How Can I Protect Myself From Sexual Predators?
Each year, millions of people are raped or otherwise sexually abused, and research shows that young people are a prime target. For example, it’s estimated that in the United States, about half of all rape victims are under 18 years of age. Because of the prevalence of abuse, it is vital that you consider this topic.
“He grabbed me and threw me down before I knew what was happening. I tried everything I could to fight him off. I pulled out a can of pepper spray, but he knocked it away. I tried to scream, but only air escaped my lungs. I pushed, kicked, punched, and scratched. And that’s when I felt a knife pierce my skin. I went completely limp.”—Annette.
SEXUAL predators run rampant today, and young people are often the target of their attack. Some youths, like Annette, are assaulted by a stranger. Others are attacked by a neighbor. Such was the case with Natalie, who at just 10 years of age was sexually abused by a teenager who lived near her home. “I was so scared and ashamed that at first I didn’t tell anyone,” she says.
Many youths have been molested by a family member. “Between the ages of 5 and 12, I was sexually abused by my father,” says a woman named Carmen. “I finally confronted him about it when I was 20. He said he was sorry, but a few months later, he kicked me out of the house.”
Sexual abuse at the hands of a neighbor, friend, or family member is disturbingly common today. * But the exploitation of young people is nothing new. Such deplorable conduct took place even in the days when the Bible was written. (Joel 3:3; Matthew 2:16) Today we live in critical times. Many people lack “natural affection,” and it’s common for girls (and even boys) to be taken advantage of sexually. (2 Timothy 3:1-3) While no precaution guarantees your safety, there is much you can do to protect yourself. Consider the following tips:
Be alert. As you walk outdoors, know what is happening ahead of you, behind you, and on both sides. Some areas are known to be dangerous, especially at night. To the extent possible, either avoid those areas or at least make sure you’re not alone.—Proverbs 27:12.
Don’t send mixed messages. Avoid flirting or dressing provocatively. Such actions may send the message that you’re interested in getting physical—or at least that you wouldn’t object to it.—1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
Talk about boundaries. If you’re dating, discuss with the other person what conduct is and is not appropriate. * Once you have set boundaries, do not put yourself in compromising situations in which you could be abused.—Proverbs 13:10.
Be willing to speak up. There’s nothing wrong with firmly stating, “Don’t do that!” or “Take your hand off me!” Don’t hold back out of fear that you’ll lose your boyfriend. If he breaks up with you over this issue, he’s not worth keeping! After all, you deserve a real man, one who respects your body and your principles. *
Be cautious while online. Never give out personal information or post photos that identify your whereabouts. * If you receive a sexually explicit message, usually the best reply is no reply. A wall of silence renders most online predators powerless.
The preceding steps can make you less vulnerable to attack. (Proverbs 22:3) Realistically, though, you may not always be in full control of your circumstances. For instance, you might not always be able to have a traveling companion or to avoid dangerous areas. You may even live in a dangerous area.
Perhaps you know through bitter experience that bad things can happen despite your efforts to avoid trouble. Like Annette, quoted at the outset, you may have been caught unawares and been overpowered. Or like Carmen, you may have been victimized as a child and, as such, were powerless to control the situation—or even to understand fully what was happening. How can you deal with the guilt that often torments those who have been sexually abused?
Coping With Guilt
Annette still struggles with guilt over what occurred. “I’m my own worst enemy,” she says. “I keep playing that night over and over again in my head. I feel as though I should have tried harder to fight him off. The fact is, after being stabbed, I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t do anything more, but I feel that I should have.”
Natalie also struggles with guilt. “I shouldn’t have been so trusting,” she says. “My parents had a rule that my sister and I had to stay together when we played outside, but I didn’t listen. So I feel I gave my neighbor the opportunity to hurt me. What happened affected my family, and I feel responsible for causing them so much pain. I struggle with that the most.”
