Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
This month, Stefanie Zucker, the Managing Director at http://www.pediatricsafety.net and all the fine folks there are running a series of ours focusing on the protection of all children from sexual predators.
This is the first of a two part series on sexual predators written by David Pittman, the founder of Together We Heal, Inc. – an organization dedicated to helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). We are running “How to Talk with Your Kids About Sexual Abuse” now, right in the middle of back-to-school, because now is when many of us may need a reminder the most. As we hand our children over to teachers and coaches and after-school caregivers and tell them to “listen to the teacher” and “do what the coach tells you”, we NEED to make sure we have first taught them when it’s ok to say NO. That secrets are not ok…that their bodies are their own and no one can touch them without their permission. We need to remember that 90-95% of CSA occurs at the hands of someone that is known, trusted and often loved. Hopefully by sharing this now, we will keep one more child safe.
Please be sure to view their amazing site that has so much important information on keeping all of our children safer. And what they offer isn’t just about sexual abuse, it has to do with all matters concerning child safety. So please do yourself a favor and look at the material they provide and pass along to ALL parents or guardians you know! Pediatric Safety is an AMAZING organization doing GREAT work!
Recently I had the pleasure of having breakfast with my friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. I’m so thankful for the friendship he and I have developed and while talking he gave me one more reason to be thankful. He brought to my attention something I had not given enough consideration. It’s from his insight this article originated.
We were discussing the reasons behind why I didn’t say something about my abuse and why other survivors don’t tell or speak up while the abuse is occurring. During the conversation I told him something my mom had said to me. He stopped me and said it was important and to say it again.
He asked if there had been any indications to anyone that the abuse that was happening. I told him about one man in my life who had been a positive, male role-model for me. When I was about 13, he was talking with my mom about my abuser (but at this time no one knew) and said, “there’s something that’s not quite right about that guy spending all this time with those boys. I can’t put my finger on it but I know there’s something that’s just not right.” To which my mom said, “If something were going on with David, he would tell me.”
It’s those last four words that bears repeating…“he would tell me”.
My mom and I have a strong and healthy bond. Because my dad was not in the picture for the first 23 years of my life, it resulted in mom and I having lots of time together and the opportunity to forge an incredible relationship that we still have to this day. I would go so far as to say it’s an uncommonly good relationship as parent/child relationships go. I remember while growing up, most of my friends saying at some point, “I just can’t talk to my mom or dad about…”. I never had that issue with my mom. We were always close and always talked about everything. I remember telling her when I had sex for the first time. I told her about the first time I used drugs. When I got arrested for said drugs, it was my mom I called to bail me out. So it’s clear you can see I’ve felt comfortable enough in telling her about the good, the bad and the ugly.
All except for one thing.
And sadly it’s that “one thing” that has resulted in the majority of the misery, struggles and pitfalls of my life.
The point I’m trying to make, is that if I had such a difficult time telling my mom about the abuse, when we were so close, how much more difficult is it for children who don’t feel as close to their parents or feel the freedom to talk with them about anything and everything? Neither my mom, nor anyone else knew about my abuse until 2006.
It’s a mistaken belief that I think most parents have. They believe, as my mom did, that if there were something wrong, their children would let them know about it. Or as I said earlier, “he would tell me”.
It’s a tragic error of belief and one that I hope to reeducate all parents. No matter how close you are, or how strong your relationship, if your child is being sexually abused, it’s almost impossible for them to tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you love them any less than other parents. It’s just beyond description how hard it is for those of us who were abused to tell anyone.
The reasons behind the “why” are as many and varied as there are individuals. We’ve discussed them previously here on the TWH blog and will do so more in the future. But for the discussion today, it’s not about the “why”, it’s about acknowledging a false assumption and correcting it.
As I said, my mom genuinely believed if someone were hurting me, I’d tell her. After all, when a student picked on me, or in one case, when a teacher was being hateful to a friend of mine with a speech impediment, I told her about that. So she had no reason to believe otherwise. Except for one important thing, back in the 70’s and 80’s, nobody talked about Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Back then, all we were told was, beware of strangers and “stranger danger”. It turns out, “stranger danger” is almost a myth. 90-95% of CSA happens at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and/or loved by the child. And because no one was taking about it, there was no “Oprah’s 200” , or organizations like SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Together We Heal.
