Female Psychopaths

If anyone digs deeply enough into Kelly’s childhood, they would likely find that she was sexually abused as a child by one or more male family members. Possibly a neighbor or friend of the family. Incest is more probable though.

What We Know (and Don’t Know) About Female Psychopaths

Is Kelly Cochran a psychopath?

Posted May 25, 2018


On Memorial Day, Investigation Discovery will air a two-part series (link is external) about Kelly Marie Cochran (link is external), who is serving a life sentence for killing her lover in 2014 and her husband in 2016.  I first became aware of this case two years ago, when allegations that she might be a female serial killer began surfaced.  Her brother, Colton Gaboyan, thinks she is responsible for as many as nine victims.  To date, she has not been charged with any other murders, so we don’t know whether those allegations are true.

However, there’s a lot we do know about Kelly Cochran: She is smart. She is a drug user. She is a liar. And, if we are to believe her words and those of her family, she is a psychopath.

Psychopathy with a Feminine Touch

We don’t know a whole lot about female psychopaths. The little bit of research that has been done suggests that, in many ways, they are just like male psychopaths — charming, manipulative, cunning, deceitful, blaming others for their actions, exploitative, and lacking empathy. As with men, this psychopathic personality disorder appears to develop in women as a result of a biological predisposition that collides with certain environmental influences – most often, abuse or neglect.

However, the degree to which nature or nurture contributes to psychopathy may vary in individuals. Some appear to have a strong genetic basis that surfaces with little environmental provocation while, in others, psychopathy may be more strongly dictated by a horrendous personal history. Interestingly, while psychopathic women tend to have a higher incidence of trauma than their male counterparts, Kelly seems to believe she was born this way.  During a jailhouse conversation with her mother, for instance, she stated, ‘I’ve always been homicidal.  It’s funny you didn’t see that.”

However, while the personality makeup of male and female psychopaths is similar, the ways these traits are expressed is often influenced by gender roles. While budding male psychopaths can often be spotted in elementary school, psychopathic personality traits in girls tends to start during adolescence. These girls are less likely to use physical violence; they tend to manipulate peers through flirting, assuming the victim role (thereby getting others to feel sorry or rescue her), or through relationship aggression (gossip, verbal bullying, social ostracism). They may run away and engage in self-injurious behavior (substance use, cutting, promiscuous sex, suicide gestures) more out of an effort to relieve boredom and manipulate/control others than as a genuine reflection of intrapsychic pain.

Does Kelly Fit the Psychopathic Mold?

I have never spoken with Kelly Cochran and, understandably, family members did not want to comment. I have never attempted to diagnose her using the DSM-5 (link is external) or any other psychological test. Clues about Cochran’s psyche will best be determined by what she has said, what she has done, and what the people who care about her have observed.

During her court testimony, for instance, her mother described longstanding behavior problems with her daughter. Cochran started using drugs in high school, ran away from home several times, and was eventually kicked out of the house at 18 for not following the rules. She was placed in at least one girls home and reportedly had several therapists over the years with minimal behavior change.

Of course, many teens travel a bumpy road to adulthood and most grow up to be caring, conscientious, law-abiding adults. Cochran was successful in some areas of her life; she obtained a college degree and was the primary breadwinner in her marriage for several years. At the same time, she continued to use drugs, had multiple, simultaneous affairs, and, acknowledged by her own words, had absolutely no remorse over anything she had done. As she told one of the detectives who interviewed her, “From the time Jason killed Chris, I wanted him dead.”

Kelly’s family loves her but has little illusion about her. After her arrest, her brother, Colton Gaboyan, was the first person to express the belief that his sister is a serial killer. In a heartbreaking jailhouse conversation with her daughter, Kelly’s mother asks her directly about her ability to feel empathy. “Do you have a conscience, Kelly?  Do you care about anyone?  Because I don’t think you do.”

