Doc Talk: 3 Reasons People Don’t Report Child Abuse

There are three (3) primary reasons people worry about or hesitate reporting suspected or known child abuse to authorities. Dr. Amelia tackles these reasons and worries, and explains why it’s so important to challenge these thoughts in the interest of protecting kids in this issue of “Doc Talk.”


About Dr. Amelia ♥

Amelia Siders, Ph.D., LP, serves as the Clinical Director for TBCAC and has been working in the mental health field since 1994. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Amelia specializes in assessment, treatment, and advocacy for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional, behavioral, trauma, and substance use disorders. She has been trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EDMR, as well as several other trauma-informed interventions including Trauma Incident Reduction. In addition to overseeing counseling and therapeutic services at TBCAC, Dr. Amelia serves as an expert in child abuse prevention and intervention and provides testimony in court cases related to areas such as child abuse disclosure rates, false allegations, statistics, trauma symptoms and even grooming and offender behaviors. Additionally, she offers consultation for prosecutorial teams on psychological assessments conducted on both clients and alleged offenders that may be used in court. She and her team of onsite therapists also help prepare both families and children for the trial process by offering support and education about ways to feel more confident and less anxious when providing testimony. Dr. Amelia became passionate about working with children and families who have been affected by abuse when completing her internship at the Center for Child Protection in San Diego, California. Dr. Amelia lives in Traverse City with her canine companion and beloved TBCAC volunteer, Jeeves.

About Jeeves ♥

Jeeves serves as a loyal volunteer sidekick to Dr. Amelia, providing sweet, loving wags to hundreds of child victims and their caregivers for the past several years. A Havanese, Jeeves has hair instead of fur which helps people visiting the Center who may have allergies. As the TBCAC mascot, Jeeves welcomes any and all opportunities to receive belly rubs and hugs!


Understanding The Three “A’s” of Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Before we can begin protecting our children from sexual predators, it’s important to educate ourselves and understand what factors enable predators to molest children. There are Three A’s that must exist in order for someone to perpetrate sexual abuse…

  1. Access
  2. Alone time
  3. Authority
#1. Access

Makes sense, huh? But what exactly is “access?” Many people think that most children are sexually abused by strangers lurking in dark corners or hiding in bushes. The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family. Given that most predators are people children already know, access can happen virtually anytime.. anywhere. At home. At school. On the playground. On the school bus. At after-school or club activities. At church. You name it.

The fact is, over 90% of all sexually abused children know, love or trust the person abusing them. So, in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child… and often known to the parents and family.

Think about the people in your life who have “access” to your children.

#2. Alone time

Now think about those people you either trust to be alone with your child or who are alone with your child and you don’t know it. As educated and caring parents or caregivers, our challenge is to limit the risk to our children by restricting time children spend alone with other people, both adults and other kids. You can guide how children are supervised in everyday situations at home, at childcare, swimming lessons, play dates, neighborhood play and sports. You have the power to assess risk, ask questions and shape the nature of time a child spends with others. Here are a few tips:

1. Set expectations with caregivers. This can actually be pretty easy! For example, post expectations in your home for babysitters, family members and friends who visit. Expectations can include things like:

  • All members of the family have rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities.
  • If you do not want to hug or kiss someone hello or goodbye, then you can shake hands instead.
  • We don’t keep secrets.

Ask organizations (day-care, school, clubs, churches, etc.) about their policies and practices regarding one-on-one time with children. TBCAC offers guidance to organizations about how to create these types of policies to protect children through our Stewards of Children child abuse prevention program.

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways…

If you see an adult or another child crossing the line or not respecting your child’s body boundaries, step in! This can be done in non-confrontational ways by simply saying things like:

  • “We want Sara to know that she has control over her body and boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent. That way, if someone does have bad intentions, she is able to stand up for herself and immediately tell someone she trusts.” 
  • “When Liam asks you not to hug him, please stop and be respectful. We should always ask before giving any touch. Let’s try it together…‘Liam, may I give you a high-five?’”

2. Teach children what’s “okay”, what’s “NOT okay” and what to do “IF”… having conversations with your child about body safety and body boundaries can and should start EARLY! For more tips about talking with your child about this, see “Four Easy Ways to Teach Body Safety to Kids.

Teach children that if anyone asks to see or touch their private parts, or asks them to see or touch someone else’s private parts, the answer should always be “no” and to immediately find and tell the nearest adult. Create a safety circle that helps children identify at least two trusted adults in each of their networks; this helps them feel safe enough to say “no” and to report.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”. Surprises are supposed to be ‘fun’ things like getting a sibling a birthday gift or surprising someone during the holidays with a visit. Secrets on the other hand should NEVER involve touches to or seeing private body parts – talk with your kids about being sure they tell you if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Talk with your children about the difference between “secrets” and “surprises”.

3. Model the behavior you want your children to see. I can’t emphasize this enough — children truly learn what they live and will act as they are taught to act. Show respect for other people’s body boundaries by doing simple things like asking for permission before giving someone a hug or kiss. Model protective behaviors when your children’s friends come to visit by letting their parents know who is at home and that no one will be spending any alone time with their child at your house. Seemingly simple statements such as this reaffirm with your children that no one should be alone with them either, when they visit other friends’ homes.

#3. Authority

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does. Parents. Step-parents. Boyfriends or girlfriends of parents. Family members including older or physically stronger siblings. Class mates. Friends. Coaches. Teachers. Instructors. Clergy.

