How can you protect your family from predators?
The Inappropriate Touch Talk
Calmly discuss appropriate and inappropriate touching with your family. Make sure children or mentally disabled people understand the difference and that no stranger should enter another person’s private space. Give them the confidence to confide in you, especially about people who are close to them.
Know the People Your Family Members Know
Many children and disabled people are victims of people they know. Often the assailant is a family member, friend, or business acquaintance. Some experts say this number may be as high as 90%.
Know the Strangers in Your Area
Even though most molesters are family acquaintances, do not ignore the potential dangers that strangers pose. At the end of the article, I list a few websites that inform people about sexual offenders in their area. These websites are tools that parents can use, but they are limited to only registered sex offenders. Be aware of all people who interact with your children.
When my children were young, a man in his mid-20s moved to our neighborhood. He was wheelchair bound and hung around the neighborhood children. My inner alarm went off! I set the rule that my daughters could only be near him when they were in our front yard. I watched them like a hawk. Later, in his apartment, he sexually assaulted a child. The court convicted him, and he went to prison.
Using Child Psychology
Some readers may wonder why I allowed my children to play with him. If you ban children from playing with their friends’ playmates, they might rebel and do it anyway. By striking a deal with my girls, I controlled the situation. The deal included the rule that if he showed up at a friend’s house, they were to come home immediately. Fortunately, they upheld the deal. Set up your rules carefully. Our neighbor’s daughter simply played with him on another block, out of her mother’s sight.
Know Where Your Children Are
It is easy to open the door and let your children run freely throughout the neighborhood. Knowing your children’s whereabouts is difficult, but worth the effort. Set boundary and time rules with consequences for broken rules. Including your children’s friends in these conversations is beneficial because it relieves some of the peer pressure. You can coordinate the rules and punishments with other parents so that each playmate has the same rules.
Participate in Your Family’s Activities
Often profilers say many offenders are youth leaders because being a youth leader allows an offender access to many potential victims. Usually, offenders prey upon lonely and isolated children. You can help protect your family by participating in their activities. If you cannot participate, find a trusted friend or family member who can.
An alert parent watches for warning signals. If a child suddenly acts out of character, it may be a sign of problems. Typically, a victim is reluctant, distant, or rebellious. If the person will not open up to you, encourage him or her to confide in a counselor or other trusted person. Sometimes a favorite aunt or a grandparent inspires confidence.
Observe the people around your family. Is someone watching one of your family members a bit too much or too intently? Often it is a red flag if your child seems to be secretive with another person, especially an older person. Sometimes offenders buy a child’s confidence with gifts or promises.
Teach Them to Say NO and Tell
Teach your children to say “no” loudly and with force. They need to be assertive. Instruct them to get away from the offender as soon as possible and to tell a trusted adult when they are free from the offender.
Open the Communication Line
Give your children your full attention when they tell you something important. Paying close attention to them and opening the communication line is extremely important. Give your children the power to be comfortable with talking about taboo subjects.
It is difficult if the offender is a family member, friend, or acquaintance. The victims often fear the reactions of other family members. Cunning offenders play upon this fear, convincing victims that their family will disbelieve or hate them if they tell.
Useful Web Sites
Almost every state has a website listing convicted offenders in the state. Type your state and “sex offenders” into a search engine. “WI sex offenders” resulted in http://offender.doc.state.wi.us/public/ . The State of Wisconsin collaborates with Family Watchdog to provide the map of offenders in the state.
The free service, Family Watchdog (http://www.familywatchdog.us/) found 56 offenders in my immediate area. For various reasons, 20 of them are not on the map (“non-mappable”). The map provides information about the offender’s crime. A brightly colored box indicates the offender’s home. A dully-colored box shows the offender’s workplace. Red signifies an offense against minors, blue is for sexual battery, yellow indicates rape, and green denotes other offenses. The map also marks schools, parks, and other places where children may congregate.
The National Alert Registry (http://orders.nationalalertregistry.com/landing1/) charges an activation fee and a monthly fee. Their main feature is Red Alert, a program that sends an email when they update information about sex offenders in your area.