, just from wiping instead of washing after she urinates. She never wants us to Wash her bottom or put the requisite diaper cream on because of her “owie” down there. When we go to the doctor, she generally looks at my daughters bottom as well. I will say that our doctor–in all the visits we’ve had–has not ever done any exam that required touching down there. She’s just looked. And any touching required, she’s asked me to do.
    I, on the other hand, feel like I’m constantly washing my daughter & applying creams while she screams & struggles in protest. Its horrible. I bribe her with candy half the time so that it’s not such a struggle. If this were all to care for an “owie” on her arm, it would be fine–but I’m scared that with this all being in relation to her privates, it undermines the “no one can touch you without your permission!” the best we’ve come up with is “no one but mama when she’s trying to fix your owie”. But I admit, like D, I have no idea what is appropriate at the

  14. D says

    Right before the drama with our doctor came out, I was trying to figure out how to tell my daughter that not all people are good. She’d say things like “Why are there always bad guys in fairy tales and movies, but none in real life?” and “Grown ups only ever do good things.” We’d talk about it, but i never got the impression she believed me- that there were actually bad guys because I couldn’t explain “why” people would do something bad. Anyon have any thoughts on that? Eventually, I will have to find a way to tell her our doctor was one of these bad guys before someone else does.

  15. D says

    Something else that has helped me understand a bit about why this happens (but not yet helped me figure out how to explain it) is the series oprah did where she interviewed child molesters. Every parent should watch this interview. The one additional thing I would keep in mind- and that I hope Oprah can do sometime- is people like Doctors and Teachers who molest. Also, I want the word to get out that this isn’t just a ‘trailer park’ problem, that upper middle class white professionals are dubed all the time by their relatives, close friends and people in authority.



  16. Becky C. says

    Thanks, D. I’m hoping you and your family can heal with time from this. Take care of yourselves, we’re thinking of you.

  17. Kati Seyk says

    Talking about tough topics is never easy with children. Most importantly, you must express that if they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation or with something that happened that they need to tell you, your partner, or any adult they trust. As parents, we have a hard time telling children about the tough things in life because we want to protect them as long as we can. We also need to remember that they know it is ok to talk and be open about these issues. Holding onto secrets or feeling uncomfortable talking about problems or occurences is what keeps a lot of those creeps out there. They leave kids in fear of talking and the children don’t know who to talk to. It’s not an easy to tackle, but it can be life changing.

  18. says

    Protecting children begins with every parent in every home. Two types of safety education work well for parents and children and can easily be added to their family’s safety plans: pre-planned discussions and spontaneous opportunities to teach. The first focuses on a particular issue and reinforces it over a period of time, say over a couple weeks to a month. For example, an appropriate safety lesson for a family with young children (ages five and younger) is to help them memorize key telephone numbers, such as Mom’s cell, the home phone, and grandparents’ or caregivers’ numbers. Without making it obvious that it’s a safety lesson, teaching a child a telephone number can be made into a song or a game and can be easily practiced. There is no magic age to begin safety discussions.

    It’s always easier to talk about “other people” or strangers but the numbers show that 92% of all sexual exploitation of children is perpetuated by someone whom the victim knows. That being said, parents need to give kids the vocabulary by having discussions so they know the words to say should they need to disclose. I have a gizzilion tips on what words/conversations that parents can have. But the best ones are the ones that naturally flow in regular day life. For example, while getting a toddler or youngster dressed in for a swim can be a good opportunity to discuss parts of the body that the bathing suit covers and parts that are not covered and why the parts under a bathing suit are “private.”

    The key to keeping such talks from being scary is for parents to assume that body/personal safety discussions are not scary. Just because we, as adults, have myriad worries, we needn’t convey our fears to our children. However, there are things kids must know before they dive into the world of independent adults. Just start the discussion. It’s never too early to begin to give children information that can help them stay safe. Treat personal safety like any other parenting lesson—find appropriate times, don’t tackle too much at a time, and consider the child’s personal development and understanding. And above all, do not use fear or scare tactics to educate children. This can often backfire. Empowering, not scaring, children is what allows them to handle the situation, while fear tends to make them freeze and may actually disable them if they need to act in an emergency. The only thing that should scare you is not teaching or talking to your children about personal safety.