Cochran herself was pretty descriptive in terms of her lack of feeling and emotion. When talking about love, she stated she watched and studied people’s reaction to others. “You feel, and I can’t.” She also stated that she didn’t feel bad for murdering Jason Cochran (“I didn’t lose a moment of sleep over Jason”) but that she did feel bad for Jason’s parents.

It’s hard to know how much to believe of what Kelly Cochran says. She has a degree in psychology and allegedly took some forensic classes; some of her comments sound like they’re straight out of a criminology textbook. She has made several outrageous claims, including at least a few murders that clearly didn’t happen. For example, she told detectives after her arrest in Kentucky that she had just killed a semi-truck driver in Illinois by stabbing him in the eyes and then left the body on the side of the road. Illinois authorities have insisted that no trucker was murdered. At one point, she wrote out a list of 21 alleged victims but refused to provide any identifying details.

In spite of repeated testimony that Cochran was a strong woman who tended to “wear the pants” in her marriage, she portrayed herself as a victim of domestic violence and as someone who was forced to lure her lover, Chris Regan, to their home for sex so that her husband could shoot him in the head as part of a murderous pact she and husband Jason Cochran had made on their wedding day to kill anyone with whom the other person was having an affair. She also claimed that she shot up her husband with heroin and then suffocated him out of revenge for killing Regan, whom, she said, was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The Bottom Line

We don’t know for sure what is wrong with Kelly Cochran. She certainly exhibited a pattern of behavior that is consistent with that seen in at least some female psychopaths. Her story of being a victim of an abusive husband doesn’t stand up to scrutiny  And as far as her claim that Chris Regan was the love of her life? Maybe, but it didn’t stop her from sneaking into his house and stealing his camera after he was dead.





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Inside Sex Offender Therapy

sex offender

Can Bad Men Change? What It’s Like Inside Sex Offender Therapy

By Eliana Dockterman

May 14, 2018


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More Men Revealing Secrets

Diane Dimond: Men Break Their Silence About Child Sexual Abuse

By Diane Dimond | @DiDimond | April 28, 2018 |


“Each of the men on the dais was successful in his field. There was a Broadway actor from the hit musical Hamilton, a popular TV personality and a district attorney. All came to talk about how they had been sexually abused as children and how it had impacted their life. Each story was unforgettable because men often keep sex abuse secret, sometimes for their entire life.

The symposium was sponsored by the New York State Office of Victim Services. The keynote speaker also had been a victim.

“Hello, my name is Charles Blow, and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse,” he said. Blow, a columnist for The New York Times, told the crowd about how he was abused at age 7 by an older cousin. “It was a complete betrayal,” he said. “I was paralyzed by fear. After the abuse, I thought I was dead.” As a boy, he kept the secret.

In his memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Blow relates how the pain and anger exploded in him at age 20. While at college, he was talking to his mother on the phone one day, and suddenly, he heard the voice of his abuser greeting him as if nothing had ever happened. Without stopping to put on shoes, he jumped in his car, grabbed a gun he kept there “just in case” and began to drive toward his mother’s home, determined to kill his cousin. Thankfully, he did not follow through.

Actor Antuan Raimone described having been abused at the hands of two older cousins when he was 7. With no father in the house, Raimone said, he was eager to spend time with men. His cousins told him it was “a game” that all boys play. Then, at age 15, the superintendent of their rented house began to groom him with a constant supply of pornography. Full-blown sexual contact followed. Raimone kept the secret.

“I didn’t say anything because he threatened to kill my mom,” he said. But after years of unsatisfying relationships where he saw lovers as “mere objects,” he decided to enter counseling. Today, Raimone counsels other survivors brave enough to come forward.

Jason Gough, 47, revealed his childhood abuse via WNYT television station in Albany, N.Y., where he was the popular weatherman. His parents’ marriage was a “dumpster fire,” and it was his father’s sister, his mother’s “drinking buddy,” who began to molest him at age 8. Yes, women can be sexual predators of children, too.

