Why I won't let any male babysit my children
OPINION: When our first daughter was born my husband and I made a family rule: no man would ever babysit our children. No exceptions.
This includes male relatives and friends and even extracurricular and holiday programs, such as basketball camp, where men can have unrestricted and unsupervised access to children.
Eight years, and another daughter later, we have not wavered on this decision.
Group slumber parties are also out. When there is a group of excited children it is far too easy for one of them to be lured away by a father or older brother without being noticed.
When my daughter goes on play dates I make sure that she will be supervised by a woman at all times. So far she has only slept at one friend's house. Beforehand I spoke to my friend about our rule and clarified that if she's going to pop out to shops for example and intends to leave our daughter in the care of her husband or another man then the sleepover cannot happen.
As you can imagine, this was not an easy conversation to have. To my friend's credit, she respected our family policy even though she doesn't have the same rules herself. In subsequent play dates and sleepovers my friend has rearranged logistics so that she can be present at all times.
I am certain that some of my other friends and acquaintances would not react so graciously and would see my request as a direct attack on their husbands and/or their parenting choices. I am dreading the day when I have to have the same conversation with someone who will not be as understanding.
Would I prefer to be a more chilled out parent? Absolutely.
Will I change my family policy? Unfortunately, no. Child sexual abuse is so prevalent that I won't back down on my no-male-babysitters policy.
To be clear, I'm not saying that all men are sexual predators. Nor do I think that men harbour predatory instincts that lie dormant only to spring forth at the first opportunity.
But child abuse by men is so common that taking precautions to keep my daughters safe is a no-brainer.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies the prevalence of child sexual abuse is 1.4-8 per cent for penetrative abuse and 5.7-16 per cent for non-penetrative abuse for boys and 4-12 per cent for penetrative abuse and 13.9-36 per cent for non-penetrative abuse for girls.
To put those figures into context, the "best case" scenario is that 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused. The worst case is that 1 in three girls are.
Yes, women can also abuse, but as the Australian Institute of Family Studies' Who Abuses Children fact sheet makes clear, "Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by males."
An Australian Institute of Criminology 2011 paper "Misperceptions about child sex offenders" shows 30.2 per cent of child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative, and 13.5 per cent by the father or stepfather.
A tiny 0.8 per cent of cases were perpetrated by mothers and stepmothers, and 0.9 per cent of child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a female relative.
The other categories of perpetrators were family friend (16.3 per cent), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6 per cent), another known person (15.3 per cent) – without specifying the gender split.
Data from the US National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) showed that males made up 90 per cent of adult child sexual assault perpetrators, while 3.9 per cent of perpetrators were female, with a further 6 per cent classified as "unknown gender".
While we're all terrified by the prospect of strangers abusing our kids and most of us would never let our young child walk around the streets by themselves, the Australian Institute of Criminology paper said that "in the vast majority of cases, children's abusers are known to them".
Children are at far greater risk from relatives, siblings, friends, and other known adults such as priests, teachers and coaches.
The blanket rule against allowing our daughters to be in the care of lone male adults means that we do not have to make a moral assessment of every man. My husband and I do not want to delve into the characters of every man that we know and assess whether or not they are potential sexual predators, so we apply our rule to all men to avoid casting aspersions on people.
We're also not sure if we can trust our judgement. If anything, the statistics suggest that many parents aren't very good at determining which male adults are safe and which are not.
No doubt some people will call me a man hater and react as if the protection of children is secondary to men's right not to be offended.
But dismissing this as a hysterical reaction of a misandrist is not only incorrect, it's also missing the point spectacularly. My husband and my decision is based on straightforward risk analysis: a cold, hard, unemotional reading of the statistical data.
When I look at my daughter's class lining up on assembly and think that statistically between one and nine of them are going to be sexually abused before they reach adulthood, I am determined to do everything I can to make sure my daughter is not going to be one of them.
I know it's a hard line, some would say extreme. But I also know that sexual abuse can rob a child of their self-worth and dignity in an instant – and it can take decades for those wounds to heal, if at all.
In this context, potentially hurting peoples' feelings is the price my husband and I are prepared to pay.
Kasey Edwards' new book Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind will be released in May 2017.
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