Prevention efforts are greatly improved when adults and an informed community are able to recognize suspicious attitudes and patterns of behavior and take action. When adults know when and how to safely confront someone who is engaged in pre-offending behaviors, they can help stop abuse before it occurs.

Continuum of Behaviors


  • Respects appropriate boundaries around children

  • Answers questions honestly in age-appropriate language

  • Redirects children’s sexual behavior without shaming them

  • Listens and responds when a child is uncomfortable with affection

  • Respects household rules and restrictions


Concerning behaviors are those that are considered “pre-offending behaviors.” Abuse may not have occurred yet, so a conversation with the offender may be a good and safe option, and will hopefully prevent future abuse. See below for recommended action steps.

  • Uses inappropriate language and topics around children

  • Has secretive relationships with children

  • Spends so much time with a child that they are isolated from others (including parents)

  • Does not allow the child to set limits

  • Does not respect/follow household rules

  • Behavior makes others uncomfortable

  • Sexual harassment


If you suspect any of the following abusive behaviors, do not confront the offender. Instead make a report to the Department of Children and Families.

  • Has sexual contact with a child below the age of consent

  • Exposes a child to pornography/uses child to make pornography 

  • Engages in sexual acts in presence of child or encourages them to watch sexually explicit content on TV/videos/computer/etc

  • Exhibitionism, Voyeurism 

  • Repeated sexual harassment

Action Steps to Address Boundary Violations

  • Make sure it is safe to confront the behavior

  • Trust your gut, but educate it too

  • Think about what is making you uncomfortable, then write it down

  • Find an ally

  • Practice/discuss what to say. Call Prevent Child Abuse Vermont (1-800 CHILDREN) or Stop It Now! (1-888 PREVENT) to practice or for guidance.

  • Choose a private time and place where you can talk without interruption

  • Don’t accuse or jump to conclusions, but do ask direct questions

  • Describe what you saw/heard, and how it made you feel

  • Express concern for all involved

  • Separate the behavior from the person

  • Keep asking questions until you get the information you need

  • Encourage change/seeking help

Adapted from “Let’s Talk” by Stop It Now!