Archive for the ‘child molester’ Category

Teens Don’t Need an App for That

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

We have become so enamored of our phones and tablets that I sometimes wonder if we could function without them. Whatever we need, “there’s an app for that!” ‘Can’t keep track of appointments? Schedule Planner is there to help. ‘Forgot what to pick up from the supermarket? Just check Grocery List. And, oh, look at that cute guy over there; it sure would be nice to meet him… Hey, with Skout, you can flirt with and meet new people. And it’s safe–it says so right on the app’s homepage: “We go to great lengths to make sure our community is fun and safe.” So it must be true. Just don’t ask the three teens who were sexually assaulted as a result of meeting members of Skout’s “fun and safe community.”

Parents, do you know what’s on your kids’ phones? What apps do they have? What videos are they watching? Who are they texting–and who is texting them? You need to know all of this, because whatever and whoever is on that phone is coming into your house and is part of your child’s life. This is true especially if that “child” is a teenager because so many teens believe, almost by definition, that they can take care of themselves just fine without you butting in. Don’t buy into the argument that they have a “right to privacy” where electronic communication is concerned. Predators thrive on privacy–on seclusion and secrets. And they use Skout to find their next victims.

In Kentucky, a 15-year-old girl willingly met a “friend” she had been flirting with on Skout. He seemed like a great guy, and offered to take her to visit her boyfriend who lived out of town. Imagine her surprise, upon meeting him, to learn that he wasn’t really a teen, but a 37-year-old man. Imagine her terror when he raped her.

In California, a mom called the police to report that her 12-year-old daughter was missing. Using clues from the girl’s cell phone, police located her nearby, in the bedroom of a man twice her age–a man she’d met on Skout.

And in a park in Wisconsin, a 13-year-old boy was rescued from a 21-year-old man who had hit him up on Skout. The man was found performing sexual acts with the boy. 

Granted, Skout has temporarily taken its “teens app” offline to fix the dangerous security holes in its “fun and safe” program. But there are dozens of “flirting” apps available to anyone with a computer or a phone.  They should not be used by anyone under the age of 21. Proud users of Skout and other apps may take offense at this, claiming that ending their online flirting will cause undue pain and suffering to their social lives, not to mention the loss of friendships and “important” connections. My point is this: where kids/teens gather, predators of kids/teens also gather. At the ages of 12… 15… 18… there is so much more to be concerned with than electronically winking at someone they haven’t met. School and outside activities are the most vibrant social network available to them. And at least there, they can see the person they’re dealing with face-to-face.

How to Save Your Child’s Life

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Yesterday, in-store video from a Wal-Mart near Atlanta, Georgia went viral. It showed a strange man picking up a 7-year-old girl in an aisle of the toy department. It then showed that same little girl kicking and yelling and creating such a huge ruckus that the man put her down–and ran away! For those of you who haven’t seen that video, here it is: Girl Fights Off Kidnapper in Wal-Mart

Kudos to that young lady for doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. How did she know what to do in such a frightening situation? And how did she have the presence of mind to do it? Simple: her parents enrolled her in a Kids Safety class. It may have been radKIDS, or it might have been another class given by an agency that teaches similar principles. But the day her parents brought her to that first class, they saved her life. She learned that Bad Guys hate noise, and often demand that their victims stay quiet. She also learned not to listen to Bad Guys, but to yell long and loud for help.

She learned that no one is allowed to hurt her, and if someone tries to, she can make them stop. The Bad Guy held her arms, so she used her legs to kick him repeatedly as hard as she could–while she was still yelling. He realized almost immediately that he was not going to get away with this child. He put her down and fled (and was arrested by local law enforcement a short time later).

By using what she had learned in that safety class to escape this man’s hold, she saved her life again. He was on parole, having just been released from prison for killing a man. You can be sure his intentions toward this innocent, little girl were not honorable. Nor was he likely to let her go, knowing she could identify him to police.

Several parents contacted me after this video hit the news. They wanted to know how soon they could get their own kids into a radKIDS class, just on the outside chance that some predator might approach them when Mom’s or Dad’s back was turned. I gave them the information they wanted. Most thanked me and set about making room in their child’s schedule for the 4 weekly sessions that a radKIDS course meets.