    As trite and overused as the expression seems knowledge truly is power. I am not suggesting that parents need to tell kids about the gruesome details of every case in the news or drill their kids with statistics. But youngsters need to have a solid understanding of how they can defend themselves in age-appropriate ways. For example, children should know whom to approach if lost in a store (another mommy) or what to scream if someone is trying to abduct them (“You are not my dad! Call 911!) More information can be found at: http://www.robinsax.com

  19. Lynne says

    I tell my 4 yr old daughter that no one is to touch her private parts. The only exception would be if she needs mommy or daddy to help her wipe. She has also been told that if anyone does touch her inappropriately, she is to let mommy and daddy know.

  20. D says

    I understand all of the education. The conversations to have, the things to do. It is all very smart and makes total sense.

    One thing I have never been able to find is something that said- “I taught my kids X, Y and Z about their bodies/good touch/bad touch, and after my neighbor/grandfather/babysitter spent six months building her trust, she said “no” when he tried to touch her vagina”

    Maybe kids that are constantly immersed in understanding good touch bad touch just don’t wind up in situations like that and so there isn’t any proof this works. Or maybe since it is prevention education the situation never arises.

    I personally thought that since I’ve educated my daughter, since I was a “with it” person, since I was a good parent, since I never “left her with anyone I didn’t totally trust” that we’d be immune to this sort of thing. That I would have been able to trust my instincts and tune my radar. That she would immediately tell me if anything out of the ordinary happened.

    That wasn’t the case.

    Our situation is maybe not the most common scenario- being abused by a doctor takes this to a different level. But especially after watching the Oprah segments, I began to think about things like- what if my brother tried something like this?

    I love and trust my brother, but really, what do I know about him? Or any of my relatives? Or my daycare providers? Parents of her friends? Anyone besides myself really.

    If a child spends hours with someone, loves someone, sees that Mommy and Daddy love someone, has Mommy and Daddy say- “It’s OK, stay with So-and-so while we go out”, and slowly over time that person transitions from a hello hug and kiss, to a “sit on my lap and watch the movie” to tentative petting…to worse… I think even the most savvy kid would have a hard time identifying that with the “Don’t let anyone touch your privates” scenarios we work through with them in education.

    The scary thing is that if someone is good at this game, as my doctor was, it may go undetected for years.

    That is what is currently keeping me up at night.

  21. Becky C. says

    D – I think you hit it on the head, exactly. We can educate our children, educate ourselves, and pull our circle in tight, but I don’t think there is anything that can be done to 100% absolutely prevent someone who is as determined as your “doctor” from harming us or our children. It’s scary as hell. Unfortunately, I think the sole benefit from educating children about “bad touch” is having them tell us that it happened. I couldn’t imagine a 5 yo being able to fend off an adult who had it in their mind to sexually abuse them.
    I can’t say how much I appreciate you being so honest with us about your experience and punching some holes in the pat theories that if we just do enough educating of our child, if we have the right people in our lives, that it will never happen. It has opened my eyes and made me re-evaluate the people that I trust. Unpleasant, but it could be valuable in the long run.

  22. says

    Just want to say to D, to all of you who are participating here, THANK YOU for this conversation. I am learning so much from you. I very quickly get to the DUH stage of not knowing what to say in this case, because talking about it requires me to face some significant fears. Becky — you are absolutely correct in saying that we CAN’T protect our kids 100% (short of Rapunzel treatment) from determined predators. The best we can do is to educate them, ourselves, and keep those lines of communication open.

  23. D says

    I realize I’ve been all over the comments here- thanks for listening as I let some of this out. The thing that keeps going through my head is that if I had chosen a different doctor when I changed four years ago, I would probably be looking at the parents in this situation while shaking my head and saying things like “How could they not know?”, “Are they that naive?”, “Didn’t they talk to their kids about good touch/bad touch?” and “That’s what they get for leaving their kids alone.” etc etc etc

    I think it is like the old story about the frog in the boiling water. When the water changes fast, he jumps out. When slowly over time the water temperature increases, he just keeps swimming around until he’s boiled alive.

