Welcome to part 3 of my little series on sexual predators. If you’re new, you can catch up by clicking on part 1 and part 2. And don’t worry: I’m not going to make you feel guilty about eating chocolate or your weight.
Blogging is an interesting phenomenon. I liken it to running your own business: you’re really not accountable to anyone, but at the same time–if you want to run a legitimate and respected one–you’re accountable to everyone. I take this writing very, very seriously. As a Christ-follower, as a nurse with the utmost respect for evidence-based practice, and as an artist, I choose every word precisely. So, I take very seriously the questions I receive about how we, as mothers and survivors, can possibly keep our children safe. There will be a couple of other posts after this (I’m thinking six, in all). But this one, on protecting kiddos, is the one that hits closest to home.
I’m perhaps a bit hyper-vigilant about watching out for and protecting my kids. Recently, one of them was involved in an activity where the leader kept giving my child chocolate bars. Immediately my head was flooded with bells and sirens, and I talked to the program director right away about the leader’s intentions. The director’s assurances were comforting, but you better believe I still kept my eye on the guy, knowing that by the time someone ends up with a crime that shows up on a background check they have already racked up countless other victims.
I’m not an expert on how to best protect our kids. A topic as serious as this requires the expertise, once again, of Anna Salter. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading her book, Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders. Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. Regarding the protection of our kids, here is a great excerpt: “It’s hard to remember now, but hospitals were once careless about blood. The gloved and masked creatures our children know as doctors and nurses were once people who actually put their hands on patients without a latex barrier, who smiled without a mask. But then came AIDS, and it became clear that caretakers could not tell who did and did not have AIDS until after they had drawn blood, after they had exposed themselves to possible infection. And so health care workers simply started treating everyone as though it were possible he/she had AIDS. Now they wear gloves with every patient. They use the same blood-handling procedures with everyone, regardless of whether they “look like” they have AIDS or not. ..Assume every coach, every priest, every teacher is not likely to be a sexual predator, but that one could be and that you will not know if he is. Given that we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency, we must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to us or to our children.” (p. 223, Chapter 11)
How, you say?
By being present.
Oh, and handing your kid a cell phone is not the same as being present.
The astounding busy-ness of American families causes a lot of trouble. We simply cannot afford to be too busy not to attend our kiddo’s practices, meet their after-school activity leaders, or let someone we’ve only just met drive our child to an event. We cannot be too busy to let them walk or play at the neighborhood park alone anymore. We even need to think long and hard before sending our kiddos with people we do know well. Remember: these folks are experts at deception. As Salter writes: “The better you know him, the more you like him, the more stake you have in believing he is not a child molester. You may not have considered the impact your liking him has on your judgement, but rest assured he has. He may not have studied deception first hand, but he has lived it. He has seen firsthand how hard it is for people who like him to believe he’s a child molester. So he will work very hard for you to like him. [They] are professionals operating among kind-hearted amateurs. “ (p. 204)
This “likeability” phenomenon can even dupe people more than once, as it did in one small community, when a convicted molester moved away for several years. Time must have eventually erased many of the towns folk’s memories of how calculating and dangerous he was, because a few years passed, and after re-friending many of the townsfolk on the internet and convincing them he was recovered, he had the unbelievable gall to move back…to that same town. In fact, he befriend some of the same people who had walked alongside the several victims he hurt so badly. The man was able to get people to like him…again.
There is no easy, catch-all answer. Awareness helps. But overall, it’s a balancing act. It’s a balancing act for parents, because we cannot shelter our kids and keep them out of activities, but we need to be involved enough and in a way that doesn’t freak them out and cause them to live in fear, too.
It’s a balancing act for Christ-followers, because we are called to love our coaches and neighbors, and on top of that, the broken and marginalized. We are even called to go to places like prisons and homeless shelters and third world countries and embrace those who may have committed the very same crimes I write about today.
But there’s a big difference between loving someone with Christ’s love and enjoying life with someone and walking along side someone…versus allowing them to cross (and even re-cross) boundaries that give them access to the deeper parts of our hearts and minds and bodies…the parts of ourselves reserved for our closest friends, our families, and our God.
As parents we must decide where those boundaries are for our children, and guard them diligently.
Enjoy your kids. Help your kids enjoy life and their sports and activities. Take them places–as a family–where they can serve the poor and marginalized. Just do so while keeping an eye out for those who come close to the boundary lines. Read Salter’s book and visit RAINN for expert tips on prevention and warning signs.
Oh…and most important of all…pray. Pray all day long for protection of you and your kids. There will be times we must let them leave our sides, and in these instances we cannot underestimate the power of prayer, nor the amount of love God has for our kids.