How to Protect Children From Abuse

February 13, 2018

Professors Elizabeth Jeglic and Cynthia Calkins offer guidance, based on their recent book.


Graduate Center professors Elizabeth Jeglic (GC/John Jay, Psychology) and Cynthia Calkins (GC/John Jay, Psychology) recently published Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Kids Safe (Skyhorse, 2018). Both are clinical psychologists who have written extensively about sexual violence prevention.
Jeglic and Calkins recently spoke to the Graduate Center about what parents should know about sexual violence, common misconceptions about offenders, and what you should do if you suspect a child is being abused.
GC: What advice you would give to parents who want to learn more about this topic?
Jeglic and Calkins: Parents should know the facts. The overwhelming majority of children are abused by a family member or someone known to them (93 percent) — not by a stranger.  In addition, 10 percent of sex offenders are women and one-third of sex crimes against children are committed by another child or adolescent.
Parents should use correct anatomical language when referring to sexual organs starting in childhood. One study found that sex offenders were less likely to offend against a child if they knew correct names for body parts, as they felt that there was a greater risk that they would get caught as these children were more likely to have talked to their parents.
Also, Internet-enabled devices should not be kept in bedrooms at night: the majority of communications with adult strangers take place after parents are asleep.
GC: The book also dispels misconceptions based on unfounded fears. What are the most frequent misconceptions about this topic?
Jeglic and Calkins: The most frequent misconceptions are that sex offenders are strangers and monsters. Many sex offenders are well-respected members of the community and there is no specific profile of a sex offender — it could be anyone and it is most likely someone that you know.
GC: What should parents or educators do if they suspect abuse? What if the concerned person does not have a relationship (familial or through a school) with the child?
Jeglic and Calkins: If you, as a parent, suspect abuse, talk to your child and observe their behavior. It is always better to report abuse and have it be unfounded than to let the abuse continue. People who do not have a relationship with the children can also make reports to child protective services if they have concerns. Each report will be investigated.
Educators and medical professionals are mandated child abuse reporters, so if they have reasons to suspect abuse then they are required by law to report it.