Archive for the ‘protect kids’ Category

Safe Does Not Mean Scared

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I remember an old Oprah show, in which she was interviewing Child Safety Expert Ken Wooden. Wooden has been a tireless advocate for child safety for years. You can check out his work at http://www.childluresprevention.com/about/kwooden.asp

In this episode of Oprah’s program, he was demonstrating how easy it is for a predator to get a child to walk off with him, even when the child has been taught for years “never to go anywhere with strangers!!” In example after example, Wooden would approach a child at a playground and, just by acting friendly and polite, he would win the kids’ trust and lead them off (to a pre-determined location)–all while their parents watched nearby on video monitors.

Time after time, each child took the hand of the “nice man” and walked away with him to “look for a lost puppy,” or offer some other form of assistance he asked of them. And time after time, the parents were horrified.

“He knows better!”

“I can’t believe she went!” And on and on.

Except for one. Of all the kids on the playground that day who were volunteered by their parents to take part in Wooden’s experiment, only one refused to go with him and, instead, ran to his mother for protection. When Oprah asked this mom what she did differently from the other parents, she said, “I have made him terrified! Absolutely terrified–of other people, of strangers. I don’t care if it affects him later in his life. At least I know he’ll be safe right now, and no one will take him away from me!”

Granted, this mom meant well, although even she understood that her severe scare-tactics could negatively impact her little boy at some point. She thought she was teaching him how to be safe, but really, she was instilling in him all her adult fears of abduction, molestation, and other things we don’t want our children to worry about.

Changing gears for a moment… elementary schools nationwide are pleased to provide DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to their students. DARE is a national program, taught by law enforcement officers, to encourage kids to steer clear of drugs, gangs, and other dangers present in their environment. In a recent DARE class, the police officer told a roomful of 4th grade students that a girl just their age was abducted, beaten, killed, and then eaten by her captor. Whether this event actually took place is beside the point. What is relevant is the fact that this officer thought it appropriate to share such graphic information with a group of 9- and 10-year-old children! (The mother of a student in that classroom called me the next day to inquire about a safety class for her daughter. The child was so distraught after hearing about the murdered girl that she couldn’t eat, refused to go outside to play, and wouldn’t even sleep in her own bed, but insisted on bunking with mom.)

Again, we have an adult’s well-meaning attempt to keep children safe by scaring the daylights out of them. This approach not only doesn’t work, but it causes as many problems as it supposedly eliminates. Parents, guardians, teachers, and all who care for and about children, let me assure you: we do not have to terrify our children to keep them safe! Fear does not mean secure, and certainly, more fear does not lead to greater security.

The child safety experts who designed the program I teach understood that we cannot learn when we’re afraid. The brain is in “fight or flight” mode; it’s not able to take in and make sense of new data. Conversely, when we’re relaxed and having fun, we tend to be at our most creative. This is when we are most able to learn and process important information. Therefore, it is not by accident that the radKIDS program is fun and entertaining for kids. Nor is it merely coincidence that kids finish the program feeling more self-confident and empowered to stay safe than before they started.

You don’t have to terrify your kids to keep them safe. In fact, that approach does more harm than good. There is a better, safer, proven way: give them a radKIDS course and let them have fun finding out all the ways they can stay safe!

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.

Who’s Got the Power?

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

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You’ve probably all heard about the sexual abuse allegedly committed against young boys by a former Penn State football coach. So, I’m not going to talk about that. You probably also know about the university’s alleged cover-up of the events. So I won’t go into that, either.

There is one point that I came across in my reading about all of this, and that is what I want to bring to your attention. Red flags waved and alarm bells sounded in my mind when I came across the words of the young man currently identified as Victim 1 in the case. When his mother asked him why he didn’t tell her what was happening, why he didn’t tell the coach to stop, or even run away from him, he replied simply, “You just don’t say no to Coach Sandusky.”

That’s it. “You just don’t say no.” Not to the coach. Not to the teacher. Or the doctor, the minister, the camp counselor, or any other adult or authority figure in a child’s life. Why not? Because we teach children to be “respectful” of adults, which is often interpreted as being obedient, doing what they’re told. We teach them to have “good manners,” not to “talk back” or “act up.”

And that’s fine. I’m certainly not against teaching kids to respect their elders. But there’s something else that we need to teach them: No one has the right to hurt me. ‘Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not. No one likes getting hurt, sure. But kids need to be taught that it’s not okay for someone to hurt them–not other kids, and definitely not adults who should be taking care of them. In fact, it’s so important that kids understand this, it’s the first thing we teach RAD Kids when they take Violence Prevention classes.

The next thing we teach them is, “If someone tries to hurt me, I can make it stop.” How? There are lots of ways, all stemming from the child’s own feeling of empowerment. And that’s the key: our children must realize that they have the power to stop violence against them. If someone is hurting them (or trying to), they don’t have to be respectful. They don’t have to use good manners, say ‘please,’ or remain quiet. And they don’t have to wait, and suffer, and hope for some other adult to come and rescue them. They can rescue themselves!

