Regula Lehmann: Protecting Children from Abuse

Mrs Lehmann, How widespread is the phenomenon of child abuse in society today?

Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children is still widespread and occurs in all walks of life. In Switzerland, we assume that about every seventh child has experienced sexual violence involving physical contact of children or adults at least once. In 2020, 1,257 cases of sexual acts involving children were registered throughout Switzerland. But because far from all crimes are reported, we must assume that there are many more children affected by sexual violence. The perpetrators come from vastly different social backgrounds. According to “Child Protection Switzerland”, the virtual space also has a high risk potential. The scale of the attacks on minors is alarmingly high, as the documentary “Captive in the Net” shows. The number of child abuse is also increasing in Germany: The abuse crimes registered in the police crime statistics (PKS) 2020 have increased by 6.8 percent to over 14,500 cases within a year. In Switzerland and Germany, the number of abused images of children, so-called child pornography, has increased significantly.

One reads again and again that perpetrators choose certain profiles as victims. What types of children do the perpetrators stay away from?

Basically, one can say with certainty that perpetrators tend to stay away from strong, confident children from stable family backgrounds. According to experts, in many cases the victims are socially neglected or emotionally needy children. Among other things, of course, because the risk of being discovered is significantly higher in confident, well-supervised children with caring parents than with children who are insecure and most left to themselves. A functioning social network and the presence of parents significantly reduces the risk of children becoming victims. However, it should be noted that even the best environment can not always protect children. Parents and other caregivers are therefore encouraged to be “relaxed on duty”. “Casual” because overly anxious caregivers do not strengthen children but weaken them, and “vigilant” because nothing puts children more at risk than the false assurance that “that kind of thing does not happen to us” or “such a sweet person would never be able to do such a thing ”.

What can parents do in their upbringing to make their children less attractive to offenders?

From my point of view, everything that strengthens children’s identity and enables them to live also serves to prevent abuse. Giving children a warm nest in the family, where they experience themselves as perceived, accepted and belonging, is elementary. Boys and girls whose “love tank” is full are less likely to fall for dubious offers of relationships. Strengthening a positive body awareness and age-sensitive sex education, which is naturally embedded in everyday upbringing, also has a preventive effect. The ability to perceive dangers and act accordingly is also essential for children. Everyone has an “internal alarm system”, the question is whether children in the parental home learn to respond adequately to internal danger signals instead of ignoring them.

What do you think of the much-invoked “consensus principle”? Is it enough to teach children to “say no”?

No, teaching children to say no is not enough, even if it is important and quite protective in certain situations. Experts in my professional environment warn against believing that it is enough to read children a picture book to say no and then consider the topic closed. As soon as there is a high degree of loyalty or a dependency relationship – for example, if a parent or stepparent abuses the child – the child is usually neither free nor able to say no. The same is true when it comes to pressure, the perpetrator threatens the child and tells them, for example, that the family would fall apart if they confided in someone.

Very often the child is also told that it is their own fault that they have provoked the abuse and that they will no longer be loved if they “sniff”. Affected children who have been drummed into saying “no” often feel doubly guilty when they fail to do so. A central tenet throughout this case is that children are never to blame when adults sexually abuse them. The responsibility lies 100 percent with the adults. It is not the children who have to protect themselves from the adults, it is the adults’ duty to protect the children from attack and create an environment where children can be carefree children.

What needs to happen in politics and society to better protect children?

As a society, we need a binding compass of values ​​and common ethics that clearly draws the line between children and adults and sanctions violations of these principles. Which would also mean that anything that sexualizes children in public space and turns them into objects of sexual desire is forbidden and effectively combated. A key measure would be a resolute effort against pornographic content because pornography addiction has been shown to promote sexual violence and the abuse of minors. In the end, the children pay the price for the lack of integrity and the growing psychological brutalization of the adults.

What is the relationship between abuse and pornography? What can parents do to prevent pornography?

As already mentioned, pornography addicts commit significantly more sexual acts of violence against minors, as shown by the study “Prevalence of Sexual Violence” from 2016 by researchers from Ulm and Vienna. To prevent pornography, it is important that parents themselves consistently refrain from consuming pornography and offer their children an environment that promotes love and relationships. Age-appropriate sex education and early information on how to handle digital content also have a preventative effect. Children should not have their own smartphone too soon and only have access to the internet under supervision. It also helps to use computers, tablets and smartphones in a public place and not isolated in the children’s room.

The rule that smartphones must be placed in a clearly defined place overnight protects children from unauthorized surfing the web at night. The three Bs – relationships, protection and support – are, in my opinion, the cornerstones of effective family porn prevention. “Relationship”, because it is the basis of effective parenting, and protective, because the digital world is simply not child-friendly. The third thing is to accompany them, because in my opinion, it is just as irresponsible to leave children alone with a smartphone as it would be irresponsible to give a ten-year-old the car keys and assume that he will be able to manage. on the highway on their own.

Regula Lehmann is a qualified family helper and parent coach. As CEO of “Elterninitiative Sexualerbildung Schweiz”, she is also active in prevention work among teenagers. She is married and the mother of four adult children.

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