What I’m doing to protect my kids from sexual abuse

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A Mother is...Always There - courtesy of Trish via Flickr

A Mother is...Always There - courtesy of Trish via Flickr

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to connect with an amazing woman after she stepped forward to share about being re-traumatized by her former church after reporting being sexually abused as a minor.  What amazed me about Natalie Greenfield is that she did not back down or succumb to silence when her former church leaders attempted to publicly malign, demean, and intimidate her.  Instead, she continued to speak and boldly expose the ugly truth, knowing that her actions would attract the continued ire of a religious institution attempting to save face. Natalie’s words and her life have become a source of great hope and inspiration to many watching abuse survivors around the country who still suffer in silence, shame, and fear.  I am very grateful that our paths have crossed and am privileged to call Natalie Greenfield a friend and a hero. – Boz


When I was a little girl, I dreamed of growing up to be all kinds of different things. I wanted to be a ballerina, a veterinarian, a cowgirl, a famous singer. I wanted to fall in love and get married when I was thirty and have a couple of kids, but first I wanted to do everything else. As I got older I realized more than anything I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to write songs and travel the world singing them. I wanted the world to know who I was; I’m a born performer and being on stage felt like home to me.

All of that changed when I was thirteen years old and met the man who targeted me, groomed me for months and then sexually abused me for almost 2 years, destroying the remaining years of my childhood. I lived in the prison this man built around me, I cut myself off from friends and family and I wore a smile to disguise my pain. The abuse finally ended when I was sixteen years old. I hid the abuse for almost 2 more years before speaking out about it, and when I did speak up I was abandoned by my church community and burdened with even more shame. Healing from longterm childhood sexual abuse and the subsequent shaming I experienced has been a life consuming challenge.

A Mother is...Always There - courtesy of Trish via Flickr

A Mother is…Always There – courtesy of Trish via Flickr

I’m now twenty eight years old and married to my best friend, we have three incredible children together and a fourth on the way and life is full and joyful like I never knew was possible. Still, I know what the child sex abuse statistics are and I can’t help but worry my own children might be hurt the way I was. The truth is, most abuse happens at the hands of friends or family members – people who are already in positions of trust and familiarity. It’s also true that most parents of abuse victims will tell you they never saw it coming.

From the moment I saw my first positive pregnancy test I knew I had to be equipped and educated to protect my children. I also knew I needed to equip my children so they could protect themselves when I wouldn’t be able to shield them from the dangers of the world. Honestly, the task felt downright overwhelming until I realized I’m not the only parent who cares deeply about this very thing. Granted, not many people I had access to eight years ago were talking openly about sexual abuse, I longed for conversations that would help me normalize my own healing process as well as educate me for my future as a parent, but I discovered that when I began to speak openly about what happened to me and what I was experiencing as a result, some of the stigma began to fade just a little. Since breaking the ice and beginning to talk about my abuse and shaming, I’ve spoken frequently and openly about the topic and it’s been hugely helpful for me not only when it comes to processing my thoughts about the abuse but also in teaching me how I can help protect and educate others.

Prevention begins with awareness, and awareness can’t happen unless communities and churches are willing to talk about sexual abuse; admittedly not the most comfortable conversations to have. They’re unpleasant and often awkward but that should never matter when it means we could prevent another child or woman from suffering the trauma of abuse. When our children are taught that certain subjects are taboo and should never be brought up, an environment is fostered in which children feel ashamed to speak up if that “taboo” happens to them. If they’re ashamed to speak up about their bodies or their sexuality, can you imagine the shame they’d feel if they were sexually abused? I felt that shame and I never wanted anyone to know about it because I was afraid they’d see me the same way I saw myself.

So how do we begin having these difficult conversations? They should start in our families and should include practical ways to protect our little ones. Here are just a few of the bigger preventative measures that our family has implemented that I want to share with you with the hope that they may help your family as you seek to keep your children safe.

