If I'd Only Known... author Dorothy M. Neddermeyer is an experienced, licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist
who specializes in counseling, parenting, and the treatment of sexual abuse and
incest victims. This book is a revision of an earlier work, Protect Your Child
from Sexual Abuse Perpetrators. Neddermeyer reports the details of a number
of cases including the Jon-Benet murder and supportive statistics to illustrate the
pervasive, insidious, hidden, and denied epidemic of child molestation and abuse
in our society. Perpetuators are often parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, clergy,
coaches, scout leaders, politicians, child-care workers, and other pedophiles.
The author debunks myths about sexual abuse: Child molesters are just "dirty, old
men." Children provoke sexual abuse. Males abused by adult males will become
homosexual. Some abused children are never affected. Abused children always
abuse others when they become adults, and so on. She leaves these myths to focus
on specific principles and guidelines that parents and adults can follow to raise and
protect their children and all children. She demonstrates how parents can teach their
children positive body image, self-esteem, and empower them to assert themselves
and protect their bodies. Indeed, children should learn how to defend, protest, and
report any suspicious or uncomfortable incidents to their parents and appropriate
authority figures. Ideally, this approach should be initiated early (e.g., age 2) in the
child's life span so they can learn healthy body, self, and social boundaries. Parents
as well as can have a better understanding of emergent interventions needed at later
stages of development.
Parents are taught to express to the child the generic belief that the body is "beautiful,
perfect, private, and special." Parents are urged to manage any self-consciousness,
guilt, and shame about the body so they can be confident and factual when discussing
specific body parts (e.g. vagina, labia, penis, scrotum) and when communicating examples
of "unacceptable touch" to their children.
Neddermeyer places a great deal of emphasis on the parent and child having an ongoing
rule which she calls the "Tell Mommy and Daddy Everything--No Secrets Rule." Secrecy
is what the perpetuator needs to control the victim without detection in order to continue, sometimes for years, the victimization process. The book describes some of the seductive, threatening, and manipulative strategies used by powerful perpetuators, including "It's our secret," "I am doing this because I love you," "I think you're special," "You enjoy it as much
as I do," "It won't hurt," "Your mother (father) doesn't show me any affection." And even
more controlling, frightening statements like: "I could go to jail," "You will break up the
family," "Mommy (Daddy) will hate you for making me go away," "The family will have
no food, no money, every one will be sad, and it will be your fault," and "Nobody will believe
The author lists more than thirty behavioral areas that would be considered sexually abusive
to children and describes many negative health consequences and aftereffects that can
plague a sexually-abused individual over time.
After discussion of sexual perpetuators and molested preschool, school-age, and teenage children, chapter six reviews more signs that might indicate a trauma like sexual abuse,
including significant shifts in the child's mood, sudden or inappropriate interest in sexual
matters, overt displays of kicking, hitting, biting behavior, somatic complaints, depression, sadness, self-cutting, eating disorders, fearful reactions to specific persons, places, and
situations. The author discusses at length her strong position against any physical discipline
and her disdain for hitting, spanking, and swatting a child's buttocks. She argues convincingly about the unintended consequences of corporeal punishment. These consequences can have stimulating, sexual overtones, unintended meanings, and carry-over conflicts for the victim
in current and future relationships.
If I'd Only Known... provides practical suggestions for choosing a pediatrician, selecting
a child-care facility, interviewing a home-based child-care worker, and the importance of
teaching the child survival skills with coaches, teachers, youth leaders, clergy, and others.
For examples, trust and honor your child's initial reactions, beware of any adult offering
your child gifts (don't accept them), be wary of flattery, be present at games and practices,
talk and listen to your child, be alert for signs of abuse, stay aware of what's going on behind
the scenes in your child's every-day life, and finally, what to do when your child reports a
sexual-abuse incident. An excellent list of preventive national associations and published clinical, psychological, and child-protection materials are provided. Every parent, guardian, caretaker, professional health-care provider should read this practical, preventive guide and
"gut-wrenching" proposal to understand perpetuators and young victims in order to save all children from the needless tragedy of sexual abuse.