At the core of sexual abuse is perpetrator ability to have power and control over their child victims. Authority can come in all shapes and sizes… and does.

Authority is projected to child victims through threats, promises or requests to keep secrets. When talking with children about staying safe, it’s important for you to be sure they understand that NO ONE, regardless of who that person is, how important that person’s relationship may be to the child, what kind of job that person may have or how big and strong that person is, that it is NOT OKAY for anyone to touch or ask to see a private body part of your child’s. Help your child understand that s/he should come to you if that ever happens… and have your child identify another adult or two s/he would be comfortable telling, as well.

Know that threats are often made to child victims — threats against them, you, their siblings or even their pets. Sadly, threats are often effective ways to keep children silent, as kids want to be brave and protect themselves and people they love. Have open conversations with your child that if anyone makes a threat against them or someone they love, they need to tell you (or one of the safe adults they have identified) right away! The same goes with keeping secrets or receiving excessive gifts or favors (other common tactics of sexual predators).

Educating yourself about The Three A’s of Sexual Abuse is the first step. Carry it forward and teach your children practical ways they can help stay safe, too. And always remember to trust your gut… if something doesn’t feel right, it often isn’t.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


3 Reasons Santa’s Lap May NOT Be A Good Place For Kids

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director 

For many, the image of Santa Claus conjures up warm, happy thoughts of a jolly man in red, loaded down with gifts in a magical sleigh pulled by a talented team of reindeer, catching some serious air in the night sky. This beloved holiday figure embodies everything we adore about this time of year… a belief in good things for all.

However, there are a few aspects of the Santa holiday tradition that fly in the face of teaching body safety and proper boundaries to our kids… and the holidays offer adults a wonderful opportunity to reinforce basic rules that can help protect children from sexual abuse.

1) Let’s face it… not all kids like Santa’s lap.

Have you ever witnessed a child crying while sitting on Santa’s lap? It can happen for a variety of reasons, often stemming from a child’s fear of losing control of his or her own body for reasons that are difficult for a young mind to comprehend or accept. While photos with Santa can make for fun memories later in life, the act of forcing a child to sit on a stranger’s lap runs counter to important body safety rules that we must teach our kids.

Respecting a child’s wish to NOT make physical contact with someone — anyone — is a practice that our community must agree to follow if we are truly committed to keeping children safe. Cajoling children to pose or have physical contact with someone without their consent reinforces a social expectation that children should do as they are told, even if it violates their bodily integrity. Internalizing this expectation puts children at risk of being manipulated by predators. Keep in mind, sexual predators often take pictures or videos of their victims.

 2) Sexual predators frequently use gifts as a way to groom children.

Gift giving is a wonderful part of the holiday season. Socially, we are taught that gifts are selfless, thoughtful and virtuous expressions of love, friendship or respect. During the holidays, children receive gifts from people they know as well as from those they don’t, like Santa or distant relatives. This time of year offers a great opportunity to teach children to show all gifts that they receive to their caregivers.

Why is this so important? Sexual predators often lure children into trusting them by giving gifts that can range from candy to toys to even bigger things! Showering children with gifts and special attention is a grooming tactic to elicit comfort and investment in the predatory relationship.

Sadly, over 90% of children who are sexually abused know, love or trust their molesters. In other words, people who harm children are most often in a child’s circle of family or friends. Talking with children about gifts or special favors keeps adults mindful of what’s happening in a child’s sphere of relationships and empowers adults with the knowledge to determine if cautionary action is required. Writing thank you cards together is a perfect platform for tallying all gestures of affection.

3) Forced hugging or kissing of relatives is a bad idea.

Do you have a relative who means well but always insists on kissing or hugging your child? Are you one of those relatives yourself? It cannot be overstated that forcing children to kiss grandma or hug Uncle Buck flies in the face of body safety rules that, if followed, help keep kids safe.

Tragically, 30% of child sexual abuse incidents are committed by family members. Parents and step-parents. Uncles and aunts. Grandparents and cousins.

Instead of making your child hug or kiss a family member, step in and say, “We are teaching Emma about body safety and personal boundaries, so we respect her when she does not want to be touched by others, no matter how innocent… but I’ll take that hug!” (Then give your relative a big hug.) Another option would be to encourage kids to give high-fives instead of hugs.

Kids can even high-five Santa if they feel comfortable doing so. ♥

The best way to help others understand safety expectations is to model the behavior you hope to see. Ask every child, including your own, for permission before giving a hug or high five. Ask your spouse or partner permission before showing them affection, especially when in front of children.

Holiday Tips for Caregivers

In addition to supporting your child in his or her decision to respect body boundaries, here are a few more tips for caregivers to help keep kids safe during the holidays:

  1. Take a moment to remind your child about body safety rules. This can be done in a very child-friendly, non-scary and simple way. For tips on how to have these talks with your child, learn more at Team Zero.
  2. When going to parties at places unfamiliar to your child, walk around with your child and identify the rooms that are okay to go in, as well as other areas they should avoid.
  3. Make an agreement with your child that s/he will check-in periodically with you during the party or holiday event you are attending.
  4. If cocktails are served at the event, please keep yourself in check. If your senses are obstructed, that can present an open door to a sexual predator to gain ready access to your child… again, sexual predators are indeed among us. The sad fact is, they hide in plain sight and are often people most of us think “would never do that to a child.”

The greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children is a commitment to keeping them safe. When we agree to protect our children above all else — even when it means opting out of long-held customs and traditions — then we will be creating a world within which all children may flourish.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.