If your feelings are similar to those of Annette or Natalie, how can you cope with guilt? First, try to keep foremost in mind that if you were raped, you were not a willing participant. Some people trivialize the issue, using the excuse that “boys will be boys” and that victims of rape were asking for it. But no one deserves to be raped. If you were the victim of such a heinous act, you are not to blame!
Of course, reading the statement “you are not to blame” is easy; believing it may be much more difficult. Some keep what happened bottled up inside and are racked with guilt and other negative emotions. However, who is best served by silence—you or the abuser? You owe it to yourself to consider another option.
Telling Your Story
The Bible tells us that in the height of his personal turmoil, the righteous man Job said: “I will give vent to my concern about myself. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul!” (Job 10:1) You will benefit from doing the same. Talking to a trusted confidant about what happened can in time help you to come to terms with the rape and gain relief from your distressing emotions.
In fact, if you are a Christian, it is important that you speak to a congregation elder about what happened. The comforting words of a loving shepherd can assure you that as a victim of rape, you have not been defiled by someone else’s sin. That’s what Annette found. She says: “I talked to a close friend, and she urged me to speak with a couple of Christian elders in my congregation. I’m glad I did. They sat down with me on several occasions and told me exactly what I needed to hear—that what happened was not my fault. None of it was my fault.”
Talking about what happened and expressing your feelings can keep you from becoming consumed with anger and resentment. (Psalm 37:8) It may also help you to gain relief, perhaps for the first time in years. After she told her parents about the abuse, Natalie found that to be true. “They supported me,” she says. “They encouraged me to talk about it, and that helped me not to be so sad and angry inside.” Natalie also found comfort in prayer. “Talking to God helped me,” she says, “especially at those times when I felt that I couldn’t open up to another human. When I pray, I can speak freely. It gives me a real sense of peace and calm.” *
You too can find that there is “a time to heal.” (Ecclesiastes 3:3) Rely on supportive friends who are like the elders described as being similar to “a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.” (Isaiah 32:2) Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get needed rest. And most of all, rely on the God of all comfort, Jehovah, who will soon bring about a new world in which “evildoers themselves will be cut off, but those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth.”—Psalm 37:9.
^ par. 7 Some cases involve date rape, in which a girl is either forced to have sex or is drugged into compliance.
^ par. 11 Of course, that advice also applies if a girl pressures a boy for sex.
^ par. 23 Sometimes victims of abuse are subject to severe depression. In such a case, it might be wise to consult a physician. For more information on coping with distressing feelings, see Chapters 13 and 14 of this book.
“In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, . . . having no natural affection, . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.”—2 Timothy 3:1-3.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
In the United States, more than 90 percent of juvenile victims of sexual assault know their attacker.
When I feel guilty about what happened, I will ․․․․․
What I would like to ask my parent(s) about this subject is ․․․․․
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
● What are the benefits of speaking up about abuse?
● What could happen—to you and to others—if you keep silent?
[Blurb on page 232]
“It’s very hard to speak up about the abuse, but it’s the best thing you can do. Speaking up helps you to let go of your sadness and anger and to regain your power.”—Natalie
[Box on page 230]
“If You Love Me . . . ”
One type of sexual predator doesn’t force himself on girls but cleverly plays on their emotions. How? By saying such things as, “Everyone else has sex,” “No one will ever find out,” or, as mentioned in Chapter 24 of this book, “If you love me, you’ll do this.” Don’t be conned by a boy who tries to make you believe that sex equals love. The fact is, anyone who thinks that way is only looking out for his own gratification. He is not thinking of you or your welfare. In contrast, a real man will put your interests above his own and will show that he has the strength to uphold God’s moral standards. (1 Corinthians 10:24) A real man won’t treat girls as sex objects. Instead, he will view “younger women as sisters with all chasteness.”—1 Timothy 5:1, 2.
[Picture on page 233]
The feelings left by abuse might be too heavy for you to carry by yourself. Why not get help by talking to someone?