“I was low-hanging fruit for her,” Gough told the conference attendees. The abuse lasted three years. He began to display a series of odd behaviors, such as pulling out all of his eyelashes and spontaneous temper tantrums. No one, not his parents, teachers or counselors, ever asked him what was wrong. Today, Gough seeks to educate adults about childhood warning signs that could signal they’ve been abused.

Perhaps the most interesting panelist of the day was Joe Fazzary, the district attorney from New York’s Schuyler County. Imagine this: For years, he looked child sexual-abuse victims in the eye and soothingly told them it was OK to tell what had happened. Yet all the while, Fazzary was keeping his own dark childhood secrets.

Fazzary was raised in a loving Italian family that befriended another Italian family next door. They often ate meals together, and afterword, the adults played cards and drank a little wine.

“I was about 9 or 10,” Fazzary said. “The neighbor boy was about 15. He said it was a game.” The boys played cards, too — strip poker. From there, the abuse began. “It can happen right under parents’ noses,” Fazzary warned the room. “My parents were, like, 15 feet away!” The abuse lasted eight years, and Fazzary said that at times in his adult life, he contemplated suicide. It wasn’t until he told his wife and mother and sought counseling at age 36 that he finally felt in control of his own life.

The takeaway? A young boy’s abuser is not always an older man; it is often another boy, or even a woman. And to those who dismiss teacher-on-child abuse with a glib remark — “What a lucky kid!” — stop it. Stop thinking sex with a child can ever be a good thing. It isn’t. It is a crime. It can be like a slow-growing cancer on the soul, stunting children’s social growth, forcing them into negative behaviors that haunt them for life.

If you know a child who is strong enough to tell the secret, what should you do? All of the survivors at the symposium agreed that the last thing the child needs to hear is, “I’m going to kill that guy!” That threat only adds another layer of guilt upon the already suffering child. Children long to hear calm and sincere statements from adults, such as, “I believe you,” “It is not your fault” and “What do you need?”

If you are an adult still struggling with childhood abuse, the best advise came from DA Fazzary: “Go into therapy. It works. It really works.”

— Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at diane@dianedimond.com, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.


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Dylan Farrow Continues To Be a Voice For the Unbelieved and Those Who Are Threatened

“Sexual assault survivors – including Dylan Farrow, director Woody Allen’s daughter – told of their experiences at a panel discussion at Quinebaug Valley Community College on Monday in hopes of encouraging others to speak out.

Farrow, who said Allen sexually assaulted her about 20 years ago when she was 7, said it’s important to help other victims by telling her story.


“That’s why I keep dredging up my own horror,” she said. “I want these survivors to see that coming forward is painful but ultimately worthwhile.” Otherwise, she said, “It leads us to believe they will never be heard.”

Investigative journalist Andy Thibault, who moderated the discussion, said a Connecticut prosecutor found enough evidence to arrest Allen but ultimately decided not to press charges in order to spare 7-year-old Farrow having to take part in a trial.

Allen, who has denied Farrow’s accusation, hired private investigators to dig up dirt on his accusers, Thibault and Farrow said. “In the end, he used his wealth and power to escape justice,” she said.

She said speaking out has subjected her to anonymous death threats and suggestions she kill herself on social media, as well as criticism from Allen’s many defenders, including Scarlett Johansson, Stephen King and Alec Baldwin.

Because the crime is so horrific, society often gives the assailant the benefit of the doubt, Farrow said. “We can’t talk about a famous person molesting a child. It’s too difficult.”

Recently, as the #Metoo movement has taken place, with many women coming forward to tell of being sexually assaulted, Farrow said, “the difference is just night and day. The support is just unbelievable. It changed my outlook in a lot of ways. We also still have a long way to go.”

Susan Campbell, a second panel member who is a lecturer at the University of New Haven Communications Department and a Hartford Courant columnist, told about being assaulted by her stepfather from age 7 to age 13. Campbell said she repressed the memory of the attacks for years, but was “living a half life.”

A call to a suicide hotline got her into therapy, Campbell said. She also confronted her stepfather, which has resulted in alienating her mother and splitting her famlly. But “I was going to live, and I was going to live a full life,” Campbell said. Speaking to any survivors in the audience, she said: “Just understand, you’re not alone, there’s help, and I’m with you.”

