In early March 2017, parents all over Singapore were outraged by news of an American mixed martial arts instructor, Joshua Robinson, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two 15-year-old girls and showing pornography to a 6-year-old. Police also found nearly 6,000 pornographic images in his computer, including some 300 that featured sex with children as young as 2.
The outrage was twofold: one, that such a person could do such a thing to young girls, and two, that he was only sentenced to four years’ imprisonment—which seems shockingly short when previous molest and rape cases have warranted decades of jail time plus caning.
But we’re not here to talk about punishment and the law. We’re here to address a more serious issue.
Robinson, 41, had befriended the two teen girls on a social networking site and app called MeetMe. He had posed as a 27-year-old, befriended the girls and proceeded to have sex with them at his home. One of the victims apparently said she was afraid to decline as he was strong and could have hurt her.
Parents have their own theories about how and why these things happen—poor parenting, absentee parenting, the evil world of the Internet, slack policing by parents—but it is crucial to understand the thinking from a teenager’s point of view.
Beatrice (not her real name), 16, explains: “Girls go on these sites for one reason, usually: curiosity. They just want to see what people do on such sites. This is the age where they are discovering their own sexuality and their identity as sexual beings, so they want to know these things.”
So, would it have been prevented if their parents were stricter with their daughters’ mobile phone use? Privacy is the teenager’s most prized possession. Taking your teenager’s phone away from her, or demanding to know her passcode, is not going to solve the problem, says Beatrice. “Teenagers have many ways to get around their parents, I’m sorry to say. And treating them like babies, taking away their privacy, is a sure way to stop your children from telling you anything. They need that space to grow up, to find their way, to make sense of the world around them.”
What should a parent do, then? How can parents stop such a thing from happening to their daughters?
Beatrice points out that the key is the value system the child possesses. “By the time we are in our teens it’s a little late to be telling us what’s right and wrong,” she says. “It starts when we are young. We have to have that sense of righteousness within us to know what not to do, to know deep within yourself what your value is and how not to let someone take it away from you.”
As Christian parents, teaching our children about sex can be fraught with confusion and conflict—how much do we say? What if they become curious and want to try it out? Do we teach sex only after marriage? What about safe sex, should we teach that too?
The finer points can be debated until the cows come home, but today we will simply look at building a basic foundation to cement our children’s sense of “righteousness”, to borrow Beatrice’s term, for the purpose of protecting them from putting themselves in sexual danger.
1. Start young.
From the time children go to childcare, we should have taught them some basics: their private parts belong to them and are off-limits to others. They should not touch other children’s or anyone’s private parts, and they should not let anyone touch theirs. Parents should teach young children about their sexual organs in a matter-of-fact way, and use the correct terms: “vagina” and “penis”. Keeping this level of education free from shame is important. Avoid saying things like “shame shame” when it comes to talking about private parts. Also, teach your children to clean their own private parts, so that their childcare teachers don’t have to. Talk to the childcare teacher to only step in if there is a major accident in the hygiene department. Teach your children to tell you when someone touches their private parts, or asks them to touch theirs.
2. Teach them what God says about sex.
From a young age, teach your children that Adam and Eve were created by God, as man and wife, to multiply, that is to have sex and have children. It is a natural and holy thing, not a dirty thing. Sex between husband and wife is a good thing. Sex between a man and a woman who are not married isn’t because their union is not blessed by God (1 Cor 6:18-20). They must never have sex with a family member or with animals. (Leviticus 18). It may seem a bit extreme, but on a personal note, my son’s schoolmate tried to introduce him to bestiality in Primary 2. They were 7 years old. I made a report to the school principal and the child and his parents were called into the school office. Apparently, this boy had been watching pornography with his father since he was very young, and his father told the principal he didn’t see anything wrong with it. For me, I was glad my husband and I had talked to our son early on. If we don’t equip our children, they will not know how to say no when they are faced with such situations. And you honestly cannot tell when or where it is going to happen.
3. Be open about sex in the household.
Demystify sex for your children. Romans 7:17-24 talks about the temptations of the flesh—the more we know we’re not supposed to do something, the stronger the temptation. So, by cloaking sex in shame and secrecy, it becomes a forbidden fruit that is even more enticing than reality is.
My husband and I have made it a point since our children were young to let them see us hug, kiss, talk tenderly to one another. Yes, they have cried “Ewwww!” and covered their eyes, but we live out our love relationship as husband and wife openly for them to see. We have also explained that sex is a crucial part of a marriage relationship. First of all, without sex, they wouldn’t exist! Second of all, sex is holy and good (not boring and gross) when it’s between a husband and a wife and it makes their relationship stronger. Don’t they want Daddy and Mommy to love one another till they are super old? (The answer is usually “Yeah, yeah” accompanied by an eye-roll.)
4. Teach them about sexual predators.
Start early. Teach your children that nobody apart from you should be talking about sex with them that do not have permission to do so, or showing them sex videos. Schools teach sexuality education at upper primary level and parents have to sign a release form to allow their child to sit through these lessons. Use real-life cases in the papers to educate your child on the importance of what to do if, by some chance, something happens to them.
We are only scraping the tip of the iceberg in this story—sexual abuse exists on so many levels. But on a basic level, teaching our children to stay safe is key.
- Teach them to be aware of people around them in public transport—sexual predators who molest girls and boys on buses and the MRT but rubbing up against them or touching their bodies. The way to deal with this is to shout loudly and point to the offender. Or go up to the bus driver or MRT staff and complain about the offender.
- Teach them to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid going home alone late at night, or getting into a lift alone with a strange man.
- Teach them that sexual predators may also be people they know. An American survey of state prison inmates (BJS Survey of State Prison Inmates 1991) showed that half of the sexual offenders were a friend or relative of the victim. So, simple rules like not sitting on “uncle’s” lap help them keep a level of awareness that danger has many faces.
- Teach them never to send naked, half-dressed or “sexy” photos of themselves or others to anyone. In fact, they should never take any naked photos. At all. Even though it doesn’t involve physical touching, it is still a violation of their person and their bodies. A simple rule: If they can’t show it to their parents, they shouldn’t be showing it to anyone else.
- Take necessary precautions with mobile phones. For younger children, put in parental controls so that they are not inadvertently exposed to sexual advertising, and limit their mobile access and time (good for a whole range of reasons). Ensure that they are not on any chat sites without parental permission or at all.
5. Keep communication channels open and healthy between you and your teen.
Children are easier to protect when they are younger—when they are still willing to listen and obey, and trust that you know best. The situation is different when it comes to teens. Don’t underestimate the power of listening without judging. It’s not easy at all, but remember that you must create a safe space for your child to come to you with his or her questions or issues. If you don’t, they will go elsewhere. Ephesian 6:4 tells us not to exasperate or embitter our children, but instead to train them and bring them up in the instruction of the Lord.
Teens are looking to make sense of their own world and not rely on everything their parents tell them. So, lectures do not work. Repeat: lectures do not work. Instead, listen more than talk. Let your teenager express his opinions and resist the urge to shoot him down—instead, make the effort to really hear what he is saying, and respect that he has an opinion, even if you disagree with it. Then, express your own opinion and if need be, agree to disagree.
If you succeed in creating that safe space where your child can come and tell you her innermost feelings, you will have a better chance of imparting lasting values and wisdom to her.
Pray for your children and pray with them. Our children are precious in the eyes of God—He is their protector, their refuge, their shield. Prayer is never the last resort, but the first defence. When we pray with our children, they witness our personal relationship with God and they see for themselves the love we have for them and the trust we have in the Lord. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but those hope in the Lord will never be disappointed (Isaiah 49:23).