Due to this lack of information and groups whose entire existence is to help survivors of CSA, parents didn’t know what signs to be looking for or signals that their children might be sexually abused. “Grooming” was a term reserved for haircuts and keeping your appearance neat. Now we know better. But sadly, parents are still waiting until it’s too late to discuss CSA with their kids. This is not a one-time conversation to have when they’re 15 or 16. By that time, it’s more likely any abuse has already occurred or is still ongoing.
In order to give your child the best chance to remain safer from sexual predators/pedophiles, parents MUST start young. They must start young and have it become a “normal” part of the routine questions asked of the child’s day. How was your day? How was school? Do you like your teachers? Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone touched you in a place they shouldn’t? And educating your child on what is appropriate touching is essential to the conversation.
Obviously, depending on the age of the child, there are age-appropriate terms and verbiage. But the questions need to be asked, the conversations need to take place, and all of this needs to be done EARLY and OFTEN. If not, we leave our children susceptible to the ploys of predators. We now have plenty of books, pamphlets and resources on how to have these talks with children of all ages. So please take advantage of the information my mom didn’t have, of the resources I didn’t have available. Do this so you lessen the chances of your children enduring the torture, abuse, rape, and resulting decades of emotional, mental and physical struggles. Do this so your children don’t become another statistic like I did, another 1 in 6 boys or 1 in 3 girls.
We have the information now. And now children can trust they will be believed. It’s time to back up all this talk with action. It’s time to prevent childhood sexual abuse and catch these sexual predators/pedophiles before they do any more damage. But it begins at home, it must begin early, and don’t think for one second, “he would tell me”…
Friday the 9th, 2014 I was honored to be on the radio with hosts, Tom and Bonnie Liotta. Bonnie and Tom are committed to a world wide humanitarian movement to heal, unite and empower families and communities by bestowing them with the tools necessary to strengthen our standards, ethics and values while raising the next generation. They founded and lead an organization called “Creating Champions For Life”.
We discussed the importance and tools needed to protect our children from sexual predators.
I’m proud to announce Together We Heal is the sponsor for this amazing event in Sarasota, Florida on March 15th, 2014.
This is a one day event, a dynamic celebration of fatherhood. Hosted by NFL and TV Reality Star Hank Baskett, and Tampa Bay 10 News Anchor Reginald Roundtree. With VIP Special Guest NFL Star Plaxico Buress and more celebrity dads to be announced, plus other amazing speakers, experts; This collaborative event will celebrate, raise awareness, educate and inform fathers just like yourself about “real” dad parenting for the 21st Century!
Here’s your opportunity to hang out with inspiring and committed dads and experts who want dads from all walks of life to share and learn more about what truly unites us all – being the best father you can be.
I will be giving my presentation on “How To Talk with Your Kids about Childhood Sexual Abuse” and providing the accompanying Childhood Sexual Abuse forms to use to help better protect your kids from sexual predators. It’s an easy to follow, 7-step process that any dad/parent can follow to approach this delicate topic with your kids.
Make sure to get registered now so you don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn from some great dads and dedicated advocates and experts.
Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA); Three words no parent ever wants to hear in association with their children. While nowhere near as tragic as hearing its happened to a child of yours or anyone you know, the responsibility of talking with your children about CSA can seem almost as terrifying.
Next to providing counseling for survivors of CSA, one of our greatest endeavors at Together We Heal is helping parents educate their children on how to better protect themselves from sexual predators.
A few months ago I had the good fortune of becoming fellow advocates and friends with a gifted children’s book author named Holly-ann Martin. In addition to the brief bio about Holly-ann, I’m listing three books she wrote that I highly recommend for all parents. Her books address three key issues concerning CSA: Privacy – Protection – Prevention.
Holly-ann is the founder and Managing Director of Safe4Kids. Her experience spans twenty-five years with the Western Australian Department of Education and Training (DET), in a variety of school settings. Her unique approach to child protection education is underpinned by a whole community focus. This focus is centered around providing safer communities for children through engaging school staff, parents and care givers, local police, health workers, Department of Child Protection staff and early years childcare and education workers. Holly-ann’s emphasis centers on developing a language and culture of safety for children and adults alike, improving communication and highlighting and broadening the networks available to children when they are feeling unsafe. The sustained delivery of these programs is the key to creating a positive influence on both individual and community behavior.
