WARNING FOR PARENTS: Do not take children to the beach without a bathing suit and do not share photos of them on social networks

In recent weeks all the media spread the news about the fact that 13 years after the disappearance of British 4-year-old girl Madeleine McCann in Germany arrested a 43-year-old who is suspected of kidnapping her from the tourist apartment in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz and murder. According to the information available now, the girl was sexually abused. It is understandable that the thought of what happened to that little girl causes fear, outrage and anxiety among the parents and children to learn it from the media. In addition, in late July in Istria were arrested and several foreign tourists for filming naked children on the beach with hidden cameras, which contributed to the further distress of parents and the feeling that their children are daily targeted by predators. Is there reason to panic? For panic no, but for prevention yes.


Research and statistics on sexually motivated child homicides

Kidnapping and sexually motivated murders of children are, unfortunately, happen, but not as often as the event sexual abuse of children “in a family and friendly environment” (Eng. The circle of trust): every fifth child in Croatia and the world is sexually abused, and this is a real, almost everyday danger, of which we need to constantly protect children.

Kidnappings and sexually motivated murders of children are so shocking that it is understandable that the media devote a lot of space to them, which also increases public awareness related to this topic.

Sexually motivated murders are not a new form of crime nor do they exist until recently, and their first sanction was recorded in the 15th century: Gilles de Rais, a military commander and one of Joan of Arc’ followers, was sentenced to death for raping, torturing and killing large numbers of children.

Murders in which the victims are children and young people are a category of murders that is the least explained by the findings of previous research. Research which examining the differences between sexually motivated homicides of children and sexual abuse of children that do not end in the death of victims is relatively rare.

According to data from the World Health Organization from 2016, the incidence of violent death in children aged 10 to 19 worldwide is 4.3 per 100,000 children. In Croatia, child murders are much rarer. The latest available data for Croatia show that the homicide rate for children under the age of 19 is slightly higher than 0.4 per 100,000 children.

Sexual murder is considered to be any murder committed as a result of obvious or hidden sexual motives. The share of sexually motivated murders in all forms of murder is between 1 – 4%. Research to date suggests a small number of sexually motivated homicides in the total number of child homicides. Some data indicate that in Canada, 8% of the total number of victims of sexually motivated homicides are children and young people. In Scotland, the share of sexually motivated child homicides in the total number of child homicides is 4%. In the UK, there are 5 to 8 sexually motivated kidnappings and murders of children a year. One study found that between 1990 and 2005, an average of three children per a year were sexually abused and killed in Germany.

Few authors who have researched the differences between perpetrators of sexually motivated murders and perpetrators of sexual abuse of adults point out that perpetrators of sexually motivated murders are more often unmarried, diagnosed with antisocial or schizoid personality disorders, paraphilias and sexual sadism, have sexual deviance they had not had contact with their victims before.

Some authors find that similarly to perpetrators of sexually motivated adult homicide, sexually motivated perpetrators of child homicide score significantly higher on the psychopathy checklist, are more likely to have a history of psychosis, paraphilia, antisocial personality disorder, sexual sadism, and do not know the victim. until earlier. They have weaker social and interpersonal skills. The perpetrator’s choice of the child as a victim is related to the child’s weakness, vulnerability, and availability.

Compared to perpetrators of homicides against children who are not sexually motivated, sexually motivated perpetrators of homicides against children are more likely to commit suicide after murder.


Possible perpetrators of child sexual abuse most often are people who we know and trust

Despite this causing us fear and dread, we need to know that child sexual abuse does not always begin with the abduction and does not end with the rape and murder of a child. If we expect potential perpetrators of child sexual abuse to be dangerous strangers, it can lead us into a false sense of security. Such a misconception can lead to us losing our attention and not paying enough attention to the fact that 90 percent of sexual abuse happens to children by known person. In Croatia, as in the world, every fifth child is sexually abused, ie every fourth girl and every sixth boy.

Thus, pedophiles and sexual abusers are most often known to children, people we trust, family members, relatives, and close friends. Because they are close family members and friends, children are afraid that if they talk about what is happening to them, they will be responsible for the destruction of the family and / or that they will not be trusted. They have been silent for years, so the delay in disclosure, ie the passage of time from when the child was sexually abused until the child, or later an adult, speaks, is 10 to 16 years.

Without intending to panic, I want to warn parents that sexual abusers are looking for places where their children are available, if not for physical contact then at least for photography or video recording since pictures of children can also be used for sexual arousal.


4 typical characteristics of child sexual abusers

Child sexual abusers have 4 typical characteristics.

  • The first is that they like to be in the company of children, they love children, it is an emotional pleasure for them to hang out with children.
  • The second is that they cannot satisfy their sexual needs in a relationship with another adult, even though 52% of child sexual abusers are married.
  • The third is that they can have a physiological reaction triggered by the very presence of a child or by looking at a picture or video of a child that excites them, whether the child is dressed or not, or even by just fantasizing about that child.
  • The fourth characteristic is that they have poor impulse control, or use alcohol and drugs to reduce inhibitions. This does not mean that alcohol in itself causes sexual abuse, but that abusers use alcohol and drugs to encourage themselves to do what they want, contrary to social norms. Alcohol and drugs actually reduce their behavior control.