But, after I’d finished telling one mom about all we teach, all the situations we cover, and the physical skills we give the kids, she shrugged and said, “Well, we’ll think about it.” She explained that her daughter already had a very busy schedule, what with gymnastics, piano lessons, and dance class.

Now, all those activities are fun, and can be life-enhancing. A radKIDS class is also fun, and can be life-saving. Parents must decide what’s best for their children, and certainly, sports and the arts are important. But the life-skills learned in a radKIDS class–personal empowerment, the ability to make decisions, and the choosing of a clear strategy (not to mention how to deliver a good, solid punch to the nose)–can help a kid in situations when no cartwheel, no arpeggio, no pirouette can.

How Child Molesters Fool Parents

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Lawyer: When did you first think that the Accused might be a child predator?

Police Officer on Witness Stand: When I began investigating the crime. Everyone who knew him said, “No, couldn’t be! Not him! He loves kids! He would never hurt a child!” When so many people think that a particular person could never have done this kind of a crime, that tells me something could be very wrong.

Lawyer: Why is that?

Police Officer: Because that’s how predators get away with their crimes. They don’t just groom the child. They train everyone around them to trust them, to believe they’re innocent. They groom their whole environment.


Have you ever seen a news report about the arrest of a child molester? ‘Ever notice that the folks around that individual are shocked to find such evil in their midst? Family members and neighbors tell the reporter, “I just can’t believe it. He’s such a great guy!”

What about, “I knew something was wrong about him. I always tell my kids to stay away from his house!” No one says that. Why not?

Because they’ve been groomed to believe the predator is a great guy. By whom? The “great guy” himself. Those who prey on children can be quite good at appearing kind, lovable, and gentle. They are experts at fooling those around them–not just children, but adults as well. They have to be, because access to the child is often through that child’s parent/guardian.

If mom trusts them to babysit from time to time, they gain access to little Madison. If dad believes they’re just taking the boys on the team to a hockey game, they gain a clear path to young Zachary.

And why wouldn’t a parent trust them? After all, they’re teachers, coaches, scout leaders, church youth ministers, even pediatricians! Good, honest people go into these professions/activities because they care about kids and want to help them succeed in life. But dangerous, lying predators go into these professions/activities so they can have a continuous supply of children.

No parent wants to think anyone in the vicinity of their precious baby is a child molester. They don’t want to believe someone they know actually harbors thoughts of committing horrible acts against their child. Predators understand this and use it to their advantage. One man confessed to police that he simply “allowed the parents to believe what they wanted to–that I would never harm their little girl.”

So what can you do? Watch your child. If he or she behaves differently around a particular adult, find out what’s behind that.

And trust yourself. Don’t let the practiced charm of a molester fool you. If you get any kind of “funny feeling” from the coach, the scout leader, the neighbor across the street, accept that you’re on to something. And step between the Bad Guy and your child.

Why “Stranger Danger” is Harmful to Kids

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

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I have received several phone calls and emails recently from parents concerned about their children’s safety. Specifically, they want to know how best to teach their children about “Stranger Danger.”

As a Child Safety and Violence Prevention Instructor, I understand their concerns. Also as a Child Safety and Violence Prevention Instructor, I cringe at the phrase “Stranger Danger.” Yes, it rhymes, it’s cute, and it’s easy to remember. But it’s also misleading to the point of being downright dangerous to kids and parents.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are approximately 58,000 child abductions each year. About 57, 885 of these crimes are committed by someone the child already knows: a neighbor, friend of the family, divorced parent, etc.

In the remaining 115 kidnap cases, the child is taken by a stranger. While a very serious crime, stranger abduction accounts for two-tenths of 1% of all child abductions. Still, when I ask kids in my classes what they know about how to stay safe, one of the first things they shout out is, “Don’t talk to strangers!”

So, what happens when your child gets separated from you in a store, at the amusement park, or on a crowded street? (You can try to reassure yourself that, as a concerned and watchful parent, this will never happen. But I can pretty much guarantee you it will. Even the best parents blink their eyes occasionally, and that is all it takes for a child to spy something fascinating, and break away from mom or dad’s grip to get a closer look.)