The third principle we teach is, “If someone hurts me (or tries to), it’s never my fault. So I can tell! Tell a trusted adult who can help. If that adult doesn’t help, keep telling until someone does help. Again, this is about empowering your child. You can be sure that the Bad Guy who tries to mess with your kid will tell them to keep their “special friendship” a secret, and may even give them presents and take them on fun outings to buy their silence.

Abusive relationships are all about the abuser having power over the victim. You can have polite, respectful children who, at the same time, are empowered to keep themselves safe. Teach your child that no one is allowed to hurt them, and that they have the power to make it stop.



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

ChildLostInCrowd









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.







Amazon Supports Pedophile Guide

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I’m one of those folks who’s all for looking at issues from a new perspective. If someone’s got a different point of view and I can learn something from them, great. Still, there are absolutes that I live my life by, and some things are just indefensible. This is one of them: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40112145/?gt1=43001

“The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure” is a how-to manual for adults who wish to engage in sexual activity with children–a practice which, by the way, is against the law. The fact that this book was written doesn’t surprise me. Working as a radKIDS Instructor for the past few years has made me very aware of the sick and twisted members of our society who prey on the innocent.

The fact that Amazon.com, a website I frequent for books and other online purchases, supports it and considers it worthy of selling? This I find disgraceful. And simply unacceptable.

Yes, Amazon is a private company and, therefore, can sell whatever it wants to (within the limits of the law). And yes, this piece of “work” has come under the scrutiny of police officials and been found not to cross the boundary of legality in the strictest definition of the word. That that it cannot be immediately pulled from the cyber-shelves on grounds of unlawfulness does not make it less dangerous, but more so. Its presence on Amazon lends it false credibility and undeserved legitimacy.

Those who have protested Amazon’s acceptance of the book have been attacked by proponents of “free speech!” I love my right to free speech. And I understand that, from time to time, I will come across thoughts and ideas that I may not like, but they are protected under the First Amendment. I also understand that not every word uttered by a human being meets the criteria to be covered by “free speech!” Hate speech, for one, is not protected. Nor is speech deliberate in its intent to cause harm to another. And that’s exactly what The Pedophile’s Guide is.

No one, regardless of personal problems, mental or emotional issues, or past torments, has the right to hurt a child. It’s that simple. Talking about how to do it, writing an “informational guide” or “instructional manual” on the best ways to violate, humiliate, and permanently damage those who cannot protect themselves is not something to be valued and protected. It is criminal.

Do you consider yourself open-minded? Excellent. Here’s a review of the book by someone who might babysit your kids some time:

“I can’t thank Amazon enough for keeping this great work of literature up for those of us with ‘special tastes.’ The instructions and images in the guide were extremely insightful and led to a wonderful experience for both myself and my partner. Thank you for protecting free speech, Amazon!”

Has the Almighty Dollar usurped our decency, morality, and the recognition that we must protect our children? This is not about “free speech!” or the right of this “author” to make money from his writing. This is about one of the strongest sites on the internet supporting a book about the “joy” of child rape.

The Toy Department Is NOT a Babysitter

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Taking young kids shopping with you can be… difficult, shall we say? They want to stop and look at something when you’re in a hurry, and they’re in a hurry when you’ve stopped to look at something. They get hungry at inopportune times, and urgently need a restroom when the store may not even have one. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they tend to want everything they see!

A neighbor of mine copes with the situation this way: “When my husband isn’t home to watch them and I have to bring them with me, I send them to the toy department. It keeps them happy and lets me do what I have to do. Then, I swing by and scoop them up, and we’re done!”

I probably turned pale when I heard of this harried, but well-meaning, mom using the toy department as a babysitter. I explained to her that her precious, albeit bouncy, little tykes were safest when they were under her direct supervision. They could get lost, hurt, or, heaven forbid, taken while she was elsewhere in the store, picking up milk or trying on a shirt.

She maintained that she was never away from them long enough for anything bad to happen–and besides, there were other adults in the area. One of them would surely step in if help was needed.

Yes, that would be great. Except, here’s some information about one of those “other adults in the area” while kids are looking at toys: He’s a registered sex offender. He enjoys watching little kids play. And he was arrested this past weekend in the toy department of a Wal-Mart in Virginia, not just for doing that, but for exposing himself and masturbating while he did it.

Parents, your children are safest when they’re with you. As tempting as it may be to leave them in a public place “just for a few minutes” so you can get some things done, it’s not worth the risk. Places that are fun and interesting for kids can also be fun and interesting for perverts and predators because of those kids. Don’t give them the chance to hurt your children.

A Child’s First Weapon

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

In the news today, an 83-year-old man was arrested for groping an 8-year-old child. He went through mug shots, prints, jail time, the whole bit. Now he has a police record. This was his first arrest. ‘Think this was his first time molesting a kid? Not a chance. Sexual abuse of children is a serial crime; perpetrators do it over and over throughout their lives. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the typical molester abuses 30-60 kids before he’s ever arrested, and as many as 380 in his lifetime. 380 children. Groped, molested, and/or raped. It’s mind-boggling.