The younger and more innocent children are, the more exciting they are to child sexual abusers

Given that sexual abusers, today have a variety of modern technologies at their disposal, we should not expose children naked either on beaches or by posting such photos and / or videos of them on social media. It is best that children do not appear naked at all, ie without swimming suits on the beach, or outside the house at all, because we cannot protect them from hidden cameras (for example in a pen, in a watch, etc.) that we cannot even notice.

I say this in order to warn of what most people cannot comprehend at all – that an adult can be sexually aroused on a small child. And summer is a time when we give abusers opportunities.

When we talk about child sexual abuse, people usually think it’s about girls and boys of puberty. But the fact is that child sexual abusers are aroused to be naive and innocent. So, the younger the children, the more attractive they are to sexual abusers. The younger the children, the more “valuable and sought after” their “nude” photos and videos are in the child pornography market.

Research has shown that 30% of those convicted of possessing child pornography also abusing children live. If they can’t reach the child live, then they use pictures of children for sexual arousal. They connect via the Internet and exchange such content. Every look at that filmed undressed child with the intent of sexual arousal is a new abuse of that child.

Teach children self-protection methods

I repeat, it is very important that both we and the children know that child sexual abusers do not look like monsters and it is not written on their foreheads what their intentions are. Rather, they are kind people who know how to approach children, what music they listen to, what movies they watch, what games they play… and how to talk to them about it. Therefore, it is very important to teach children self-protection methods and develop trust between parents and children to make their child entrusted.

Children should be explained that their body belongs only to them, that no one should take pictures of them without parental permission, that no one should touch them, that rules of good and bad touch should be set, that no one should look at, take a picture or touch intimate body parts, nor ask them to touch or look at other people’s intimate body parts. Children should be explained what is meant by a stranger, but that sexual abuse is not only done by strangers, and how to say NO despite teaching them decency. Children need to be taught that when they feel threatened and scared, confused and embarrassed, it is more important to say NO and run away than to be polite. They also should be explained the difference between a good and a bad secret. For example, a bad secret is one that makes us feel uncomfortable hiding something, as opposed to a good secret when preparing a surprise for mom – a birthday present.

Child sexual abuse must not be shrouded in secrecy so that the child can talk honestly and freely with the parents. Parents should not be afraid of such conversations, because only information and education appropriate to the age and development of the child protect the child. If children do not have the right information from parents and teachers about the dangers of sexual abuse and if it is a taboo subject, then we leave room for pedophiles to teach them in their own way. In my many years of practice, I have worked with more than 1,600 sexually abused children, both in Croatia and in some other countries during specialization, and I have heard from “my” children various explanations by which abusers justify what they do to them, such as: shows love between father and daughter “,” That’s what everyone in Sweden does “,” I’d better teach you than some drool “… While doing treatment with abusers in a prison in America, I heard various of their rationalizations for sexual abuse of children like -” It didn’t come to penetration, so it’s not sexual abuse, “” It was nice to her, too, and she enjoyed it. ”

I especially want to warn parents not to post nude pictures of children on social media.

Once upon a time, pictures of small children on the beach without swimming trunks were common because we didn’t know what we know today. Today when we know all this, let’s protect the children! Once we post such a picture or video of a child on the internet, it is impossible to control where that picture or video may end up. I often ask parents how they would feel if someone took their old pictures from the album when they were children and they were taken naked, so now he shows those pictures to passers-by on the street. They would not feel comfortable, just as their children probably will not feel comfortable with these pictures when they grow up.

This is really not a negligible problem, and many parents are not aware of it. When I mention in lectures that parents post an average of 195 pictures of their children on social media a year, it usually causes disbelief in the audience. But research shows that (according to Blum and Ross, 2015; Brosch, 2016; Leaver, 2017):


– 34% of parents post ultrasound recordings of the baby during pregnancy on Instagram

– 48% of parents share photos of children taken in the maternity hospital

– 5% of children opened a profile on social networks for a newborn child

– 95% of parents post their child’s name on Facebook

– 83% of parents announce their date of birth

– 33% of parents publish a birth certificate

– 77% publish shots of naked or half-naked children

– 50% share funny or amusing pictures (crying, sleeping, various poses).


For all this, I appeal to parents not to create a digital identity of the child with their naked photos / videos. In this way, they expose children to the danger of their images being used for child pornography, and each new look at a child’s picture / video with the aim of sexual arousal constitutes a new sexual abuse. In addition, a large number of children I work with have begged me to influence their parents to stop posting and sharing their photos and videos because they don’t want their parents to create their digital identity for them that they didn’t know, couldn’t influence or weren’t asked for consent.

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy. 

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