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
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
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!