Posted by: instanthausfrau | June 3, 2007

A Balancing Act.

Parenting, good parenting, is about trying to find the balance between structured rules and freedom. It’s about the way that line flows and changes as our children grow, the way we struggle to find that balance again and again.

Talking to our kids about child molestation and sexual assault means walking a similar line. Heck, just talking about anything remotely to do with the more straightforward “birds and bees” can seem a potential minefield. How do we make ourselves alert and aware without becoming paranoid? How can we talk to our children about these issues, keep our children safe without making them fearful? It’s a balancing act.

There has been a lot of (justified) parental uproar lately about the presence of the “Seattle Tacoma Everett Girl Love” website (now relocated to Los Angeles), which you can read about on the Crime Scene Blog here. I do not wish to provide a direct link to the site in question, but it’s easy enough to find from that link. Basically, the website creator used the space to create a “guide” to finding places/events in our area to observe and photograph little girls, much like this site is intended to be a guide for Seattle-area parents. Police are unable to take action against it, as the site’s creator Jack McClellan is very careful to follow the letter (but not spirit) of the law. Additionally, several reports of unknown strangers photographing children at playgrounds have been reported lately on local parenting mailing lists.

While these incidents are alarming, and it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings, the majority of sexual crimes against children are perpetrated by someone they know:

[In the U.S.] 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims knew their attacker; 34.2% were family members and 58.7% acquaintences. Only seven percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim, according to the 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. This study is available at the Bureau of Justice Statistics website.
— Statistical Information compiled by RAINN.ORG

Teaching about “stranger danger” isn’t enough. Here are some things you can do:

Make yourself, not your child, the first line of defense: It seems terribly unjust that we expect our children to take us at our word, to be respectful and “mind” adults in their lives, and then to also be able to suddenly scream “no!” at one when in an often confusing and compromised situation. Dr. Carla Van Dam’s Identifying Child Molesters is an excellent resource. In it, she details several patterns of behavior that, when taken together, can provide warning to parents before abuse happens. While these causes for suspicion are not enough to convict anyone, they are enough for you to tell your child, “I’m not comfortable having you play at X’s house.”

Talk with your child about safety: Do work to teach your kids that they can say no to adults. Play through scenarios with them to teach them what to do and let them practice these skills. The Polly Klaas Foundation provides multiple suggestions on-line for role-playing scenarios to practice safety skills without being “too scary”.

Read the article behind the cut: I picked it up while working with the (now non-existent) Rape Crisis of Durham, NC in the 90s. It’s an open letter from a sex offender, as published in one of the local papers (I’m afraid I can no longer read which one on my copy, and a web search isn’t turning anything up). A letter like this has been a standard part of perpetrator treatment for a while, but I’ve rarely seen one published. The letter can be a little disturbing; the perpetrator remains fascinated by his/her own “cleverness”. Nonetheless, it has useful information.

I hope that something here has helped. That reading this has given you action to take, things to think about, and not just more reasons to be afraid. It’s a hard, hard line to walk but the destination? Very worth it.


    Editor’s Note: The following open letter to parents was written by a child molester who wants to give parents tips on how to spot a molester. It was submitted by the Burke Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

    Dear Mom and Dad:

    My name is Pat. I am a child molester. That is to say I have molested children in the past. Now, after months of therapy, I hope never to molest another child and to protect as many children as I can from others like me.

    That’s why I’m writing to you. The more you know about me, and about what I know about your child(ren), the less chance there will be that I will ever turn your child into my victim.

    I am going to call your child “Chris”, because like my name, it can be either female or male. I do this to make a point. Most people think of molesters as men, and victims as girls. However, expert opinion tells us there are far more female offenders and male victims than most people would like to think. This way, you don’t know my sex and “Chris” fits whether your child is a boy or a girl.

    Advice on how to protect Chris is easy to come by. Almost every week, one of the parent magazines carries an article on “How to Protect your Child From Sexual Abuse.” For the most part, the advice is good. The problem is that most of these are written by people who are not molesters and don’t really know how I think. I would like to give you some inside information to add to the good advice they offer.

    Not all Molesters are alike

    Just as there are many types of mothers and fathers, there are about as many types of child molesters as there are molesters. This is why advice for avoiding a particular type of abuser might make Chris an easy mark for another type. For convenience, let’s talk about three groups.

    One is what I call the circumstantial molester. This is the individual who is in the wrong place at the wrong time under conditions which make molesting Chris easy. The only defense against this abuser is to always know where Chris is going and what will be happening there.

    If anything about the situation bothers you, don’t let Chris go, no matter how much you trust the person. And, when Chris returns home, listen carefully to everything she/he has to say about the venture, no matter how boring or rambling it might be.

    The second type, I will call “Chester,” after Mad Magazine’s “Chester the Molester.” This is the predator, male or female, who prowls the playground or mall looking for a child, ANY child, to attack or seduce. Most of the advice given in the article relates to this type, probably because this is the person from whom Chris has the most to fear in terms of physical harm.

    Finally, there is the plotter (this is where I fit). We plotters do not fit the usual pattern of the molester. I am crafty and underhanded. I use the child’s natural natural curiosity and innocent trust for my own purposes. Most of the usual warnings will not protect Chris from me. In fact, they might just have the opposite effect.

    The usual suggestions are good, but…

    Let’s take a look at how some standard warnings could actually put Chris at risk.

    • 1.”Teach your child to avoid strangers and never to trust a stranger.”

      Excellent advice! It will go a long way toward protecting Chris from “Chester.” However, children think in opposites. If a stranger cannot be trusted, then someone who is not a stranger can be- and I am not a stranger.