    Slowly building trust, slowly asking for more, small things that you don’t even register as odd…

    My husband and I fretted a great deal about our online photo albums, our family blog and my work blogs/twitter feed. Password protection made sharing harder for the personal blog, and holding back totally about family on my work blog and feed just wasn’t “real” to me.

    We decided to leave it public, use common sense, use caution. We figured that if child predators wanted to find us, they would find some way regardless of what we posted on the internet.

    And here it turns out we hand delivered our children to a sexual predator. And that is really how it seems to happen most often.

    Part of me really wants to overtly identify myself with the details of the story so that everyone can see where I come from and realize I am just like them. I want to shout it from the roof tops, but at the same time I fear stigma. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, I suppose. But it doesnt always feel that way.

    Hopefully, we can find some way to keep the conversation going. I appreciate you giving me a place to tell my story.

  24. D says

    Very cool. Our counseller recommened a book called “I Said No”. It wasn’t graphic, but it was clear. There are bad people. They can seem like your friends. If anyone asks to touch your privates, no way. And it had several what-if scenrios to work through with your kid. (http://www.amazon.com/Said-guide-keeping-private-parts/dp/1878076493/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266785625&sr=8-1).

    After I read it with my daughter, it made perfect sense. It reminded me of the book Nuture Shock where they talk about racism. How we vaguely lead by example and never mention race and are shocked when our kids turn out to notice skin color (highly recommend NutureShock, btw)

    I now believe that we need to explicitly, clearly and without any room for interpretation tell our kids there are bad people out there, that anyone can seem good but have some bad in them, that they might ask to touch your privates… and give them strategies for saying no.

    When my Mom took my daughter to California for a week this summer, I spent the month leading up to it doing storytelling and what-if scenarios about… What if you are walking through the airport with Granny and she goes into the bathroom and you don’t notice. When you look around you can’t find her. What do you do? or You’re at the amusement park with Aunt and Uncle and they run off after the baby but you stay looking at the balloons. What do you do? etc etc. We did it endlessly. She loved it.

    I do this with many things- a mental rehearsal like we’d do in sports in college. The first day of kindergarten we ran through 100 times- you get on the bus, you find your class, your class is on your sticker, mom’s business card is in your backpack. What do you do if… How can you handle it if…

    Why I never did this about good touch/bad touch, I don’t know. Actually. I lie. I do know why. Because its freaking horrible. Getting lost happens to all of us and its not a shameful thing. Having a grown up we love try to stick there hand in our pants does not happen to all of us, and even if we know its totally not our fault, we sure as hell feel like its not the kind of thing we want to talk about. Ever again.

    Well, I for one am done with vague “only mommy and daddy can touch” stuff. I’m on the warpath for frankness without being scary or crass, but without lying or glossing.

    Still not sure this would have helped us with the doctor situation, but I know for sure my daughter is now far more prepared for any issues with babysitters or relatives or neighbors or sleepovers or “friends” on the bus.

    It was actually liberating having this kind of conversation with her this afternoon. I dreaded it, but suddenly I feel much better. We worked through each scenario in the book. I answered all of her questions (even the off topic ones.) I was frank about what ways people can hurt you, and kyboshed all of her insistance that there are no bad guys in our neighborhood and that you can tell a bad guy because they wear black or have a magic wand or whatever other fairy tale garbage there is.

    I picked up some more toddler/young kid oriented books to share with my son, but as soon as he is capable of the role playing game, I’m doing it as often as I can without being a crazy mom. (too late, eh?)

    I also thought I was doing a great job of sex education with my kids with some books and talks about girls and boys being different, but I am not considering something far more straightforward. I am going to seek some advice from our counsellor about what kids can understand at what age so that I don’t totally freak them out. There is a series we have on our shelf that I like (it’s heavily Christian, yet not too over the top) called the “Learning About Sex” series. It’s subtle, but a place to start while I get my bearings.