The good news in all of this? Parents are teaching their kids to fight back. Not necessarily to punch the sex offender in the face, which could lead to immediate and even more dangerous consequences for a child alone with an unbalanced adult. But to use the first weapon available to them–their voice. Kids are being taught to tell! And they’re doing it, and their parents are taking action!

What are they saying? To the predator, they’re saying, “Stop! Don’t touch me!”  To their parents, teachers, and counselors, they’re saying, “Mom, Mr. Owens put his hand on my chest,” or “Mr. James touched my rear,” or “Ms. Linwood was doing something weird to my arm, and I didn’t like it.”

We’ve all heard stories, maybe even know some people who were abused as kids. Some readers here were victims themselves. Maybe they told their parents. Most likely, they didn’t. Some were taught that “respecting their elders” included allowing themselves to be hurt by adults. Others were afraid, believing the predator who told them, “Your folks will be mad at you if they find out,” or “If you tell what happened, we’ll both go to jail.” Still others tried to tell, but no one believed them: “What a terrible thing to say! Shame on you!” or “Mr. Smith would never do such a thing! Are you looking for attention??”

What police, psychologists, and others who work with child predators have learned between then and now is that

  1. Kids rarely make up stories about being molested. So, if a child tells you that someone touched them in the wrong way, it’s most likely true.
  2. Abusers can be male or female, in the city, the suburbs, or the countryside, young, old, or in-between.
  3. Child molesters are charming, friendly… and manipulators of the highest order. They will seem to you to be the nicest, warmest, safest people around. They’re very good at what they do–they made their victims feel safe long enough to molest them. They are wolves who will smile at you and try to trick you into accepting the word of a criminal, and not believing your own child.

So, if your child comes to you and confides that someone has molested them, know that it’s not your child’s fault. And then, for their sake, act. Call in the pros, the police. Let them do their jobs. Continue to love and parent your child, and give them what they need. Your teaching has shown them that they’re special and valuable, and that no one has the right to hurt them. And it has shown them the importance of using their voice, their first weapon, to defend themselves and stop the Bad Guy.





‘Oughta Be Locked Up!

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The kids are upstairs playing. The adults, downstairs in the kitchen. They hear the sounds of laughing, little feet running up and down the hall, shouts of “My turn!” Then, a horrifying BANG! Rushing to the children, they find their 4-year-old little girl, dying from a gunshot wound. Two men at the scene are arrested; charges include storing a weapon in a manner accessible by a minor.

This terrible scene took place just a few days ago in a house near mine. Home is supposed to be a safe place for children. A sanctuary. Certainly, they should be able to expect no sneak attacks, no dangerous surprises leaping out of dark closets to hurt them. And yet, some adults choose to keep guns in their homes while taking no precautions to keep their kids safe. My problem with this is 3-fold:

First, do you really need a gun? Especially with kids in the house. If you’re worried about crime, there are other steps you can take to bolster the safety and security of your family and home: place stronger locks on doors and windows, trim bushes down to eliminate hiding places for intruders, get an alarm system. This last option may be more expensive, but it can be a wise investment–and it won’t kill or maim a member of your family, result in jail time, and ruin more lives than it saves.

If, on the other hand, you simply want to have a gun because it’s one of your rights as an American citizen, I would ask you to weigh exercising that right against the possibilities of what can go wrong. You have the right to bear arms whether or not you choose to bring a gun into your home. You also have the right (depending on your neighborhood) to keep a tiger as a pet. I would not recommend it as a good idea–especially with children around.

Second, for those who feel strongly that they need a gun, I urge you to accept the responsibility for owning a deadly weapon, and lock it up securely–and separately from the ammunition. A recent study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 36% of parents who own guns store them loaded. 45% don’t use gun locks. I’ve been told by a gun-owning dad, “If I need that gun to protect my family, I need to be able to get to it quick.” Understood. But then, understand this: when you’re not looking, your kids will get to it quicker. What then?

The closet is a place to hang your clothes, not a secure storage facility for a gun. Neither is a drawer or under the bed. And, as the charges mentioned above indicate, keeping a gun in a place where a child can get to it is a crime. And 43% of parents with guns say they don’t use a gun locker or other secure storage location to protect their kids from their weapons. In fact, one mom told me, “I guess we’ve just been lucky so far that Jakey hasn’t found it.” This blew me away–she was leaving her child’s life up to “luck.”

… which brings me to my third point. If you insist on keeping a deadly weapon in a home with children, teach your kids how to respect it. This should include knowing how to recognize if a gun is loaded, and how to load, unload, clean, transport, and use the gun only in company of adult who also knows how to use it, and when to keep hands off (any time a weapons-trained adult is not present). Kids should be made aware of the irreparable damage guns can do, and that they must be treated with great care–not played with like they see actors do on tv. Accidents can happen, and they do, all too often. Just like they did for that little 4-year-old girl who lived near me.