Donna Palomba, the third panelist, has made it her mission to offer help. Palomba founded Jane Doe No More, a charity that works to prevent sexual violence and help those hurt by it. “It’s a life-changing trauma,” she said. “We need to reinstill human dignity.”

Palomba told of being raped in 1993 when a masked intruder broke into her Waterbury home while her husband was away and her children were asleep in their bedrooms. Then, what she said was in many ways was an even worse ordeal started a month later when Waterbury police accused her of making up her account of the crime and threatened to arrest her.

A devastated Palomba sued the police. It took seven years for the lawsuit to come to trial.

“The trial was absolutely brutal,” Palomba said. It resulted, though, in the officers being found negligent.

“That is why I have post-traumatic stress disorder, long-term, and will have it the rest of my life,” Palomba said.

Her attacker was caught in 2004, she said, when a man accused in another attempted rape proved to be a perfect DNA match to Palomba’s attacker. But he couldn’t be charged in her case because the statute of limitations had expired.

Palomba said her case was the impetus for Connecticut’s legislature changing the law to remove the statute of limitations for DNA evidence in sex assaults. “The desire to make change is burning in me,” she said.”


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Male Survivors Share Their Pain

Click here:

Male Survivors Share Their Pain



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Marilyn Van Derbur Has Changed the Lives of Millions



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Traumatic Experiences Are Embedded At a Deeper Level of the Human Psyche

Why “Let it go and move on with your life” doesn’t work:

The Power of the Mind: Understanding Traumatic Memory

Click Here


Further reading:

#Metoo and Why an Abused Person Can’t Just Move On

Tom Bunn L.C.S.W. Conquer Fear Of Flying

A woman was admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit after memories of childhood sexual abuse reawakened. Desperate to rid herself of the intrusive memories, she took whatever pills she could get her hands on. The therapist assigned to her said she needed to be rational about the situation. “That was then. This is now. Forget it and get on with your life.”

Such an appeal to reason might be helpful if emotional states were simply the result of thoughts, or if reason could keep unwanted memories out of mind. But, research in neuroscience makes it clear that emotional states are not regulated by reason.

Though this person’s distress was caused by intrusive memories, the suicidal behavior was due to hyperarousal she could neither downregulate nor tolerate.

Emotional self-regulation would have allowed her to accommodate recall. But her early life did not allow emotional self-regulation to develop. Emotional self-regulation develops when hyperarousal is consistently followed by signals from the face, voice, and touch of an attuned caregiver. Researcher Stephen Porges has found that when a person is attuned and non-judgmental, they unconsciously send signals of safety. These signals, unconsciously received and processed, activate the recipient’s calming parasympathetic nervous system.

When emotional self-regulation was not adequately developed during childhood, adults regulate arousal by being in control of every situation. Control allows them to be sure nothing will happen that could cause hyperarousal. If control of a situation is in doubt, hyperarousal may still be controlled if escape is available.

In this case, the person was unable to control what she was aware of and sought to escape awareness with pills. Escape from awareness—and possibly from being alive—was thwarted by hospitalization. The therapist’s directive to be rational did not increase her ability to regulate herself. Had the therapist been non-judgmental and able to share the woman’s experience, signals from the therapist’s face, voice, and touch could have activated the woman’s parasympathetic nervous system. When calming relatedness is repeated and internalized, emotional self-regulation increases.

This therapeutic strategy is detailed in Allan Schore’s book, The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy. To be effective, Schore says therapists must possess a “wide window” of affect regulation within which they can share the experience of a client who is hyperaroused or hypoaroused. By so doing, the therapist widens the client’s window of self-regulation.

In his neurological research, Joseph LeDoux, the leading expert on the amygdala, has found the amygdala has two types of memory cells. Both types learn from painful situations and cause the amygdala to react when the situation is again encountered. But what happens when a situation that caused pain is re-encountered and does not cause pain? The “plastic memory cells” reverse what they originally learned. The “storage memory cells” do not.

