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How to keep your child safe from a sexual predator

HARTFORD --  The #MeToo movement is bringing sexual abuse to the forefront allowing those who've remained silent to come forward.

It's also reminding parents of the danger kids live with everyday, the risk of child predators that could be lurking even in your inner circle. How can you protect your child?

Here's some warning signs and tips.

"The myth is that it's a mysterious person lurking in a dark ally,” said Dr. Laura Saunders, a child psychologist. “The majority of sexual assault, sexual abuse happens by someone that you know."

What kind of environment can entice a child predator?

Saunders said there’s usually:

  • A difference in power (for example: an adult to a child, a mentor to mentee, or a coach to a player).
  • There also could be a difference in social status.
  • A behavior called "grooming" where the person in power works to gain the trust of their victim over time.

"The person in power also uses their status to leverage your emotional well-being,” said Dr. Saunders, “they really leverage the fact that they will gain your cooperation without your true consent."

That person could be a coach, a family member, or a neighbor who targets a child many times with a vulnerability. That could be a child in a single parent home, or someone seeking out a mentor. The predator is cunning and manipulative.

So how can you spot a predator?

Have you noticed someone who tries to spend a lot of alone time with your child? One of the key actions parents can take toward preventing abuse is supervision.

"No one should be doing anything in secrecy or in private,” said Dr. Saunders, “so if that adult is sort of wanting secret or private time, that's a red flag."

You need to also make sure your child knows you are a safe haven.  That means having those sometimes uncomfortable conversations with your kids about what it's like to have “a boundary around your body.”

"If something crosses that boundary and it makes you feel uncomfortable, there's something wrong,” advises Dr. Saunders, “and it's ok to talk about it."

Also parents, don't be afraid to ask questions.

"I think sometimes it's easier for parents to say if they feel their child may be reluctant to ask directly, to ask about their friends."

Dr. Saunders said starting with their friends might get your child to talk about a problem, then you can ask them, “has it ever happened to you?” She also says persistence is important.

If you notice a change in your child's behavior and sense something is off, continue to ask questions over a period of time.