Keep Him Safe

Should home be a place where our little ones feel scared and terrified? Should a child be worried about being abused and molested by those he trusts to protect him? No! Children the world over are in a tender phase of their lives, very vulnerable and more or less helpless. The good-hearted will protect them while the perverts will constantly look for an opportunity to harm them and scar them for life.

Defilement and rape cases popularly feature stories of the girl-child and little is said about the equally horrendous and traumatic experiences our men, sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and cousins have painfully and quietly endured. Stories have been shared and predators have been named, shockingly more of family and friends as compared to strangers. It turns out that a child is more likely to be sexually abused by his parent, guardian, sibling, baby-sitter, friends-of-the-sibling, family friends, work-colleague-of-parent, other relatives, neighbours, as well as visitors both male and female. There have been cases of children being molested by other children their age at school and at home, however, that’s an article for another day. So, how can we as parents, family, friends and community help keep every child and in this case every boy safe from sexual-related abuse?

1. Keep an eye on him

If you are the parent or someone entrusted with the child for a time, always make sure to watch the child while he plays, sleeps, interacts. If you must put your phone and laptop away then do it–anything to avoid distractions. If you must take a bathroom break and can’t go with him then identify a secure place or a trusted person such as an officer or guard on duty to leave him with and make sure to be back as soon as possible. Pay attention to his body language when certain people are around him, other children, your environment, other adults and be careful should anyone approach you in such a way that your eye or attention is shifted from your child even for a few seconds. Don’t relax thinking nothing can go wrong just because he is playing with other children or the place is filled with ‘well-meaning’ parents and other adults.

2. Bathroom breaks

Should he ask to use the bathroom at home or in a public place, accompany him. If he’s too young you will definitely have to go in with him to help. However, if he’s somewhat older then find a place you trust considering what kind of people flock it on a daily. Some boys have been abused by strangers in public bathrooms and by visitors or guests in home bathrooms. Let him know that he can’t stay there for so long and that should he not be out by a certain time, you’re going to go check or get someone to check. Should he find a queue let him come outside to where you are (anything to avoid him staying out of sight for too long lest he’s taken advantage of). Remind him it is okay to defend himself, shout, run or call for help if he feels unsafe.

3. Itchy fingers

Teach your little one it’s always better for one to keep one’s hands to oneself. This way should anyone touch him, he will have good reason to be concerned even if that person doesn’t go further regardless of their intentions. Another person should ask your permission before touching your son and you should be watchful how they do it. This way should you see anything you’re not comfortable with, feel free to speak up and put an end to it. Better still, involve the child as it’s his body being touched, ask him if he’s okay with so and so rubbing his hair. Alternatively, you can tell the other person, “Oh, am sorry. Brian, here doesn’t like being touched.”

4. CCTV, anyone?

These have quickly transitioned from offices to homes, come in different shapes and stealthy designs, plus you can get some at very affordable prices and have them installed in key spots in your home and child’s bedroom. Let your child know there’s a camera and explain why. Ensure he understands that it’s always better to be in spaces where the camera can view him and be vigilant should anyone make a habit of interacting with him in ‘blind spot’ spaces. Keep an eye on those cameras as often as you can. If you are away from him (home) then schedule random times through the day when you can phone and ask to speak with him directly or make a habit of dropping by at unexpected hours, just to check on ‘things’.

5. Be someone he can trust

It is easier to nurture preferred behaviour if your child sees you putting into practice for yourself the very things you advise him on. Don’t encourage others to flirt with you or touch you inappropriately as your little one might think it’s okay and normal should someone else do the same to him. When around other adults or their children, keep your hands to yourself or ask for permission should you want to touch them (best advise–try not to touch someone else’s child with or without permission unless you are clearly rescuing them from danger and shout to alert others of what’s happening). Don’t be in closed spaces alone with another person’s child–instead opt for a spot where everyone else can see the both of you. Dress appropriately around children (at home and away), watch your language, and be careful about the choice of friends you wish to keep around. Try not to take pictures of him half-dressed or in the nude, but most importantly try not to share such pictures nor use them anywhere. These pictures are both embarrassing and expose him to perverts and predators. Respect his privacy no matter how young he may be, even if you’re his parent. Trust is vital!

6. Listen to him and act!

Pay attention to his body language as often as possible- look out for signs of discomfort, sudden alertness, irritation, sudden silence, unusual hesitation. Does he suddenly disappear, coil into a corner, grab your hand, or want to be so close to you when he hears a certain voice, or when a certain someone comes around. Has his warm behaviour towards Aunt Melah suddenly changed or has a particular person recently become way ‘too friendly’ with him with intentions of grooming? Have short conversations when you’re alone and ask what he thinks about so and so and the details of what happened on his way to the market or the zoo. Act as innocent as possible. Should he share something he’s worried about, don’t tell him he’s only imagining things and so and so is a good person who can’t do this or that. Try not to encourage false accusations but let him know you will be on the lookout and that you take what he has shared very seriously. Where necessary confront the other person or report to the authorities.

It’s a brave thing to speak out when abused or feeling unsafe and boys should be encouraged to reach out for help without fearing to be labelled “unmanly”. The sooner the problem is dealt with, the better, as this allows for early intervention, a healing process for the child and his overall protection. Let’s love our little ones enough to keep them safe above everything else.