When a child is threatened and cannot escape, the trauma is recorded in both types of cells. As an adult, when life is more under the person’s control, the plastic cells do what the therapist suggested; they replace past experience with present experience. They indeed learn “that was then and this is now.” They learn to not react to situations that in some way are associated with the abuse.

But, not the storage memory cells. What they originally learned sticks. New learning is not accepted.

Regarding the #metoo movement, a non-abused person may not understand why an abused person doesn’t just let it go. Like this woman’s therapist, they don’t understand it isn’t possible to let go of the past because the past (due to the amygdala’s storage memory cells) doesn’t let go of us. The storage cells are permanently programmed to cause arousal when exposed to the same situation, or to a similar situation.

When a child experiences hyperarousal and is not calmed, hyperarousal becomes linked to fear and to danger. As a result, when an adult is in a place where they are not in control or able to escape, even mild arousal feels unsafe, and may lead to panic.


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Why Be Normal?

Why do we strive so hard to be like everyone else, to conform, to be “normal?”

Because this generation has developed into a people-pleasing, fearful group of people who are afraid to be different and terrified of confrontation or making anyone else uncomfortable -even of it means being true to themselves to do so.

No one speaks the truth to another anymore because they are too afraid of not being accepted by a group of friends, or not being liked by someone, or not being loved, or making someone uncomfortable with the truth —truth the other person often needs to hear.

The era in which we live has produced human beings who are so fearful of loss, or being alone, or being different, that they have conformed to untruths and bow down to others instead of honoring themselves and instead of being true to their own beliefs and feelings.

What is “normal” anyway? A 9-5 behind a desk career? Marriage? Children? A college degree? Having lots of friends? Going to football games, or to bars? Getting together with neighbors or dinner parties?

Who the hell defined these things as “normal?”

There is nothing wrong with these things, but if you are not driven to engage in them, be happy with yourself and honor and respect your being “different.”

The truth is, there is no normal way to behave, think, feel, or to believe. Personally, I am attracted to and would rather associate myself with people who are considered “different” –people who go against the grain, think for themselves, and who reject the lies so prominent in today’s society. I would rather sit down and chat with a homeless person than the average employed, so-called “good citizen.”

The article below mentions sensation-seeking or compulsive behavior in the forms of addiction, criminality, hypersexuality and abuse –all of which can be caused by a person’s history of child sexual abuse. Although these behaviors are not healthy or good for anyone involved, they are “normal” in the sense of being a normal reaction to having suffered child sexual abuse.

So if you experience any of these behaviors, or other unhealthy lifestyles -like over-spending and abusive relationships- and you were sexually abused as a child, then concentrate on finding help to heal these issues. Don’t feel different, useless, unworthy, or “abnormal.”

Most importantly, do not punish yourself. Stop any self-condemnation, self-sabataging and self punishment feelings, thoughts or behaviors.

Science Says: Being Different Doesn’t Mean You’re Weird

Susan McQuillan M.S., RDN


Social conformity, or adapting to and acting like those around us, can make certain behaviors seem more common, and therefore more normal, but all it really means is we are able to adjust our moral compass in order to acclimate and fit in. We don’t want to seem weird or abnormal. But according to clinical psychologist Avram Holmes of Yale University, abnormal behavior isn’t necessarily weird or bad or indicative of mental illness, because there is no absolute definition of normal and no single best way to behave.

In a review article published in the February 20th issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Holmes proposes that there are variations in all human traits and, depending on the circumstances, there can be both positive and negative manifestations associated with any trait. Which way it goes depends on many factors, Holmes research indicates, including the context or the individual circumstances of a person’s life.