    So glad I shared a bit of our story. So glad Jen originally asked the quesiton. Jen, I think of you often. I often wonder if you are in my town and dealing with our same sexual assault drama, or in another town who is healing from other terrible recent events. Either way, I am sorry we have to go through this, but glad to know there are others out there who can understand the betrayal when this happens nearby.

  25. D says

    I should probably eat more than M+Ms and bacon for breakfast because my spelling and grammar is pretty awful in that last comment. I know you can forgive me :)

    (Suddenly feeling much better. Must be the chocolate.)

  26. D says

    Oh, and at the expense of 1)beating the dead horse 2) completely hijacking the comment thread that I had already hijacked

    I know a reason why I avoided a really nitty gritty sexual abuse conversation with my daughter is because she was only ever with people I had sniffed out. People that I knew well, had been background checked and recommended. People that were nice, had nice families. People that I totally trusted.

    As I mentioned before, this is complete crap.

    I don’t care if you are a stay at home mom with a family bed and the only person that you ever leave your kid with is your mother for 20 minutes every other month and the rest of the time they are physically attached to you…

    You are not immune.

  27. JenN says

    Thanks, D. Our situation is different. None of our kids were involved, but they do know something bad has happened. We are a military community, and our local base commander is facing charges ranging from home invasion to murder. Unfortunately, our support personnel here are also in need of support, so I wrote in on behalf of a close group of five of us, and have passed on advice and resource suggestions.

    When I wrote, we were emotionally overwhelmed, and were having trouble thinking how to explain such a horrible topic without getting our own feelings involved. We were trying to deal with guilt (as military wives, we saw this man regularly in social settings – shouldn’t we have picked up on the “creepy guy” vibes?), betrayal (one of the murdered women was his subordinate, and I can’t quite find the words to describe the impact of that), and an overwhelming need to hold our husbands – but some were in Haiti, and some are still in Afghanistan.

    Things have started to settle down, but the topics raised are going to pop up in discussions for a while. Currently, my youngest is focused on the fact we know someone who hurt and killed on purpose, while my oldest is trying to understand why we think that the offender being “Daddy’s boss” makes things even worse, and we’re delving into the concepts of power and responsibility.

    Thank you, D., for sharing with us. You have also raised some points that we had not thought of when it came to protecting our kids, and we’ll be keeping you and your family in our prayers.

  28. D says

    Wow, Jen. It is a lot to digest. First and foremost, thank you for your family’s service.

    I was incredibly surprised by how my daughter handled the “some people are truly bad and you can’t tell” conversation I had with her this weekend. Eventually, I will tell her about the doctor going to jail and why, but I am going to work up to it. She protested at first, but then after we talked more, she was cool with it. Yep, got it. No problem. Kids are amazing.

    In other news, the indictment finally came down today. 471 counts, 103 victims.


  29. ECM says

    I haven’t seen any other survivors of childhood sexual abuse speak up, so here I am (a little late to the party). Having experienced the trickery and lies and manipulation that goes along with childhood abuse, I find the “under your swimsuit is private” approach woefully inadequete. We expect kids to exercise the discretion to know when to allow exceptions to that rule. We expect children to stand up to adults they trust when they don’t even realize anything wrong is happening. How crazy is that? I mean really??? We don’t tell them there are predators, we avoid talking about things that make us uncomfortable, we tell them they need to be friends with everyone and hug everyone and let Aunt Ethel give you a kiss. It’s the cruelest of mixed messages.

