It’s every parent’s nightmare: discovering that a teacher, coach, pastor or other trusted adult has preyed on your teen. Yet it happens far too often. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault cases involve perpetrators who know the victim in some capacity.
After hearing about another inexcusable instance of sexual abuse on the news – or worse, finding out that it’s happened to someone you know – you may be wondering how to take steps to protect your teen from becoming a victim. One simple yet important step is to get into the habit of monitoring your teen’s cellphone use.
The role cellphones play in sexually inappropriate relationships
Cellphones are an everyday part of life for most teens. They’re a vital way to connect with friends and maintain a social life. For parents, cellphones provide an easy way to communicate and keep track of your teen’s whereabouts.
Unfortunately, cellphones can also be a source of vulnerability when it comes to sexual abuse. Predators often use cellphones as a pathway to connect with victims. They may “groom” a potential victim over a lengthy period of time, gradually deepening the relationship by calling, emailing, texting or even “sexting” – that is, texting inappropriate content and pictures.
These communications can provide the first hints that your teen is being targeted. When parents fail to take notice, it can seem like nothing is amiss, even though a dangerous pattern of behavior is brewing beneath the surface. For this reason, it’s vitally important to keep track of your teen’s cellphone use.
What to look for when monitoring your teen’s cellphone use
Any number of red flags may indicate that a potential predator is targeting your child. Watch for signs such as:
- Repeated calls to or from numbers you don’t recognize
- Overly personal, one-on-one messages from a teacher, coach, clergy member or other adult, which could reflect that he or she is “grooming” or targeting your teen
- Messages containing sexually explicit images or links to inappropriate content
Likewise, you should monitor all of your children’s online activities, including his or her email accounts. Predators sometimes use fake email accounts to maintain consistent interactions with their victims.
What to do if you see suspicious activity
If you do find signs of a predatory relationship, it’s important to take action. Don’t ignore your suspicions; listen to your gut.
- Foster an open dialogue with your teen. Give him or her a safe space to share concerns with you, without feeling blamed or judged.
- Discuss your suspicions with the school or organization.Many schools and religious organizations have internal procedures for reporting and investigating sexual assault.
- Report inappropriate conduct to law enforcement authorities. Don’t hesitate to contact the police with evidence of a sexually abusive relationship. This will initiate the process for a more in-depth investigation as well as criminal charges and no-contact orders.
You should also consult with a lawyer about your legal rights. Criminal cases are not the only way to hold perpetrators accountable. You may also be able to seek justice – and help prevent others from becoming victims – by pursuing a civil claim. At the Los Angeles law firm of Taylor & Ring, our attorneys provide sensitive legal representation for victims of sexual abuse.