In 1974, at the age of 14, I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger, a recidivist sexual predator hunting for boys in my childhood hometown of Lincoln, Rhode Island.
I’m writing not to tell my story, but to share what I’ve learned in conversations and discussions with hundreds of survivors over the past ten years, to introduce you to my ‘5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe,’ and to dive deep into Step 3, Know What To Do.
My 5 Steps to Keep Kids Safe are
1. Know the facts
2. Know the signs
3. Know what to do
4. Know where to go
5. Know what to say
While each step is important in its own right, one step I think can make the most difference is the one I believe is less known, less public, most actionable. Number 3. Know What to Do.
Step 3. Know What to Do
Since over 90% of sex crimes committed against children are committed by either family members or someone known to the child or their family, we should minimize the amount of alone time any child spends in one-on-one situations with an adult.
Demand that adults with access to children involved in school, school bus transportation, extracurricular activities, sport programs, summer camps, music, dance, gymnastics, skating or other one-on-one teaching lessons are subject to mandatory background checks.
Don’t leave children in the care of adults with active alcohol or drug problems. Nothing more needs to be said.
Understand why a child might not tell. Children remain silent because of manipulation and misplaced guilt, shame, fear and to protect others. If you suspect abuse and your child won’t tell, don’t assume abuse isn’t happening. If you suspect abuse, trust your instinct, understand why a child might not tell and get help.
Use positive stories in the news as a catalyst for discussion. When you hear about the next Amber Alert, discuss it with your child. Let kids know that there is a system in place that alerts adults and law enforcement that a child needs help. The next time the news reports a missing child being reunited with their family, talk about it. Fear is the tool of the perpetrator. As scared as a child may be during an assault, or an abduction, if they know that people are looking for them, if they know people are going to help them, the child may find some peace and hope in those thoughts. Positive stories in the news, discussed with children before they need to rely on them, may just be the hope they need to get through their own experience.
Tell your child now, that you will believe them, they can trust you and you will help them. One way perpetrators manipulate their child victim is by telling the child no one will believe them. If a child knows before they’re abused, assaulted or raped that you will believe them, that they can trust you and that you will help them, you’ve taken away the perpetrators leverage over the innocent child.
Keith Smith, the author of Men in My Town, is a Stranger Abduction Male Rape Survivor and Public Speaker on the topic of Childhood Sexual Abuse.
The story of Keith’s assault and his transition from sexual assault victim to survivor has been featured in newspapers and magazines and his program, ‘5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe’ has been discussed on radio and television. Keith’s story has been covered by the New York Times. He participated in Oprah Winfrey’s award-winning show, 200 Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, was featured on Perspective : New Jersey with ABC Investigative Reporter Nora Muchanic and appeared on Anderson Cooper’s Special, State of Shame: The Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal.
More information on the complete ‘5 Steps You Can Take to Keep Kids Safe’ can be found at