    The simple truth that I tell my kids is that no one has the right to touch your body anywhere. Period. There are people who like to use little kids to make themselves feel good, and they don’t care if it breaks rules or hurts you. They want you to lie, to keep their secret. They want to trick you. They might say if you tell mommy she won’t love you anymore if you tell them what you let me do. They might say you are a bad girl. They might say it’s a special game, a special secret. They might say that you are pretty and special and they want to make you feel good. They might show you pictures that are exciting. They might ask to take your picture because you are so pretty. But they are trying to trick you because they only care about making themselves feel good. They might say it’s ok- they don’t want to touch your private parts but you can touch theirs- and you might be curious. Your busdriver, your karate teacher, your uncle, your preacher are probably all good people, but if you ever aren’t sure or if they ever ask you to keep a secret you can tell me. Even if you don’t tell me right away, or you decide later you feel weird, it’s okay to come tell me. I will never be mad at you for being rude to someone who makes you uncomfortable. I will never be mad at you for protecting your space. Someone who hugs you and makes you nervous, who holds your hand when it doesn’t feel right, who wants you in their lap when mama isn’t there, who tries to get you away from other people, who pressures you- they might be trying to trick you. We can always talk about it. I am here and there’s nothing that could ever make me stop loving you. I always always always pick listening to you and trusting you and believing you, and we can figure out what comes next together. Not perfect, but the best I can do.

    D, I am so sorry that your family is going through this. What a tremendous violation of trust. Based on my sample size of one, your daughter will be fine. I would strongly encourage *you* to get some counseling though, to know what to expect as she gets older. She may relive the experience at different ages- as she goes through puberty, as she builds trusting relationships, and when she has her own children. I would also suggest- and others might disagree- bring it up. Talk to her about it now, talk to her about it from time to time as she gets older. Don’t let it be taboo. I know it’s hard and scary, but if you don’t talk about it the message becomes “Mom can’t handle this. Mom will get upset if I bring up this question or fear. Mom doesn’t want me to talk about this.”

    I am praying for you, and wishing your family peace.

  30. Beth says

    I tell my girls (I have 4, age 3-18) that even “good guys” sometimes make mistakes and do bad things. I ask, “Do you always do the right thing?” “Do you sometimes hurt other people?” “So does that make you a bad-guy?” Then I tell them that people decide what to do, and sometimes they decide to do something that hurts someone else. And if someone hurts other people a lot, then we call them a “bad-guy.” But if a person tries really hard and usually does the right thing, then we call them a “good-guy.” I hope this helps…

  31. K says

    I too am from your state and know the case you are discussing. I have a four year old son and have been following this story very closely wondering how this has happened. After reading your story, to be honest, I am scared. It is easy as a parent to think “how did these parents let it happen?” but I realize that he must have been a master manipulator. Therefore I say to myself what can I do to protect my child from this type of perpetrator. I have not really worried about this until this case came out and now I am just thinking about everything my child does and trying to figure out what I can do to make sure this never happens to him.
    I pray for you and all the families that are also experiencing this horrific ordeal.

  32. D says

    I was reading the indictment this week and I saw something that made me even more concerned about doctors in general.

    One of the little girls in the videos was abused many times over the course of 13 months or so. Often several days in a row.

    Suddenly something made total sense to me. My son had chronic ear infections. I am someone who wants to weigh all of the options and not push unnecessary surgery. I often think about my first c-section and wish I had been a more determined patient asking to try longer for a vaginal birth. Since then, I have sought doctors that aren’t so quick with the knife so to speak.

    (forgive me if I have already told this story- I didn’t see it in the earlier comments and it now has new meaning to me anyway after the indictment.)

    So when this doctor told me that my son just had a resitant bacteria… or that summer was coming soon and ear infections are less in summer… and he’s so close to two and they often grow out of it by two… I was OK with avoiding ear tubes.

    His course of treatment was a round or two of antibiotics, then if still infected he’d want to do shots on three consecutive days of rocephin. He’d do the shots as the first appointment. Always made time to squeeze you in. Even open up on a saturday if you needed it.

    He’d apply numbing cream to where he was going to give the shot, then he’d get a popsicle for him b/c he said the blood sugar would help the shot work better.

    After we had been through 40 appts in 18 months- for new infections, fevers, fluid checks and several times needing this series of shots, I finally said I was going to the ENT to talk tubes- just to see what it was all about. I was mostly concerned about hearing loss from all of the fluid buildup.

    A few weeks later we got the tubes, and it was like a miracle. I regretted not getting them sooner.

    What dawned on when reading the indictment, and after talking to friend who knows a little girl on the videos who had similar “chronic ear problems” was that we were being played.