It’s NEVER too early to begin educating your children. If you’re a parent, be sure to pick up a copy of each and if you’re not a parent, get copies and give them to your friends that are.
As the wonderful person who shared this with me perfectly stated, “If you don’t need it now, you will at some time in your life.”
I have never said this before on the website, but…this is a MUST READ.
Its beauty is in its simplicity and honesty. I wish I had been given this insightful advice many years ago as I dealt with grief and loss of all kinds. Thank you Teryn O’Brien for writing this amazing article. I believe Teryn’s words, when applied, can help you navigate through rough seas.
After posting my story of childhood sexual abuse, I was asked an important question by a concerned parent. How did this monster get into your life?
The answer is both simple and complex. The easy part is that they don’t have the appearance of a monster. They don’t look like some James Bond or Cartoon character villain, with beady eyes, horns coming out of their heads, or a big neon sign saying, “STAY AWAY, PEDOPHILE HERE!” Sadly, they almost always look like everyone one else. The gentle minister, the encouraging coach, the neighbor always willing to lend a hand or the family member who seems to be there just when you need them.
And this is where the complexity comes in. How do you distinguish genuine care from pure evil? While there are no set in stone answers, there are some clues to look for and ways to evaluate what is going on. And though nothing is fool-proof, I hope it’s at least a start for you to help figure out friend from foe.
One of the most frightening things about pedophiles/sexual predators is that they seem so “normal”. They are notoriously friendly, nice, kind, engaging and like-able. And they target their victims, often insinuating themselves into that child’s life through their family, school, house of worship, sports, and hobbies. But don’t ever forget, pedophiles are professional con-artists and are experts at getting children and families to trust them. They will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy.
So let’s first define exactly what grooming is and then we will go into the steps involved.
Erika Lyn Smith, of the “Missing And Exploited Children Site”, gives a thorough explanation of what we are talking about.
The act of grooming a child involves spending time, energy, and money to make a child and even the parent or parents feel comfortable with the relationship. Only after a trusting relationship is established will the child predator start to become more intrusive and to test the boundaries of the relationship by pushing limits. These violations may include hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling, and invading a child’s privacy while showering, dressing or toileting.
Initially a pedophile will begin to violate the physical boundaries, by accidentally touching the child through his or her clothes to see what kind of reaction he or she receives. If a child or parent questions the action the predator will likely back off and regain the trust of the child or parents before proceeding.
By befriending the parent or parents, the pedophile gains the trust of everyone in the family. Children are less likely to tell when the relationship turns sexual if the adult is someone he or she knows personally or is a friend of mom or dads. In addition, mom and dad may be less likely to listen to a child when it involves a good friend of the family.
Single parents, especially mother’s will be looking for a positive male role model if there is no father involved. Single mothers are more likely to accept offers from a child’s coach or school for help when offered. All parents needs to be vigilant when it comes to allowing someone access to his or her child, and question friendships or relationships that take up a lot of a child’s free time.
Signs that a pedophile may be grooming your child include:
• Telling a child, he or she is a “special” friend
• Bringing a child special mementos or gifts
• Talking to a child about adult issues like sex or marriage problems
• Giving a child alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
• Inviting a child to spend the night or go camping
A former F.B.I. agent named Kenneth V. Landing wrote about 5 steps he identified as the general process most sexual predators use in grooming children to be their ext victims. Below you will find this listed.
Stage 1: Identifying a Possible Victim
Although pedophiles differ in their “type” regarding age, appearance and gender, all pedophiles will look for a victim who seems in some way vulnerable.
Stage 2: Collecting Information
The next step is for the pedophile to collect as much information on the targeted victim as possible. This is most commonly done through casual conversations with both the child and the parents or caretaker.
Stage 3: Filling a Need
Once the individual has the information he needs, he then becomes part of the child’s life by filling a need. If the victim is poor, for example, the pedophile will provide him/her with expensive toys. If the victim is lonely, the pedophile will act as a friend.
Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions
The pedophile will then start to lower the child’s inhibitions concerning sexual matters. He may come up with games or activities that involve getting undressed, make sexual comments or show the child pornographic images or pictures.
Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse
At this final stage, the pedophile begins to sexually abuse the child.