As concerned and watchful parents, you are wise to equip your child with the knowledge of what to do should they find themselves separated from you. The problem with Stranger Danger is that it rules out the vast majority of resources available to help kids in this kind of situation: practically everyone they see around them will be a stranger to them. And they have been taught that anyone they don’t know is likely to harm them. With no familiar face to turn to, they have nowhere to go for help.

And, in the simple, black-and-white process of a young person’s thinking, if strangers are bad, then people we know must be good. This, too, is problematic because it puts a child’s trust in an adult who may not be worthy of it.

So, aside from keeping kids locked inside the safe confines of their homes until they’re 18, what can we do? Simple: teach them how to ask for help, who to ask, and where.

Make sure they know their first and last name, and their parents’ names as well. Having them memorize your cell phone number makes it easy to contact you. If your child is too young for this, consider writing down your name and cell number on a piece of paper and putting it inside a pocket of their clothing.

When you are running errands with your child, point out the people whose job is to help them if they ever need help. Show them who they can go to for assistance if they can’t find you. Should they ask that man on the corner, or would the store clerk be better? Would that guy asking for spare change be a good choice, or the mom with 2 small children inside the shop?

Talking about “what-ifs” doesn’t scare kids. In fact, they’ve probably already thought that they could get lost. What scares them is not knowing what to do if it should happen. Having a plan of action “just in case” reassures them that they can stay safe and find a good person to help them, and that they’ll be reunited with you quickly.


Predators Use Games to Grab Your Kids

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Fiverr Color Image 1 Hand Out of TV Screen RESIZE

Predators are playing your Wii… in your house… to get your child.

At a Child Safety Seminar the other day, an agent from the North Carolina Department of Justice told me that the newest way child predators are finding victims is through video games. XBox… Wii… Nintendo DS…. They like smart phones and tablets, too. In fact, whatever the latest technology,the  Bad Guys have figured out how to work it to their twisted advantage.

Can’t be, you say! My child is playing in the safety of our living room; I can see him/her with my own eyes! Yes. But the game in their hands connects to the internet. Predators connect to the internet to find kids–and they know where kids gather. As the DOJ officer explained, it’s easy for an abductor or sex predator to make contact with young, innocent players by chatting and sending messages about the game they’re playing. Kids are flattered that someone they don’t even know wants to talk to them about their strategy, technique, and scores.

Once initial contact is established, luring a victim out of parents’ protective reach is simple. In fact, for these guys, the whole process is virtually as easy as reaching through the tv screen to snatch their next victim.

It’s an internet-enabled world, and kids are taught from preschool onward how to operate a computer. So, throwing the Wii out the window and forbidding our kids to touch a keyboard is not the answer. Then what can we do to keep our kids safe? Talk to them! Tell them never to put their personal information out onto the ‘net. No one needs to know their real name, age, where they live, what grade they’re in, what school they go to… even what sports they like or that their pet hamster’s name is Scooter. The Bad Guys might try to trick them into revealing important facts with questions like, “What kind of job does your mom or dad have?” Make sure kids know that any attempt by another “gamer” to make contact could be dangerous. If it happens, they should simply stop playing and go get a parent. The connection should be immediately ended, and the contact reported to police.

Yesterday it was desktops and laptops. Today, it’s smart phones, iPads and games. Tomorrow, it will be… who knows what? Doesn’t matter. The rule is always the same: Don’t give your personal info to anyone over any form of technology. Just as legend says vampires cannot enter your home unless you invite them in, predators can’t get to your kids unless they are allowed to. By repeatedly stressing that we don’t give out any personal info over computer/phone/gaming systems, etc., you keep the Bad Guys from getting in.



Pillars of Your Community

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

My dad died on a Sunday morning. By early afternoon, their home was filled with friends bringing food and comfort to my mother. I stood in the kitchen, refilling the coffee pot, when a man walked in and introduced himself to me.

“George Smith. You must be Pam; I’ve heard a lot about you. ‘Glad you could get here.” He leaned against the counter and began to reminisce about his 10-year friendship with my father.