    All of the work I missed. All of the excuses I made. All of the fights I had with my husband in the morning about who had the more important day and who would take him to the doctor, or miss work with another fever or be up all night with another sad baby… All of the time I spent thinking I was doing the right thing by waiting it out, the small speech delay he had from a minor hearing imparement, by taking him to a doctor that I thought cared enough not to jump right to the surgical fix…

    It was all a lie. He was doing it on purpose to get to know me. To give opportunity when there wouldn’t be a full waiting room to hang out and chat after the appointments. To find a reason to give my child a popsicle. To gain a chance to earn a child’s trust. To apply a numbing cream. To give a painful shot in their upper thigh. To give a good reason to want to “make it up” to the kid with a prize.

    My son is not the kind of kid who lets anyone pick him up, so the doctor always brought him a popsicle and I’d sit with him and read.

    But i could totally see a mother who had been through this so many times. who might be there with a few kids. who has time to kill while they wait for the cream to kick in… all it would take would be one day where instead of him bringing the kid a popsicle he says- you want to come pick one out? while mom is in the middle of changing a dirty diaper on the little one. Sure, what’s the harm? We know this guy by now. And that’s the beginning of the end.

    I don’t think my sons ear problems were imaginary- he certainly would have fevers and pain. But I do think the follow ups might have been a little excessive. And who knows if when we went for a follow up if there was actually still an infection. My daughter rarely had ear infections, so I had no basis for comparison. I don’t have many friends nearby, and the few I have had kids with semi chronic ear infections that considered tubes but decided against it. So nothing seemed weird.

    I thank God that my son is a boy and a clingy one at that. I thank God that 95% of the time I’d drop my daughter off at daycare before taking him for his appointments. But that 5% of the time… I am trying to mentally recreate every single appointment and remember… and I just can’t. I can’t be sure. I don’t know. It was so far out of my range of mental possibilites of something that was an issue it just didn’t even register.

    The issue I really mean to bring up here is- how do we know the motives of any diagnosis? Whether it be for money… or being old fashioned… or being too conservative or not conservative enough… Some doctors roll their eyes when you say “I read that…” As a professional myself, I know the value in surrounding yourself who make something their life’s work and I trust their judgment on those matters. When my mom says “boy, that’s a lot of ear infections” my first response would be “Where is your medical degree from again?”

    Turns out I should have been more agressive. I should have seen something wrong. But how? When? When am I just a pushy bitchsupermom and when am I advocating for what is best for my child?

  33. K says

    I think too that in today’s day and age we are constantly on the go. We hustle from home to work, to the store, to the bank or post office and when we have to go to the doctor it is like you said… Which parent has the least important schedule for that day? With both parents working in most homes we are constantly just trying to deal with the daily hurdles that life is all about. Until something like this happens I don’t think anyone stops to assess the people you and your child come in contact with. After reading your blog D, I have spoken to my husband and many of my friends with children about what they have said to their kids about abuse. Not surprisingly most haven’t talked to their kids about it. The common response among my friends was “yeah I probably should after that case in Lewes, but I am not sure if my kid understands.” I would rather be the pushy bitchsupermom! I have sat down with my son and I am forcing him to understand what he can. I would rather try to get him to understand and try to give him some language of this “preventatively” rather than sit down later and try to fix what someone broke. So, I don’t think you should feel bad for trying to protect your children the best you know how. If you don’t, who else will? Don’t apologize for that. On the other hand, my husband and I argued just the other day over your post about how much we trust people. He accused me of worrying needlessly, but I just see it from a parents perspective that YOU did trust your doctor and within reason. They are medical professionals and we like to think we can. If this case hadn’t come forward I would never have ever given a second thought to things that happen when we go to the doctor or the dentist. Now I will always keep it in the back of my mind. I am just sorry that it has taken something like this that has devastated so many, to make many others stop their busy lives and really think about what they do with their children in the course of a day.
    I hope you realize that not all people are chastising the parents affected in this case. Many like me, see how easily it could be any one of us.

