What can I do to make sure a previous abuser doesn't harm a child I care about?
Dear Stop It Now!,
I have a very close family friend who has a daughter that is like a niece to me. My friend is dating a 30 year-old man that I have heard three confirmed stories where he has had sex with 13 year-old girls; he was over the age of 21 in all stories, and he's a drug user. My niece is 7 and I'm worried he might abuse her, or let his friends abuse her for drugs. I'm afraid if I report him out of concern for her, she might be taken away and since I'm of no blood relation, I won't have any legal standing to help her. Legally, what can I do to prevent this?
Dear Concerned Friend,
I understand why you're concerned as this man has a known history of sexual abuse. I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us; these girls are very lucky to have you looking out for them.
Identifying Warning Signs
Though you’ve already been informed of this man's abusive behaviors, you may still want to look through our pages on Behaviors To Watch Out For When Adults Are With Children and Signs an Adult is At-Risk to Harm a Child to see if there is anything else in the way he interacts with children that makes you uneasy. It may help in any conversations or actions you are planning to be specific about any behaviors that you are observing now. Sometimes it helps a person put a finger on something they have been feeling but couldn't put into words. Also, are there other people who are also concerned about this man and his risk to children and this child’s safety? If so, are they aware of any of these specific behaviors and warning signs? You may want to share this tip sheet with them as well.
And are there any Warning Signs in this little girl that may be a cause for concern? Single warning signs may not be important, but repetitive or frequent warning signs are reasons to pay attention. Again - feel free to share this tip sheet with other people close to this family in case anyone else is in a position to observe warning signso see if you have allies in your concerns; sometimes this helps a person put a finger on something they felt before but couldn’t put into words.
I’m wondering, how did you find out about this man’s sexually abusive past? I’m unsure if you were looking up this person’s name in the sex offender registry or if you heard from friends or survivors who experienced the abuse. If he were already tried, convicted, and put on the registry, you may want to find out if there are any restrictions in place in regards to him being around children. For more information on sex offenders in Oklahoma, including the web page to search your state’s registry, please check out the Klaas Kids: Oklahoma website.
I’m curious – does your friend know about his sexually abusive past? This may be something that you want to talk to her about, as without this information she may not have all the knowledge she needs to secure a safe environment for her kids. I’m not sure if the people who talked about his past abusive actions were friends or not, but discussing what you’ve heard certainly would be a good next step.
Though this conversation is difficult, it doesn’t have to be accusatory. Make sure that you come at this from a “same-side” point of view, and stay away from labeling and judgements. You can let her know that you care so much about her child – just like she was your own niece – but that there are some things you’ve found out that has made you worried about their safety. You can clearly state what you heard, then talk about some important next steps she can take for her children, like clear rules about boundaries and privacy called Safety Planning and becoming aware of the warning signs above. The conversation doesn't even have to be about her boyfriend, but about keeping her daughter safe generally and in all types of situations. For more information on how to start this discussion, please see this on How to Prepare for a Complex Conversation may be helpful.
As I’m not sure whether this man was ever convicted of abuse, I’m wondering, has anyone reported this man’s actions to Child Protective Services (CPS)? Even though years may have passed, a report can still be made. Anyone with first-hand knowledge of the abuse – like the survivor or anyone the survivor disclosed to – would be the best people to call. You noted that you’ve heard 3 confirmed stories – are the people who informed you of these stories able to take this protective step? Perhaps you can work with them to take these important actions – anyone who has information about a child who has been sexually abused should be letting their local authorities know about the abuse. Your second-hand knowledge may not be able to be acted upon, but you may still want to give a call to CPS and see if they’re able to take your report.
It is possible that you find yourself in the position of having to make a report. I know that that Making the Decision to Report is not easy, but it can be a good next step in making sure your friend’s children are safe if she’s unwilling to take steps to protect them herself. Case-by-case each situation is different, so unfortunately I cannot tell you exactly what may happen here, but it may help to know that CPS looks to keep all children within the home whenever possible. To understand a bit more about what happens to the whole family, you may want to check out the following pages which may help answer some of your questions; for Child Protective Services (CPS) Oklahoma, please dial 1.800.522.3511.
- How the Child Welfare System Works (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- When and How to File a Report
- What Might Happen When I File a Report?
Though you may feel very upset at this man’s action’s – and you have every right to be – it would be helpful to remain calm on the phone and talk only about the facts you heard, saw, or was disclosed to you. You would also want to talk about his drug use, sexually abusive past, any other warning signs you had seen in him, as well as the concern for the safety of children in the household currently. Another note about the drug use – if you have personal knowledge that he is using drugs, especially when children are present, you can make a report on this specifically as it is in itself illegal behavior and is considered abusive.
You are helping this child by taking steps to protect her. In many cases, CPS works with a family to create the least amount of disruption possible for the child, and when there is a need to remove a child, often CPS will look at resources already in a child’s life, such as a trusted and safe caring adult, such as yourself. Whatever happens, it is important to remember that you are doing your very best to protect this little girl – and that is a courageous thing to do.
In fact, please think about your supports. I know this mom is a close friend, but are there are other family or friends that you think could further support you and this child? Perhaps you may want support from someone completely out of the situation, but either way, please consider your own needs as you decide your steps.
Stop It Now!
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Last edited on: November 20th, 2019