A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Protective Behaviours for Children

How do I help a child when I think he or she may be at risk of sexual abuse?

This question was put to me recently in an email. I would talk to a child or teenager by adapting the Protective Behaviours Program I used to give in the classroom when I was a primary school teacher. (As a teacher, I obtained prior parental permission for their child to be part of that program.)

I also taught Protective Behaviours to my daughter as she was growing up.

I sought out training in Protective Behaviors for Children when I was studying to be a teacher because, as a survivor of child sexual abuse myself, I knew how important it was for kids to have some training that might help them if they were ever abused. I believe the training program I did is still the best material around, though I’m not across all that is out there now.

Here’s the link to Protective Behaviours program that I did: Protective Behaviours Consultancy Group of NSW

The two themes are:

1) We all have the right to feel safe all the time.

2) Nothing is so awful that you can’t talk about it with someone. (Some secrets should not be kept secret.)

You start off introducing the themes (you can even have them written down on posters) and then you move into talking about safe and unsafe situations. You begin with a light example, chosen according to the child’s age and experience, like being unable to get into your house because you don’t have a key and no one else is home. Or being lost without your cell phone. Or being bullied at school. Or feeling unsafe in a shopping mall. You get the child to brainstorm how they might deal with such a situation — what strategies they might use. You reiterate the themes and introduce the idea of Telling Adults Whom You Trust (see below).

You then, perhaps on another day, talk about a more serious situation such as, “What would you do if two adults are fighting and you can’t get away?” Again you reiterate the themes, get the child to brainstorm strategies, and consider who might be their trusted adults.

You then, again maybe on another day, talk about unsafe touching — how the parts of our bodies that we cover with swimsuits are private; and how some touching can feel “yucky”. And get the child to brainstorm strategies for how they might deal with it. and who they could tell if they felt still unsafe.

One Step Removed

Often it’s good to talk about hypothetical situations that are one step removed from the child’s own reality. For example, you could ask the child about a hypothetical kid: “What if someone was touching a kid and the kid felt unsafe or the touching felt yucky? What should that kid do?”

In the ‘What if’s….” you don’t have to name the person you might feel the child is at risk from. It would probably be a good idea to not mention that person at all, unless the child brings it up.

Telling Adults You Trust

This is a practical application of the theme “Nothing is so awful that you can’t talk about it with someone”. You explain that a child who feels unsafe should tell an adult whom they trust. Keep telling until something gets done and you feel safe again — even if that means you have to tell several different adults until one of them takes action that makes you safe.

Ask the child “Who would you consider to be trusted adults you could talk to if you felt unsafe? Your mum? Your teacher at school?” Get the child to draw their hand print and write the name of a trusted adult at the end of each finger to create a visual reminder. The hand diagram also prompts the child to brainstorm a sufficient number of adults so that if one adult does not protect them, hopefully another will. If the child names someone on their diagram of trusted adults whom you suspect to be a potential abuser, don’t flinch; just look plain-faced and say, “And who else might be good to talk to?”

Protective Interrupting

If you are doing this with a group of kids and one of them starts disclosing abuse they have experienced, you should protectively interrupt that child so the details are not revealed to the other kids. Say to the child, “Can you talk with me about that afterwards?” And follow up when the other kids are not around. That protects the abused child’s confidentiality, and the innocence of other children who may never have experienced abuse.

[March 21, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 21, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 21, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 21, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 21, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


For Further Reading

Keeping our Children Safe


  1. bright sunshinin' day

    Very clearly laid out, Barb. Helpful. Having the child draw their hand print with names of people they can trust on the fingertips is a great idea and visual, too.

  2. Tanya

    I’m glad to have found your blog. Your suggestions on how to help children learn how to get help from a trustworthy adult are clear and helpful. I especially like how it includes the child thinking [of] about at least 5 adults who might be able to help them. When I was a child being abused I tried telling one adult and then gave up. It would have been so helpful to have been taught to try someone else.

    • Thank you, Tanya. What a case in point! We need to hear things like this from survivors, so that we will keep in the forefront of our mind how much we can make a difference for kids.

      Having had the Protective Behaviours methodology under my belt for years, I tend to think it’s so obvious anyone would know it because the principles of protection are just so self-evident. But no; the abusers’ secrecy and denial so permeate and condition our culture that we need to be taught the obvious, and reminded of it regularly.

  3. IamMyBeloved's

    You know, Barb, I think number 1 — the right to feel safe all the time — may be what is causing a problem in general in abuse situations, among those who believe and have been taught total depravity. I personally, have been told so often that I have no rights as a Christian, that this is just another “right” that I personally think I left off of my “rights” chart as well. Because we hear so much about total depravity and how none of us are deserving of anything and have no rights whatsoever as a Christian — ever, and how selfish it is and ungodly to expect anything, because we are all so worthless, it becomes difficult when someone tells you that you have the “right” to be safe — all the time. That was actually something I had to overcome, because I did not think that I had that right.