  34. Sara says

    “Sexual assault” is nearly always newspeak for rape these days. For young children who don’t need to know the specifics about rape — my mother told me, at age 7, that men lay in wait for any vulnerable woman in parking lots between parked cars which only opened me to paranoia and distrust that my mother wasn’t going to be able to protect me — all they need to know is that someone was hurt in a bad way and that you will never let that happen to them.

    First, your child’s age should always be considered when having these conversations. “Good touch” and “bad touch” should be discussed by the age of three; any place normally covered by a bathing suit or any activity that involves showing or touching someone else’s private parts. By the age of 6, kids know what is comfortable and what isn’t. Most unwanted touching comes from those they know, not from strangers, so none of this “stranger-danger” stuff. Throughout ALL of this, always tell kids to tell an adult such as a parent, relative, teacher, or someone they know if something is happening that they don’t like. (I was molested by someone a friend knew and trusted. I didn’t tell anyone because she wasn’t bothered and because I put a stop to it. I was 10.)

    By the age of 10, kids should be aware of proper body part names and be comfortable using them with parents. By puberty, kids are beginning to become sexually aware and are capable of sexual feelings which can make situations complex and can put them in vulnerable situations. This is when to talk to them about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and when to talk to them about how to take control of their sexuality instead of having someone do it for/to them.

  35. Caitlin says

    D —

    Not sure if someone’s said this already; I haven’t had time to read thru all the comments.

    I’m sure you’ve gotten many people saying you shouldn’t blame yourself, which you shouldnt’. Evil lurks among us, but people forget what that means. In our heads, we still think of child molestors as the trenchcoat on the corner. His position as a doctor lowered EVERYONE’s suspicions. You trusted this doctor and he took advantage of yours, and hundreds of other peoples’ trust.

    Don’t let his own awful doings eat away at YOU. Just like your daughter, it doesn’t have to change who she is. You are still the same parent, loving and caring.

  36. momo4 says

    When my children were 2 & 4 we had a ped who would ask “mom” if it was okay for her to check their genitals, making it clear that since I said it was okay she was going to do that. It creeped me out at first but since we’ve moved and now have a different ped. and my kids have gotten older I realize how much I appreciated that.

  37. says

    First of all my heart goes out to you and the families of your community. There was very similar news, actually the exact news, that sprung up in my local area. Perhaps we are near eachother?

    Regardless, I understand the pain that the community goes through. My sister worked with this doctor on occasions and it completely broke her heart to hear the news and destroyed her trust. She has a 3 year old daughter, and my sister and I both have babies on the way.

    We’re feeling the same way; who can we trust if not our doctors?

    When my child is born, I know the most I can do is just educate them about what’s appropriate and not, insure they’re security and trust in me, and watch them like a hawk. It’s just awful that parents have to be so paranoid.

  38. molly says

    is there a parent support group for parents that took their childen to this doctor?

    If not would you be interested in starting one?

  39. Nadia says

    Unfortunately, lots of little boys are sexually assaulted as well. This isn’t just an issue for parents of girls.

  40. says

    In another unbelievable twist, the football coach at our local high school has been arrested for ongoing rape of a young female family member.


    The kids at this local high school have had to deal with unimaginable horrors this year. First, Dr. Bradley. Then, a student was killed by his father this winter. Now, the FOOTBALL COACH arrested.

    It would be easy to write our town off as bumpkins, but I think that we are just now on high alert. I wouldn’t be surprised if a pile of new arrests were made because people now realize that trust is meaningless and start picking up on signals that they had previously dimissed.

    You know, a few weeks ago on a flight I saw “The Blind Side” and all I could think was- how can she be so reckless to allow a strange man into her home with her small children? I could not bring myself to be moved by the film. Six months ago, I would have commended her on not being afraid and opening her home and heart. Now, I think she was damned lucky.

    I read something in one of those local parenting magazines that float around that made a lot of sense. It said something like “Use reality as your basis for decision making about your kids, NOT trust.”

    I am still trying to figure out what that looks like- if it means homeschooling and never having “date night” or if it means eyes open, educate the kids, hope for the best and take the occasional leap of faith.

    I don’t know.