Popular ways of thinking and behaving aren’t necessarily ethical, or right, or better than others, just because, at times, it seems like “everybody’s doing it” or “everybody’s saying it.” And at the same time, not all behavior that varies from the norm is indicative of a mental disease or disorder. Human variability is important, Holmes points out because there are times when both positive and negative traits serve an important purpose. For instance, variations within the region of the brain that controls inhibition can result in sensation-seeking or compulsive behavior in the forms of addiction, criminality, hypersexuality or abuse, but they can also manifest as more positive behaviors, such as an increased motivation to exercise or a high degree of social or reproductive success.

Holmes’ research reveals that anxiety is another good example of a condition that can work for or against us, depending on the situation. While an anxiety-ridden individual might have a harder time than most people in personal relationships and social situations, the same trait can provide more motivation to strive for success in school or work, and even preserve one’s life because of a tendency toward caution that results in fewer accidents.

The question remains: When do abnormal traits and behavior reflect a psychological disorder? The answer is complex but, for a start, Holmes points out, it’s important not to view oneself or others in terms of a specific good or bad trait, and not to strive for one type of homogenized, ideal behavior, but instead understand the relevance and importance of human variability. The answer to the question, Holmes research suggests, lies not only in recognizing existing psychological, neurological and genetic conditions, but also the environmental context. Abnormal variations can lead to success when individuals find themselves in situations conducive to the way their brain functions.


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Significant Films About Repressed Memory

Hollywood made very few films about repressed memory. I am posting about three excellent films in which Hollywood managed to do wonderful work with research, writing, and acting.

You can find these movies on Netflix or order from your local library.

Take care when watching, as they will probably trigger something in anyone who has had similar experiences, but then again, that would be good compass to any truth hiding inside you.


The Prince of Tides

A New York psychiatrist treating an emotionally scarred woman finds it helpful to discuss her South Carolina family’s troubled history with the woman’s twin brother. He and the psychiatrist find themselves drawn together by their equally turbulent pasts, and they form an alliance which ultimately leads to romance.


Dolores Claiborne

In a small New England town, Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) works as a housekeeper for the rich but heartless Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). When Vera turns up dead, Dolores is accused of killing her elderly employer — so her estranged daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a well-respected New York City journalist, decides to visit her mother and investigate the matter for herself. As Selena digs deeper into the case, she uncovers shocking truths about the murder and her own childhood.


A Thousand Acres

A patriarch (Jason Robards) deeds his farm to two (Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange) of his three daughters in a modern “King Lear” set in the U.S. Midwest.



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Just a Reminder: Teenage Girls Sexually Abuse Children Too

‘No secret’ families help protect children from sexual abuse

The day I told my mom about our babysitter, Dani

“I remember the day I told my mom about Dani. We stood in our family kitchen in American Fork, Utah.

“Dani is coming over tonight to babysit,” my mom told me. It was an innocuous statement, a simple announcement. Yet fear flooded me. My heart raced.

I don’t remember exactly what I said. Nonetheless, my descriptions of what our babysitter Dani would do when my parents were gone gushed forth in a rush of shaking and crying.

“She lays on top of me in bed and kisses me. She says that I’m the mommy and she’s the daddy.”

“She locks me in a dark closet when I tell her no.”

“She says that I can never tell you.”

I was six years old.


My mom had told me it was wrong for anyone, especially someone older than me, to tell me to keep a secret from her. She always told me I could tell her anything and that it was really important to tell her some things. For example, if someone tried to touch my body in inappropriate ways, I was to tell. Dani was a 13-year-old babysitter highly recommended in our Latter-Day Saints (LDS) ward. She was breaking both of these important rules. I couldn’t keep it in any longer.

I don’t remember how long it took me to tell my mom. How many visits with Dani went by before that moment in the kitchen when some wise, deep, and honest part of my 6-year-old self welled up with courage and broke the silence? I don’t know. I do know that I decided to risk Dani’s anger, and the potentiality of being locked in the feared, dark, small closet — and tell.

My mother believed me.

My mother fully, without question, believed me. She immediately told my father, and together, they initiated a meeting with our LDS ward’s bishop and Dani’s parents to discuss the matter. From that moment forward, Dani never again stepped foot into our home. I was safe.