    I also think that telling a Christian that they have no “rights” is not accurate. As Christians, we have more than enough rights, as we are children of the King and Creator of the universe! Rights are very different than being “entitled to” something. He says what is His is ours. He Himself has promised me food, clothing and to care for every need I have, one of which is safety. We have painted ourselves into a corner of abuse, by painting an image of God that is not truthful, and then we live out that lie. I think we need to get the turpentine and start getting ourselves out of that corner and start telling the facts about Jesus and who He is to us. Just my thoughts.

    • Tim

      IamMyBeloved’s – you sound like what you were taught growing up mirrors what I was taught. Correct me if I’m off but the whole “you are worthless” aspect was so pounded into my head that it got to the point that I would let people walk all over me. It’s like I became a sponge / a scapegoat for their problems and issues. The sponge got soaked up and enough was enough. Jesus Christ died for our sins too. Jesus Christ loves us too. We are holy in the site of God too because of what Christ did for us. And now it makes me wonder if those people who pounded us relentlessly with how unworthy we are actually believe in Jesus or if they think that they are more worthy than us so they think they can treat us however they see fit.

    • UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Get out the turpentine — love it!

      Yes, the idea that as Christians we have no rights is related to the distorted theology of suffering that is so prevalent in the church, and it is indeed a mis-application of the doctrine of total depravity.

      Maybe Jeff C can chime in here with a good definition of total depravity. But since I’m reading Luther’s Commentary on Galatians at present, what comes to mind is what Luther says about how vital it is that we distinguish the purpose of the Law properly. Jeff’s sermon last Sunday was all about this, and you can listen to it or download the pdf here.

      Here is a quote from Luther, which Jeff used in his sermon. Jeff clearly loved this passage just as much as I did — we are in step in spirit as we’re reading this book by Luther. 🙂

      Emphasis and material in square brackets has been added by me, and paragraph breaks added to enhance readability.

      The Law has a twofold purpose. One purpose is civil. God has ordained civil laws to punish crime.
      [This is where our rights come in: all people, whether Christians or otherwise, have the right to be protected from abuse by the civil law. And by the church in so far as the church can discipline its members, for if the civil law is ordained by God to protect the vulnerable and restrain sin, the church should not be less righteous than the civil law, though the church does not bear the sword like the civil magistrate does.]

      Every law is given to restrain sin. Does it not then make men righteous? No. In refraining from murder, adultery, theft, or other sins, I do so under compulsion because I fear the jail, the noose, the electric chair. These restrain me as iron bars restrain a lion and a bear. Otherwise they would tear everything to pieces. Such forceful restraint cannot be regarded as righteousness, rather as an indication of unrighteousness. As a wild beast is tied to keep it from running amuck, so the Law bridles mad and furious man to keep him from running wild. The need for restraint shows plainly enough that those who need the Law are not righteous, but wicked men who are fit to be tied. No, the Law does not justify.

      The first purpose of the Law, accordingly, is to restrain the wicked. The devil gets people into all kinds of scrapes. Therefore God instituted governments, parents, laws, restrictions, and civil ordinances. At least they help to tie the devil’s hands so that he does not rage up and down the earth. This civil restraint by the Law is intended by God for the preservation of all things, particularly for the good of the Gospel that it should not be hindered too much by the tumult of the wicked.

      The second purpose of the Law is spiritual and divine. Paul describes this spiritual purpose of the Law in the words, “Because of transgressions,” i.e., to reveal to a person his sin, blindness, misery, his ignorance, hatred, and contempt of God, his death, hell, and condemnation.

      This is the principal purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, thief, he would swear that he is righteous.
      [Victims of abuse, however, tend to err in the direction of thinking they are woefully wrong — because they’ve been brainwashed and gaslighted by the abuser and muddled up by imbalanced doctrines in the “c”hurch.]

      How is God going to humble such a person except by the Law? The Law is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of God’s wrath to bring down the proud and shameless hypocrites. When the Law was instituted on Mount Sinai it was accompanied by lightning, by storms, by the sound of trumpets, to tear to pieces that monster called self-righteousness. As long as a person thinks he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises in Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous.

      This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. [That is how Law ought to be presented to abusers.] And that is what the Law is, a big axe. Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff. [But abusers are so practised at resisting responsibility for their wickedness that they slough off the strikes of the axe like a hard-scaled Tyrannosaurus Rex would slough off the javelin or the sword.]

      The awful spectacle at Mount Sinai portrayed the proper use of the Law. When the children of Israel came out of Egypt a feeling of singular holiness possessed them. They boasted: “We are the people of God. All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” (Ex. 19:8) This feeling of holiness was heightened when Moses ordered them to wash their clothes, to refrain from their wives, and to prepare themselves all around. The third day came and Moses led the people out of their tents to the foot of the mountain into the presence of the Lord. What happened? When the children of Israel saw the whole mountain burning and smoking, the black clouds rent by fierce lightning flashing up and down in the inky darkness, when they heard the sound of the trumpet blowing louder and longer, shattered by the roll of thunder, they were so frightened that they begged Moses: “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Ex. 20:19.) I ask you, what good did their scrubbing, their snow-white clothes, and their continence do them? No good at all. [What good did all the “Vision Forum”, “Family Integrated Church”, “Biblical Manhood” or “Titus 2” polishing do them? No good at all.] Not a single one could stand in the presence of the glorious Lord. Stricken by the terror of God, they fled back into their tents, as if the devil were after them.