“He and I mentored over at the high school. The kids were always so happy to see him walk in the place. He’d help ’em with their homework, help ’em fill out college applications…. He did some repair work over there, too, when they needed something done. He was a real pillar of the community. The kids loved him, and he loved them!”

“Really?” I asked, stunned.

I looked at George and thought, “Did you know he brutalized his own?”

Pillars of the community–those folks we hold up as role models to be admired, emulated. The ones we wish we could be more like: the sweet old man in church who’s a “grandpa” to all the little kids; the police officer who puts his life on the line to protect us every time he puts on his uniform; the wise doctor who knows just what to do in an emergency. The teacher, the coach, the others in your community who you think well of, who you’re friends with… who you trust to make smart, sound decisions. Would you leave your children with them? Should you?

Take the community of Woolwich Township, in southern New Jersey. A 911 operator there named John Desper fielded calls from panicked individuals in all kinds of emergencies. He calmed them, dispatched the correct authorities to their locations, and talked them through their crises until help arrived. It’s an emotionally-tough job; not everyone is cut out for it. Then again, not everyone would do what Desper liked to do on his off-time: have sex with babies.

Yes, he enjoyed not only looking at pictures and videotapes of infants and toddlers in sexual positions, but having sexual relations with them as well.

This former 911 operator is currently serving 25 years in prison.

William Rhoades was  described as an “upstanding citizen” in the community of Phoenixville, PA. A retired teacher, he coached Little League baseball for years. Families loved him, and proudly watched their sons grow in the game under his guidance. One day, a little boy told his mother that the coach had been touching him in a funny way. Upon investigation, it was discovered that touching wasn’t all the coach did–and not just to this little boy.

Rhoades was found guilty of raping 4 boys between the ages of 4 and 11, repeatedly over several years. He videotaped his crimes so he could “re-live them afterward,” and kept a graphically-detailed journal of the events as a keepsake.

He is now serving 25-50 years.

There’s the Cleveland, OH mom of 4 who had “so much love to give” that she brought 3 foster children into her home. Concern by school officials led to a police investigation, which in turn led to the arrest of foster mom Renee Lester on charges of abusing her foster children by means of withholding food, locking them in a filthy basement without heat, light, or beds to sleep on, and locking them out of bathroom facilities.

The case is ongoing.

We can look into the cozy home of an “average family of four” in a small New York community. The boy had learning disabilities and struggled through life. The girl, a couple years younger, was bright but quiet. Both parents were college-educated. The mother worked part-time off and on, but was mostly a stay-at-home mom. The dad worked hard and always provided for his family. The bills were paid, the kids had music lessons, dance lessons, and after-school activities. There were vacations every summer when school was out. Friends came over to play with the kids, and the neighbors frequently stopped by to chat with the parents. Typical family stuff.

Except for the beatings. Except for the times–and there were many, so many–when the hardworking provider would slam his son against the wall, throw him to the floor, and pound his fists into him with the hand-to-hand training he learned in the army to fight an enemy to the death. That was before he took off his belt. The daughter’s screams of terror were met with, “You wanna cry?? I’ll give you something to cry about!”

There were times he squeezed his fist around the boy’s throat, choking off his air supply, and the child, not even 10 yet, could only flail helplessly in agony. One time, a smash to the mouth burst a lip. The daughter actually heard the blood spurt across the room and land on the tile floor. That sickening sound will never be forgotten, along with the tortured cries of her brother.

Once, what would have been a normal disagreement between a parent and child was resolved by this father pulling a knife out of a drawer and holding it to his son’s throat. The daughter stood by then, too, terrified, wishing she could disappear.

You never really know most of the people in your community behind the day-to-day facade. They’re probably not going to tell you they like to have sex with young children, or that they lock their kids up in the dark so they can’t “steal things.” The father in this last story retired from the job he worked so hard at, and moved to Florida. He mentored in a high school until he died. All the kids loved him, and he loved them.

He just brutalized his own.