  • Make sure our children feel safe talking to us. It’s vital that children feel comfortable and safe speaking to their parents about anything that might be on their minds, even the heavy stuff, even the embarrassing stuff. Oftentimes these conversations need to be instigated by mom and dad. This article has popped up in my Facebook feed a handful of times in the last few months. I really appreciate the insights it offers about questions we can ask our children to help them feel safe about speaking to us when something doesn’t feel right. My husband and I have started practicing this advice religiously and it’s been the beginning of some great conversations with our little ones.
  • Teach our children to understand and respect their bodies. My husband and I feel strongly about teaching our children to be familiar with the functions of their own bodies. From a young age we’ve spoken very openly in our household about anatomy, and simultaneously, about how important it is to respect each other’s bodies and privacy. For example, this means when someone asks not to be tickled or touched, that request is honored.
  • No sleepovers. We don’t allow our children to have sleepovers unless it’s with a grandma or an auntie and we’re aware of everyone who is or might be in the home. Alone time with uncles or male friends of the family isn’t allowed, not because we’re paranoid or judgmental but because in order to protect our children it’s important that we have ground rules without exceptions. Our extended family are aware of these rules and know not to take them personally; we’ve had open conversations with them about why we feel this way and why it’s important to respect our rules.

Some of these rules may seem rigid or you may think we live in constant fear of something terrible happening to our children. On the contrary, speaking frequently about these issues and having ground rules for our family eases much of that worry. Do our rules offer a guarantee that our children won’t be hurt by abuse? Sadly, no. But as parents our responsibility is to protect our children and to prepare them for their future, and though the method of doing so may widely vary from one family to another it’s important that we learn to listen; to our children, to the lessons from our own pasts, and to the experiences of those around us.

When they’re old enough to hear it, my daughters and my son will know my story. It will be hard to tell them, hard to see that loss of innocence when they hear about the pain in their mother’s childhood. But by trusting them with my own suffering I hope they will also trust me with theirs. Because when we lead with an example of vulnerability and a willingness to share, when we create an environment where trust and love overshadow guilt and shame, we give the next generation a healing power that the world desperately needs.

Natalie Greenfield is a mother, wife, business owner, musician, and sexual abuse advocate. Through her personal blog she shares stories of the longterm sexual abuse she suffered as a young teen. Natalie is blessed to be years down her road of healing and enjoys a full life in beautiful Northern Idaho with her husband, Wesley, their 3 young children and a chocolate lab.  You can follow Natalie at @NatalieGfield.  


  • My heart aches at the loss of your dreams as a child. My soul celebrates with you for finding your voice and embracing your dreams as an adult. You are so worthy to become all you were created to be. You go!

    Thank you for your wise instruction regarding protecting children. You are spot on. Your words, regarding the loss of your childhood dreams, closely resemble a children’s story we give away (at RiseAndShineMovement.org) to help parents build a bridge of communication with their kiddos regarding abuse. If you would like hard copy of our stories to help you continue the conversations with your kids, please contact me via our website. I’d be delighted to send you some copies.

    Keep creating, Natalie. And keep singing your songs. 🙂

  • Annie

    There are a lot of things I love about this article. I love the emphasis on open communication. Even if abuse didn’t exist, it would still be important for kids to be able to talk about their bodies and anything they need to talk about with their parents.
    However, I don’t like that this article focuses on women and children abused by men. Men and boys are abused too, and sometimes women are the abusers. Sadly, a grandma or aunt can abuse just as easily as a grandpa, an uncle, a male family friend, or anyone else. I don’t say this to be judgmental or to condemn the writer of this article. Again, there are some great things mentioned here. I just wish there were more voices for male victims of abuse, and more awareness of female abusers.

  • Ginny

    Annie, that is what struck me as well. Abusers come in all sexes and ages and often are found in our families as well. There is something to be said about the old Boy Scout training of ‘two deep’ leadership. If you are leaving your child with ‘someone’ make sure there is more than one adult present…..a lot less likely that ‘something’ may happen.

  • James

    This is extremely important. Women are less likely to be perpetrators than men, but they certainly can be, and I think we’re seeing this more and more frequently as time goes on. With very young children this is almost unheard of, but particularly with your son as he gets older, blindly trusting women can be a huge mistake.

    There was a case in Australia where a mom was talking to her kids about predators online, describing them as “him”. Her son (about 12 I think) asked her if women could be predators too, and she told him not to be silly that didn’t happen. The mom found out later that he was being molested by a woman at the time, and after the woman was convicted of molesting multiple boys her son said something like “I tried to tell you mom, but you wouldn’t listen”.

    There are countless stories where women get caught doing this kind of thing and you see the mothers express complete shock, saying something like “I trusted her completely”.

    Anyone can be a predator.

  • Natalie Greenfield

    Thanks for weighing in, everyone!

    I absolutely agree, anyone can be a predator.

