REIMAGINING PREVENTION - A NEW VOICE

n a presentation to professionals in the fields of social work, law, the judiciary, and advocacy, Dr. Jerry Milner, Associate Director of The Children’s Bureau and Acting Commissioner of the US. Government’s Administration for Children, Youth and Families proposes what is for the group a new, radical view of child welfare. He proposes that we start with primary prevention as the core of our efforts.[i] For us the suggestion is not new and not radical – it is just what there is to do to make the difference we want to make.

So why would what he is suggesting be considered a “new” or “radical” approach and what is “primary prevention” anyway? Dr. Milner’s comments also give us some insight into why it is so difficult to get people in both the professional community and the general population to listen to what we have to say about the need to shift the paradigm.

Most people know that there are several types of prevention programs.  Primary prevention programs address the environments, circumstances, and situations that give rise to the likelihood of abuse and are designed to intervene to stop abuse from ever happening in the first place. Secondary prevention programs address abusive situations in order stop the abuse immediately and reduce the likelihood that abuse reoccurs.  Tertiary prevention programs are those that focus on victims and seek to reduce or eliminate the harm resulting from abuse that already happened.[ii]

In the area of child abuse and child sexual abuse prevention the emphasis for over 35 years has been on secondary and tertiary prevention programs. For adults the emphasis has been on secondary prevention. Researchers, program developers, and other professionals in the field have focused their attention on stopping abuse when it is discovered. Programs teach adults how to recognize children who might have already been abused, how to deal with disclosures in a way that intervenes and stops the abuse, and how to report suspected abuse to authorities.

Keeping Them Safe is distinctly different in that it approaches the issue from a primary prevention perspective. These programs focus on educating adults about the grooming process as the place to intervene and interrupt the sequence of events that the predator intends will lead to a sexual encounter with a child. Even now there are only two programs available to the community that are truly “primary prevention,” Keeping Them Safe and Protecting All Children,  a program from NCS.

The emphasis on secondary and tertiary prevention is deeply ingrained in the child abuse and child sexual abuse professional community. In his presentation, the voice of child welfare for the nation is calling for a new perspective and a new approach – and he talks openly about the major obstacles to fulfilling on that objective. The resistance professionals have are indicative of the resistance Dr. Milner is addressing in his presentation. Understanding the source of the resistance can help us help others to see what we have to offer as a unique opportunity to stop child sexual abuse before any child is harmed.

In this 18 minute video, Dr. Milner articulates the challenges that face our current child welfare system and the need for primary prevention as a focus. He also clearly identifies the barriers to primary prevention programs in the existing child welfare system structures. His description of how it works today can be enlightening and helpful to us as we continue to promote primary prevention as the key to a future free from child sexual abuse. 

Among the key points of his presentation are:

·         When faced with difficult social and public health issues we first look for ways to stop them from continuing (secondary prevention) and then look for how to prevent them from happening in the future (primary prevention). As a result, we vaccinate children all over the world to “prevent” polio from infecting anyone or mandate safety features on cars today to “prevent” accidents. No one is suggesting that we should have had our sights on more effective ways to deal with the consequences of polio in order to prevent it or buy and stockpile seat belts to install if there is a problem down the road. However, that is exactly what is expected of us where child maltreatment is concerned. We promote and seek funding for more foster homes, shelters, therapy, etc. rather than investing in broad based primary prevention efforts with a goal toward stopping the abuse before it happens.

 ·         When primary prevention is recommended, everyone smiles and nods and seems to be on board with the plan. However, the enthusiasm fades when that same group of people is confronted with what it actually takes to accomplish primary prevention. Dr. Milner likened the response to that of his four dogs that, even though they are all asleep on the floor around him, are at once awake enthusiastic, and excited if he just says the word “walk.” The excitement lasts until the leashes are on and they go out the front door and are suddenly confronted with the 100 degree weather and the humidity. They promptly sit down and refuse to go further. They just want to return to the comfort of their air conditioned home. Child welfare professionals do the same thing. They know that primary prevention is the answer but the demand for foster care keeps growing, there are limited resources, someone has to lose something for the refocus to be implemented – so back into the comfort of doing it the way it has always been done they/we go.

 ·         Primary prevention prevents the initial event from happening. The way the system is designed now (which PGCA has pointed out for over 20 years) is to prevent a reoccurrence of the abuse. Concentrating on primary prevention requires BOLD action and a total re-imagination of the child welfare system and how we in this country go about working to prevent child maltreatment of all kinds – including child sexual abuse. 

Dr. Milner’s presentation on this subject was in December of 2018. His voice is the voice of the US Government Agency that is responsible for dealing with this issue. He is lending himself to the message we have been promoting for almost 20 years. At times it is difficult for us to see that anything is making a difference. However, there is something happening in the professional community that is opening a door to what we do as the future of prevention in all our systems. WE CAN’T STOP NOW!!!! WE ARE JUST STARTING TO GET SOMEWHERE!!!