      The Law is meant to produce the same effect today which it produced at Mount Sinai long ago. I want to encourage all who fear God, especially those who intend to become ministers of the Gospel, to learn from the Apostle the proper use of the Law. I fear that after our time the right handling of the Law will become a lost art. Even now, although we continually explain the separate functions of the Law and the Gospel, we have those among us who do not understand how the Law should be used. What will it be like when we are dead and gone?

      We want it understood that we do not reject the Law as our opponents claim. On the contrary, we uphold the Law. We say the Law is good if it is used for the purposes for which it was designed, to check civil transgression, and to magnify spiritual transgressions. The Law is also a light like the Gospel. But instead of revealing the grace of God, righteousness, and life, the Law brings sin, death, and the wrath of God to light. This is the business of the Law, and here the business of the Law ends, and should go no further.

      The business of the Gospel, on the other hand, is to quicken, to comfort, to raise the fallen. The Gospel carries the news that God for Christ’s sake is merciful to the most unworthy sinners, if they will only believe that Christ by His death has delivered them from sin and everlasting death unto grace, forgiveness, and everlasting life. By keeping in mind the difference between the Law and the Gospel we let each perform its special task…. [Source [Internet Archive link].]1

      1{March 21, 2023: We added the link to a page containing the quote Barb quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    • And being taught that you have no rights as a Christian….what a handy doctrine for wolves who pose as shepherds! If I am an abusive pastor and want to abuse my flock to serve my personal ambition, flesh and bank balance, all I need to do to set them up for my ravaging is convince them that they have no rights. Then I can do whatever I want and they won’t even think they are being abused.

      • IamMyBeloved's

        What was it that God said, after He made mankind? Hmmm. Dirty rotten scoundrels? Worthless human-beings? Jerks? Nope. He said it was “good”, just like everything else He made.

        But instead, I think that there are some who tend to think that God created human life and then was so disgusted after they fell, that He spent the rest of the time trying to figure out how He could pay us back for having created us. So they imagine that He sends trial after trial and hardship after hardship and devastating circumstance after circumstance, to try to get us to know how sorry He is that He made us, or to “teach” us more about Him. Abuse is just one of those “things” that apparently He sends to us, to let us know how disappointed He is with us and that we really deserve nothing from Him. This is such a poor and blasphemous way to view God.

        What He really did, was send Jesus to free us from the Law and our sin. But instead of accepting the freedom, which comes via Salvation and the Holy Spirit filling us with Christ’s presence, we believe (well, not I) that sin should still run rampant through us and through the church, and that we ought to overlook such sin and feel sorry for those who fall into it. But, what God really did for us, was free us from it and give us His Spirit, to enable us to keep from sinning. It takes effort and love for God. What does He call it? Resisting? Yes, that would be it. Scripture tells us that before we were saved, we were all these things, but now, we should finish putting away the other sins like malice, anger, etc., the “lesser sins”, if you will. Instead, when there is adultery in the church, we pat the person on the back and say, “Well, it could have been me, just as easily. But for the grace of God go I”. What? That ought not be our mentality, but for some reason it is. Maybe that is why it is so hard to talk to anyone about abuse. Because they believe it could be them abusing their spouse, just as easily, so they don’t want to “judge” anyone.

  4. Happy2bhere

    Thank you for sharing this helpful information. I’m not really around other children besides my own, but it’s good info to keep tucked away….hopefully there will never come a time for it. I was abused as a child and didn’t even think to tell anyone. I certainly did not like what was done, but didn’t even understand how wrong it was until I was a young adult. I thought it was just something unfortunate some people had to deal with. Good for teachers and daycare providers or anyone to spot out signs of abuse and make an inquiry. Interesting I went through this same thinking process as an adult with my mean husband.

  5. Natasha

    How very true! It’s so sad that children get abused, but even more sad when they feel they can’t tell anyone. It’s a horrid feeling to be afraid to tell and afraid not to!!

  6. forgedimagination

    Thank you for sharing this – it’s vital.

    However, I think it is important to note that the touching doesn’t have to feel “yucky.” Children can experience sexual pleasure, and part [of] the grooming process can be convincing children that the adult is giving them something they want.

    Stipulating that the touching is “yucky” only shames and silences the children who wouldn’t label their experiences this way.

    An adult touching their “swim suit” parts is wrong. Period, full stop. It doesn’t need any qualifiers.

  7. Finding Answers

    First, a short bunny-trail….thanks for including the passage from Luther, Barb. Untwists a few things for me.

    When I was a child, I did not receive any protective behaviours training / information (either at home or at school). Matter of fact, I never encountered the basic “swimsuit” information until less than one year ago….and that was in the process of researching my crumbled walls.

    I second Forgedimagination’s comment. Given the damage done to me in infancy and prior to school age, I think I would have needed something definitive to draw the line.

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