      I am your next-door neighbor, a family friend, Chris’ teacher or little league coach or scout leader, or an older playmate. I might hold a respected positions as a community leader or doctor or even minister. Chris will be in my care with your permission. There will be no thought of my ever doing anything wrong. Both you and Chris will trust me completely.

    • 2.”Teach your child that there are good people and bad people.”

      This is good advice, again if you are talking about the “Chesters” of the world. But remember that children think in absolutes. A person who is “Bad” can’t do good and one who is “good” can’t do bad and Chris will trust your judgment. Since Chris has seen me sit with you at your kitchen table and has heard you talk about what a nice person I am, it would seem impossible that I might do something “bad.”

    • 3.Teach your child to recognize “bad” feelings.

      Some like to think that there is a built in alarm system which will tell Chris when something is wrong. One expert put it this way:
      “A child’s body has a way of telling her when something feels wrong: Her stomach tightens, her heart pounds or she may have trouble breathing. Help your child to identify and believe in her instincts of ‘funny feelings.'” (“The Wise Child,” FOR WOMEN FIRST, APR. 5., 1993, p.76)

      But the difference between “funny” feelings and “fun” feelings is so fuzzy that I can probably short circuit this alarm system long enough to get Chris under my control.

    • 4.Teach your child how to say “no!”

      Every child needs to know that she/he can set limits, that just because an adult says it is right doesn’t mean that they have to permit it. Many parents stumble on this point. The child is so conditioned to “Do as you are told” that she/he becomes an easy mark for me. Moreover, when I am involved, there will be no thought of saying “no.” Chris will be so into the “game” that it will seem perfectly normal and natural.

    • 5.Teach your child how to call for help.

      By all means!! Children should know that they can scream, run, go to a policeman, or whatever is necessary to get out of a bad situation. But remember that I will never let Chris get the feeling that this is a bad situation. When with me, the last thing Chris will want is “help.”

      So, if Chris is not injured or frightened or even made uneasy, how can this be more damaging than any other abuse?
      The damage I will have done will be much more subtle and can create lifelong problems for Chris. The biggest problem is that Chris will not even know where these problems came from. Chris might not realize until after several incidents that something is wrong. In fact, Chris might never be aware that she/he was molested.


    What, then, can you do to protect Chris from me? Let me suggest several additions to the usual list of advice. Some things I have never seen suggested anywhere else.

    • 1. Teach in the real world. Teach about behaviors and actions, not people or good/bad feelings. Children, especially very young children, are mentally geared to deal with concrete things, not concepts. If you teach with words, I can twist your words.
    • 2. Start very young. Even the very young child can understand “Nobody is to touch you here, here, or here.” Later, as Chris matures, you can add words to go with the rules.
    • 3. Make no exceptions to the no-touch rule. Some say, “except for the doctor (or nurse, or the babysitter, or Aunt Effie).” Young children think in absolute terms. Any such exception can confuse the child. If there are to be any exceptions, you will be there to make them on a case by case basis.
    • 4. Don’t lend me your authority. If Chris goes anywhere with me, don’t send us off with, “Now Chris, you be good and do exactly what Pat tells you.” In saying this, you have just told Chris that you trust me completely, that what I say is right or wrong is just that, and that I have you authority.

      Instead, say something like, “you know how I expect you to act here. I want you to act the same when you are with Pat.” This extends your authority to wherever we go. As Chris grows older, you can add that whatever the rules are or what other kids are doing, Chris is to go by your rules.

    • 5. Let it be known that you “just might drop by.” Some comment like, “I might have to come and pick up Chris early” will put Chris and me on notice that you could show up at any time. Be sure to find out where we will be and how to reach us. If I am not a molester, this will not matter. If I am, this will make me re-think any plans I had for Chris.
    • 6. When Chris comes home, LISTEN. Kids LOVE to talk about what they did at someone else’s house. The younger the child, the more probable it is that she/he will spell out every detail of the visit. Listen for any comment which suggests that something was out of order.
    • 7. If you hear something that sounds wrong, don’t panic. To a young child, nothing is a big deal until some adult, but his/her reaction makes it so [sic]. If you get upset or start to question, Chris will know that something is wrong and will likely back off saying any more. As simple a comment as a sharp “What???” can put Chris on the defensive. Just continue to listen and make mental notes. There will be a time later for questions.
    • 8. If you suspect abuse, don’t go crazy. If you go out looking for revenge, you will accomplish only two things. First, you will probably muddy the waters for the authorities who have to investigate later. Second, if you find me and harm me, Chris just might feel partially to blame for hurting me.
    • 9. Call your nearest child abuse hot line [Report to Child Protective Services: 1.888.END.HARM, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center 24 hour hotline: 1.888.998.6423, or 1.888.99VOICE, Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress: 206.744.1600]. Report what you suspect and let the trained investigators do their jobs.
    • 10. Don’t permit yourself to even WONDER if Chris might be at fault. Any time there is sexual contact between and adult and a child, it is the adult’s responsibility, no matter what the child might or might not have done.
    • 11. Don’t start with the “Well, why didn’t you–” or “Chris, if you had just–” or “didn’t you know that–” comments. All of these imply guilt of some sort. Chris does not need to be dealing with feelings that she/he could have been, in any way, responsible.
    • 12. Above all, NEVER give Chris any reason to suspect that your love hangs on anything as flimsy as good behavior. You see, I will “love” Chris regardless of behavior. Chris has to be certain that your love is even strong than mine.

  • Responses

    1. Great advice! This articles points out something very important, that in many cases those who molest children are not strangers at all, but some of the most trusted people in their lives.

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