OPINION – Stories of sexual predators have been noticeably present in local and national news headlines, evoking concern in parents with young children. Most recent of such headlines is the Sierra Newbold case, in which Terry Lee Black allegedly abducted Sierra from her home, then sexually assaulted and murdered her.
Former Boy Scout Leader, Shawn Thomas Whiting, was recently convicted of exploitation of a minor. Even here in our own backyard, headlines publicized the disreputable acts of John Robert James Cody, a former Pine View High School teacher in St George who was convicted last month of sex crimes against children. Personal Trainer Suni Andersen was sent to prison recently for having a sexual relationship her 14-year-old client.
Are we doing all we can as a community to ensure a safe environment for our children? Is teaching “Stranger Danger” enough? Do our kids need to become more aware of the much larger threat: the familiar adult in their life whom the family trusts?
Research completed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. According to the American Psychological Association, “an estimated 60 percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors.” The APA further estimates 30 percent are relatives of the victim while only a surprising 10 percent would be considered a stranger to the victim.
The boogeyman may have an evil fear-inducing reputation; however, the scout leader, coach, teacher, or family friend is statistically more likely to be the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing and has the potential opportunity to do more damage.
All too often, we intently watch the heart-wrenching stories of parents pleading for their child’s safe return, only to have their hopes dashed as the authorities deliver news that their child’s body has been discovered in an area near their home or community.
What we do not see on the news are the thousands of children who quietly live in terror, as they are led by a trusted adult to believe they are to blame for this immoral act. To make matters worse, their lives and the lives of their families are often threatened if they do not keep the “secret.” The confusion is often emotionally devastating for these individuals.
Sexual predators often have dynamic personalities. They can be exuberant, fun and very personable and nice. How else would they gain a child’s trust unless they were very nice? Yet, how often do we as parents give the “nice guy” a pass and respond to the notion that the creepy looking stranger in the dark glasses is the real threat?
According to the West Virginian Family Refuge Center’s website, our children need to be aware of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch, as well as being able to identify behaviors that do not belong in a proper child-adult relationship. Children should know that a summer camp staffer or Scout leader should never want to spend time alone with them.
If your children are having sleepovers at a friend’s home this summer, are you well acquainted with the individuals that would encounter your child or relatives that could also be staying at that home? Look for excessive enthusiasm, fear or hesitation when leaving your children with caretakers. If your child plays at a local park, they can be taught how to be aware of those individuals that may be watching them, or befriending them.
Other helpful teaching methods are rehearsal and role-play. Practicing what to do in harmful fearful situations with a sexual predator can be extremely helpful. Role-play is important, because in a situation that is scary for a child the learned response from role-play may save their life.
Sometimes, as in the tragic case of Sierra Newbold, a small 6-year-old girl seems no match for the type of perpetrator that she allegedly encountered, but prevention can and will save many, many lives.
Awareness plays a major role in protecting our children. Although these types of conversations can be tough to have with children, they need to happen. The rising numbers of reported sexual abuse need our attention. Yet, we can do better. It is not parents versus the bad guy anymore; it is parents protecting their kids from even the apparent nice guys. We have to level the playing field. It is time to get very proactive in protecting our nation’s greatest asset – our children.
Kate Dalley is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are hers and not representative of St. George News.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.