    Notice I said “women and children” and not “women and girls”, boys are frequently abused and I wouldn’t/didn’t omit them from this article. I have a son and feel very strongly about equipping him to protect himself just as I will equip my daughters.

    That said, the article is relatively brief and certainly not exhaustive, there are many other factors in abuse and I do agree that raising awareness for all kinds of abuse is extremely important!

    No one should ever be blindly trusted, and parents should always discern situations as they arise.

  • Connie

    Thankful you are addressing this. Would like to point out that abusers can be women as well. This happened to my son at age 5 by a trusted family member. So I would say to be very careful of leaving children with anyone. It never occurred to me to worry about something like that. It is extremely important to be proactive and tell your children what a “bad touch” is, and that your child should always report it to you if he or she feel uncomfortable. I would also institute an “open door” policy when adults or children come over — no closed doors. Children must know that they can talk to their parents about these issues.

  • Natalie Greenfield

    Wonderful advice!!

    And yes, abusers can absolutely be women as well. The vast majority of abusers are men (about 90%) but that does not mean women don’t also abuse.

    I love the open door policy.

  • Natalie Greenfield

    Thank you so much for your support and love, and for the offer to send materials. I will be in contact!!

  • anon

    So what does a mother do when her instincts suspect father in the home? No proof, just vague suspicions based on behaviors. Children won’t, don’t talk.

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  • Anon3


    I truly feel for you. I know how horrible it is to worry. It’s good to listen to your instincts and respond. I know it’s hard. We always feel that somehow we can protect our children just by being hyper-vigilant. But we can’t stay awake and alert all the time.

    I am the ex-wife of a pedophile —

    My story — with more than 200 comments — is here, along with the stories of a lot of other women whose intuition told them something was wrong.

    My hope is that you pray for the strength to act. I know you’ve probably tried to say or do something, but you will need spiritual assistance to do the right thing for your children. The Lord will give you more strength than you ever thought possible. He did for me.


    Sincerely, Anon3

  • Anon3

    I should add one more thing:

    My little children are grown now. The healing starts when you draw the line in the sand. I asked my husband to leave when my kids were small. Today they are adults who’ve completed their educations, are happy and well-adjusted, and have good jobs.

    They thank me for divorcing their father. (They didn’t at first, but they do now.)

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  • PF


    I have read through your articles and I have really found an underlying tone in almost all of them. You seem to never offer any help for those who have struggled/are struggling with being an abuser. I can absolutely understand your stance on the issue, but I finding little to no support lines for those who need/want help. It reminds me very much like the parable in Luke about the tax collector and the Pharisee.

    Be careful my friend you are beginning to have an aura of grandeur about your writings and when/if you get to heaven do you think that our Lord and Savior will say “well done my good and faithful servant”? Or will he question your true motives in your writings?

    Again I am no throwing stones and like I have said, I have read through many of your writings and have agreed with some of the things you’ve written…but still I see a lack in helpful instructions for those struggling with being an abuser and have a desire to change.

  • Patrice

    PF, your scolding is pompous and awry. Such an attitude cannot coincide with the humility required to defeat impulses towards abuse.

    However, in the following forum there are a number of options an earnestly repentant abuser might pursue:


  • PF


    Please forgive my tone of pompousness and ignorance. Having dealt with both sides of the situation I can certainly see a true lack of understanding on those who are ignorant to how someone becomes an offender. I had read an earlier thread from Boz and certainly agreed with what he said with offenders not being allowed to be apart of leadership in the church…especially any leadership dealing with children. If the offender truly desires change, fooling themselves into believing they can lead a children’s/youth ministries would be very detrimental. But not allowing them to worship in the pews with other believers is just as someone on the registry not being allowed in a McDonald’s because it has a playplace. Multiple studies have shown that many cases of abuse are by someone the child knows…not a stranger. I think people need to start actually listening to the correct facts and not the ones the government cooks up.

  • People at one time I commented on one of Boz’s blogs about the sex offender attending church. All on their were trying to blow me out of the water but I held firm. Now the bible says there is not a just man upon the face of the earth that doeth good and sinnith not. Now everyone on here should know that or should we treat the victim the same as the predator?

    While all these comments can be good to open our eyes there is good and bad in everything we do. Churches need to wake up and put on the whole armor of the lord. God is no respecter of persons. So myself as a sex offender are lost according to man. Learn how to love thy neighbor and than you’ll learn more about yourself and how to stop abuse.