Another technique used by these predators is called the 4 “F’s”.
Friendship, Fantasy, Fear and Force.
“Friendship” is built through nurturing a relationship through bonding. The adult will usually give the child gifts, take them on special outings and show them a lot of attention.
Once a child trusts an adult, the adult can influence the child’s attitude regarding sexual behavior. Grooming may include introducing sexual content to the child as an example of what the perpetrator desires and to give the impression that the depicted acts are acceptable. If the child thinks that sex between children and adults is ok, it’s easier for the pedophile to victimize the child.
Then they will introduce “Fantasy”. They will manipulate the child with a false sense of security. They will pay a lot of attention to the child’s problems and personal matters and offer advice and counseling. They will tell the child how much they love them and that they want to have a long term, loving relationship with them.
Once the child has opened up to the pedophile, they will begin to instill “Fear” by threatening to share the child’s secrets with their classmates or their parents. Sometimes they will even threaten the life or safety of the child or of their family and friends It’s all a manipulation tactic to get the child to do what the pedophile wants them to do.
Ultimately, the pedophile uses “Force” to sexually exploit the child.
While these are by no means the only ways sexual predators work their way into ours and our children’s lives, they are at least a beginning place for parents to be on the lookout. The more information you have and the better educated you become, the more you will be able to best protect your kids.
Knowledge truly is power and we cannot give over our power to these heinous criminals. They will use every trick in the book so you have to know what they’re doing. Even more frightening, pedophiles and sexual predators work together to help each other figure out ways to gain access to our kids. Don’t believe it, read this article about a 170 page, “How To” publication put together by and for adults who prey on innocent children. They are making a concerted effort to help each other so we have to be more vigilant, more active and tireless in our work to combat these predators.
I hope this is a good start on helping you to protect your children. God knows I wish my family had been told this when I was a child. Maybe they would have been able to stop my abuse before it began. So please take a page from our family history book, educate yourselves and talk with your kids.
Our needs are increasing for more therapists/counselors. Please read and contact us ASAP!!
My name is David Pittman and I am the Executive Director for “Together We Heal”. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides cost-free counseling/therapy for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Additionally we give presentations, workshops and seminars on how parents can better protect their children from sexual predators.
We already work with dozens of licensed therapists, counselors and life-coaches, who donate their time and talent in order to help survivors begin the healing process and work through the multiple mental health challenges they face. But that number still isn’t enough.
With ever-increasing healthcare costs combined with the limitations placed on mental healthcare providers, as well as the rising number of survivors coming forward, we find ourselves in greater need of more therapists/counselors willing to work with us to help survivors of abuse.
It is with these factors in mind that I come to you now asking for your generosity. We need more volunteers who are qualified in working with victims who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Below is a brief list of the variety of challenges these survivors face and we need for you to have experience in these areas.
Addiction & Recovery
Attachment and Abuse Issues
Depression and Anxiety
Panic Disorder and Phobias
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
I know this is an unorthodox approach of reaching out to professionals, but we are in desperate times, and these survivors need us to take drastic measures. We are following the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital model, that no one be turned away because they can’t afford it.
We do not ask for or require any minimum time from any of our volunteers. Whatever time you are able to give, we are grateful for and appreciate. Even if you can help just one or two survivors, that would be a tremendous gift! And the need is not just in the U.S., we need therapists/counselors from all over the world as people reaching out to us come from all continents.
I know what I am asking is not easy, but I also know there are enough good-hearted people in this world who are willing to help these survivors. I know because I am a survivor of CSA and its because I had the good fortune of having such a therapist come into my life and help me that I am where I am today. It is to you I am speaking directly.
Please contact me at (754) 234-7975 or email me at email@example.com – Contact me anytime and I will respond ASAP.
When emailing, please send your CV, resume, list of certifications/degrees, or the life experience you’ve had that qualifies you to help others, so we can go through the proper vetting process.
One last point. We aren’t looking for cookie-cutter therapists and counselors. The needs of survivors vary tremendously and because of that, we have people from many types of backgrounds that work together with us. Being a survivor of abuse or having life experience can be just as important as a degree on the wall. What we need are folks that genuinely care for and want to help others. Please keep this in mind and allow your heart to guide you when considering becoming a part of this amazing team.
Executive Director, Together We Heal