How we can keep our kids safe

A spate of arrests in Kaitaia over sexual offending has many parents concerned about the risks their children may be facing, unbeknownst to them.

Alan Bell, director of the child protection organisation ECPAT, was not surprised to hear that last week, but told the Northland Age that while the sexual exploitation of children was a serious issue there were some common sense measures that could be taken to protect them.

"Don't overreact and live in constant fear of your child being exploited," he said.

"Keep a positive and healthy attitude towards your child's safety so they enjoy their childhood years. Remember that most abuse happens from males, but most males treasure and protect children.

"Listen to your children. If your child tells you that someone has treated them in a way that has made them unhappy make sure you hear what they are saying and check it out.

"Educate your children on what is normal and abnormal behaviour. Have an on-going discussion with your children, appropriate to their age and understanding, so they have enough information to know the boundaries.

Offenders are skilled in grooming and normalising inappropriate behaviour, so the child should be able to recognise this

"Check with your school, church, youth group, sports club, anywhere you leave your child for care, and openly ask them to show you what measures they have in place to ensure your child is protected from any form of exploitation."

Danger signals that might prompt further checks included a child being alone with an adult; an adult forming an unusually close relationship with a child, especially in isolation from other family members; unusual and frequent gifts from adults; and any dramatic change in the child's behaviour and moods.

"Network with others," Mr Bell added.

"Talk to other parents. Voice any concerns and ask questions. Very often there can be a number of children involved if an offender is active.

"And take action. If your worst fears are confirmed and you identify a serious problem, do something about it. Contact the police and let them check it out. But make sure you have facts to back up your concerns.

"Many situations with child exploitation are allowed to continue because the victim or adults associated with the child kept silent. Even if the offender is a trusted friend or family member, action should be taken to protect others.

"Take normal parental precautions. Know what your child is accessing on computers and keep a tag on who they are befriending.

"Always check out who will be in charge of your child and responsible for their well-being if left in someone's care. This is particularly important with sleep-overs, sports trips, baby sitters, outings etc."

- Northland Age

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