What’s in a Name? Too Much Information

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Heading to my gate in the Delta terminal the other day, I found myself following a family of four. Mom and Dad led the way; behind them were two young boys, Nathan and Daniel. How do I know their names? Because they were emblazoned in big, bold letters across the rolling backpack each little guy was pulling. You’ve probably seen these things. They look like this: http://www.personalizationmall.com/cat_image/600/8999-8819.jpg

Nathan and Daniel seemed to love their personalized luggage. I, however, could not share their enthusiasm. While their parents sat, one reading the newspaper and the other checking messages, the boys stood at the window, watching planes take off. If I were of a nature to want to harm children rather than protect them, how easy would it have been to go up to them and say, “Hey, Nathan! Daniel! I didn’t expect to see you guys here!” Pretending that I know them makes them think I’m not a “stranger,” therefore, not a Bad Guy.

I could go on with my ruse: “Remember me? I’m a friend of your folks’. I met you guys at school a few months back. My little boy is in Nathan’s class.” Children are generally taught not to question adults, and while they might be embarrassed that they don’t remember who “I” am, they won’t reveal this. They’ll just accept my word as the truth.

So, when I continue, “Hey! Can you guys come to that little shop and help me pick out some candy for the plane ride? I’m really hungry, but I don’t know what’s good. And I’ll bet you two are experts when it comes to candy!” they’ll come along willingly.

As a child molester, kidnapper, or worse, I’ve just gotten a bonus–two kids for the price of one! What made it so easy? I knew their names. And the craziest part of the whole thing? Without realizing it, their parents are the ones who told me.

Labeling your child’s tee shirt with their first name, their backpack with a nickname, or a team jersey with their last name is unnecessary and dangerous. It gives personal information about them to everyone who reads it–information that those who don’t know them should not be privy to. Why take the chance with your child’s safety?

“Come Give Me a Kiss!”

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

It’s officially that time of the year known as  “The Holidays,” whether your particular holidays include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanuka, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, New Years, or some combination thereof. There’s shopping, decorating, cooking, and lots of rushing around. And there are parties with family and friends. Some folks, like your Aunt Susan, you haven’t seen in a year or more; others, like your sister and brother-in-law, you see often. But now everyone’s cleaned up and wearing their best sparkly clothes. Aunt Susan hugs you and tells you that you look great. Then, she turns to your kids and tell them how much they’ve grown–followed by, “Come and give me a big kiss!” But your darling little Ethan or Madison runs out of the room, screaming “Eww!” instead.

Do you let them go, offer Auntie an eggnog, and ask how long she’ll be in town? Or do you run after your child, drag him or her back into the room, and demand they plant one on your favorite relative’s cheek?

Having been a practitioner of the “Eww” technique for much of my early life, I can certainly empathize with those who choose this course of action. Then again, I believe it’s important to teach children manners and grace in social situations, and expressing disgust at the idea of showing affection to someone (followed by fleeing the scene) doesn’t necessarily fall into either of those categories.

But, what’s going on in this scenario may be more than it appears–more than a battle of wills with a seemingly-disobedient child. And your next move is very important.

Do you force your child to show affection for someone they don’t want to be affectionate with? What you may think of as simply giving a kiss–no big deal–may be much more to them. Overruling their decision not to smooch your elderly aunt teaches them that what they do with their own bodies is someone else’s call to make; not their own.

Of course, you would like them to consider the feelings of others before they act–especially when those actions may cause you to wince. But do you place greater value on encouraging them to recognize and honor their own feelings?

Is it necessary that you squelch their “rude” behavior? Or do you give them permission to say “No,” even to a grown-up, any way they know how?

At some point, ask little Ethan or Madison why they didn’t want to kiss Grandma Betty or Uncle Jack. The answer might be as simple as “She smells funny,” or “He looks scary.” Or it could reveal a situation you weren’t aware of. When asked why she didn’t want to give kindly, old Uncle Jimmy a kiss, a little girl I know replied, “He makes me sit on his lap, and he always has something hard in his pocket.”

It turned out that what Uncle Jimmy had in his “pocket” was a dangerous fondness for very young girls.

While this story is the exception rather than the rule, I still urge you to let your kids take the lead on who they shower with kisses, and who they don’t. At best, it’s empowering for them. At worst, it may help bring a dark secret to light.