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Recent headlines about high-profile celebrities, politicians and other men in positions of authority being accused of sexual assault and harassment are disturbing and frightening. Besides the emotional damage this behavior has caused for the victims and the abuse of power these men have demonstrated, there is an even more fundamental and heinous violation involved in these allegations:

A total lack of respect and an absence of moral decency in how women should be treated.

At the Village of Boys Town, the hundreds of boys and girls in our care become "brothers" and "sisters" to each other. To encourage and strengthen this sense of family and belonging, we teach our kids to always treat each other with respect and dignity. It's one of the most important skills they learn while they're at Boys Town, and it becomes a crucial part of the foundation of the new life each boy and girl is building.   

At Boys Town, we see every day how grooming and sexual abuse have hurt kids. Through no fault of their own, these children have been used in the worst possible way, and have been deprived of the happiness and the security every child deserves while growing up. We understand the pain they've endured and we become part of the healing they must go through so they can feel good about themselves and trust people again.

As parents, you can't be with your children to protect them every moment of every day. But you can teach them to be on the lookout for inappropriate behaviors or comments that may be signs of grooming and abuse. Most importantly, you can tell your kids that you will protect them, listen to them, take their concerns about a person's suspicious behaviors seriously and act – even go to the police – if they feel someone has tried or threatened to sexually harass or abuse them. 

All your child must understand is that in these types of situations, he or she must tell the truth.

The real key to stopping sexual abuse is preventing it. Here are some "red flags" parents, teachers and other important people in a child's life should watch for in order to keep children safe from grooming and abuse, by adults or peers.

  • A person gives a child unexpected or extravagant gifts.
  • A person looks for opportunities to be alone with a child (isolation).
  • A person makes comments about a child's body or physical appearance.
  • A person makes unwanted physical contact with a child (a back rub, hugs, resting a hand on a shoulder) or inappropriately touches a child.
  • A person asks a child to keep their interactions or "relationship" a secret.
  • A person tries to turn a child against his or her parents and friends.

As I said earlier, respecting others is one of the most important skills a young person can learn. When boys and girls know how and why they should respect each other's physical and emotional boundaries, it can prevent inappropriate sexual behavior and head off hurtful, abusive relationships.

As a parent, teaching these lessons to your children is one of your most important responsibilities. Here are the steps to two valuable skills – Showing Respect and Setting Appropriate Boundaries:

Showing Respect

  1. Obey a request or instruction to stop a negative behavior.
  2. Refrain from teasing, threatening or making fun of others.
  3. Allow others to have their privacy.
  4. Don't make inappropriate comments about a person's body or appearance.
  5. Obtain permission before using another person's property.
  6. Don't try to con or persuade others to break rules or engage in inappropriate behavior.
  7. Avoid acting obnoxiously in public.
  8. Dress appropriately in public.

Setting Appropriate Boundaries

  1. Imagine a series of circles radiating out from you. Each represents a boundary.
  2. Picture people you meet or know in one of the circles, depending on the level of closeness with which you and another person are comfortable.
  3. Disclose personal information only to those in the closest boundaries (parents, family members, trusted friends and adults).
  4. Touch others or allow others to touch you only in ways that are appropriate to your boundaries. Also, respect the boundaries of others.

Protecting your children, teaching them to protect themselves and showing them how to build healthy, respectful relationships can go a long way toward preventing harmful behaviors and situations and helping your child develop a solid moral compass, now and for the future.