According to Marilyn Van Derbur, author of Miss America by Day, “Those who told immediately or very shortly after the abuse and were believed and supported showed relatively few long-term traumatic symptoms. Those who either did not tell (typically due to fear or shame) or who told and encountered a negative, blaming, disbelieving or ridiculing response were classified as extremely traumatized.”

In Trauma Proofing your Kids: A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience, authors Peter A. Levine and Maggie Klein describe how 85 to 90 percent of sexual abuse is perpetuated by someone the child knows and trusts – a parent, step-parent, coach, teacher, older cousin or sibling, priest, or babysitter. And while many parents may warn children about strange adult men, the fact of the matter is that the average age of most sex offenders is 14 — according to a 2000 report by the Criminal Justice Source Statistics.

I remember the day I first told “The Dani Story” to my soon-to-be 6-year-old son and children that I help homeschool. We were discussing “stay safe rules” and how vital it is to “say no and tell” when older children or adults, even those we may trust and love, ask us to do things that are wrong. In “Trauma Proofing your Kids,” Levine and Klein argue that parents should begin teaching children “about inappropriate touch as early as preschool” and that “it is especially important to practice what to do or say beforehand.”

Levine and Klein strongly recommend parents role-play various scenarios. They encourage parents to help their children imagine “What if?” games around safety and practice acting out responses to difficult and confusing situations. By acting out parts of the story, children have the opportunity to practice saying “No” in a supportive space. This helps prevent them from freezing up if such an event were to occur.

For example, imagine a babysitter who knows a child loves cars or trucks. He or she may say: “I’ll bring a special car/truck toy for you the next time I come if you will sit on my lap and watch this video with me. But it’s a video that only you and I can see and it’s a very special secret just for us to share.” How would your child respond? Can you act out this scenario beforehand? Can you give your child opportunities to recognize warning signs, sense their intuition that something may be wrong, and say: “No. We don’t keep secrets in our family.” Can you help your child identify a list of safe adults to whom they could turn and tell?

Clearly, parents need to prepare children for the mental games of secrecy and grooming that characterize most childhood sexual abuse. Levine and Klein observe that while abusers may use force, “more often they will use trickery.” And the greatest trickery of all?

“Don’t tell your mom.”

“Don’t tell your dad.”

“This is our special secret.”

Children need to be warned that they will be asked to keep secrets and they need to know that any older child or adult who asks them to keep secrets has done something wrong. Levine and Klein encourage parents to support their children in noticing and trusting their gut instincts and asking for help immediately (“say no and tell”). Finally, parents must assure their children that they will be believed and protected — no matter who the person is or what consequence was threatened should the child reveal the secret.

As a young girl, I experienced frightening and confusing situations with a babysitter entrusted to care for me. Gratefully, before Dani was ever invited over, I had also been taught that we don’t keep secrets in our family and to always, always tell if anyone were to try to touch me in ways that felt wrong. Knowledge of these foundational guidelines helped me access the courage needed to speak out in the kitchen one very important day.

But what if I had not been believed? What if my mom and defended Dani? “Oh, she’s a good girl. She would never do that.” Etc.

According to Levine and Klein, children have a natural ability to sense who is safe and who is not safe. “You, the parents, need to trust this sense and foster its development rather than try to change a child’s mind.”

So, believe your children and cultivate a “No Secret” family.


Recently, I interviewed Susan Caruso, director and founder of Sunflower Creative Arts in Delray Beach, Fla. with regard to her 25-year-long history of leading parenting classes on “Talking with children about sex.” Beginning in the preschool ages, Caruso argues that it is vitally important to use the correct terms for a child’s private parts and talk about body safety. Caruso encourages parents to use the terms “surprise” or “safe secrets” when it comes to temporarily withholding information for birthdays or holidays. Outside of this, parents need to be clear that “we don’t keep secrets in our family.”

While I carry difficult memories of what happened when Dani babysat, the memories that stand out most have to do with my mom.

I told.

I was believed.

Dani never came back.

No secrets.”


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