[i] https://vimeo.com/276889408

[ii] Three Levels of Prevention - Term Paper - Jruiz36  www.studymode.com/essays/Three-Levels-Of-Prevention-1766597.html

 

DISPELLING MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The mere mention of sexual abuse of children evokes anger and fear from adults around us. Often the response is clouded by myths and half-truths used to convince themselves that this could never happen in their family or community.

Identifying this fear for what it is and letting go of it is an important part of the process of reducing the risk for children. However, it is also important to recognize that this fear promotes a reliance on myths that can undermine any real progress in this area.

Adults believe that what they know about child molesters is the “truth.” They do not consider these “truths” as myths. Let’s look at a few of these “truths” so you can see that they are not facts. Please be prepared that dismantling these beliefs and showing that they are myths will also dissolve a false sense of security enjoyed by many. Dispelling myths requires us to confront that anyone could be a risk to our children and our only hope of preventing that is to learn how to recognize the behaviors of potential abusers and interrupt it.

According to the dictionary, a myth is “a fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology, or a fictitious story, person, or thing…a person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.”[i] When applied to certain things that people believe they “know” about child molesters, reality begins to sink in.

There are a number of myths about child molesters that are prevalent in society. Let’s examine three of them.

 Ø  MYTH: Child molesters are crazy men who are easily recognizable.

 FACT:  Child molesters look like your neighbors, friends and acquaintances. They are people you work with, members of your family, and other trusted adults and adolescents in your neighborhoods and communities. Abusers come from all income brackets, and all ethnic, racial and other demographic backgrounds. In fact, in recent surveys, there was virtually no difference in the race or ethnicity percentages of abusers when compared to the race and ethnicity of the victims being surveyed.[ii] In addition, slightly more than 26% of those who sexually abused female relative under the age of eighteen were also under eighteen at the time of the abuse.[iii]

Ø  MYTH: Strangers are responsible for most child sexual abuse.

FACT: Obviously, some strangers do molest children. The news media is quick to report these incidents and remind us of stranger danger. However, the primary risk to children comes from trusted adults in the child’s life. People we know and trust are more likely to be the ones who molest our children. Only 11% of abuse is committed by strangers. The real risk to children is from family members or relatives and other persons known to and trusted by the child and the family.[iv] Biologically related adults are responsible for 29% of the sexual abuse of our children and trusted adults in our families, homes, and communities commit 60% of the sexual abuse of our children. Children should not go off with strangers but strangers are not the real problem.

Ø  MYTH: Most child molesters are homosexuals.

FACT: Most sex abusers are men and most victims are female. Clearly homosexuals are not the primary offenders. Even those adult males who victimize boys do not identify themselves as homosexual. They often have female adult sex partners and are somewhat homophobic. They think that adult male homosexual conduct is disgusting. Although most child molesters have trouble sustaining adult relationship, they usually marry at some time in their lives.[v]

Child molesters don’t fit into any specific category of people. They are people who get sexual pleasure from activities with children and are attracted to the particular characteristics of their victim of choice.[vi]

Starting to confront the degree to which we are governed by our belief that these myths are “facts” can be challenging and somewhat daunting. It is easier to believe the myths and tell ourselves that we can protect our children from “those people.” However, the risk to our children will continue to expand if we don’t start to deal with the reality of who presents the real risk to our children.

It is time to take the next step. Begin to notice how prevalent these myths are in your thinking and start letting them goes. Use the facts provided here to help you learn how to protect children from predators.

 

[i]    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

[ii]    D.E.H. Russell, The Secret Trauma, Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women, Rev. Edition 1999, p.221.

[iii]   D.E.H. Russell, The Secret Trauma, Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women, Rev. Edition 1999, p.220.

[iv]   D.E.H Russell & R.M. Bolen, The epidemic of rape and child sexual abuse in the United States. (2000), Beverly Hills, CA. Sage.

[v]    J. Bancroft, Human Sexuality and its Problems. (1989) London: Churchill Livingstone.

[vi]   N.Groth, A. Burgess, H.J. Bimbaum, & T. Gary. Youth Protection Guidelines, BSA Volunteer Training.       (1988) Irving, Tx: BSA.

AND WE WONDER WHY VICTIMS KEEP SILENT

Several recent news reports have reminded us all of some of the reasons that victims do not tell when they are abused by a sexual predator. Whether you are revisiting the saga of the Clarence Thomas hearings and the White House team that set about destroying the reputation of a respected law professor in order to have Thomas confirmed, actions for which they later apologized, or reading the pleading letters from Tom DeLay and several others former members of Congress asking for leniency for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in a case involving the cover up of his molestation of young boys while a high school coach, the message to victims is clear. The establishment will discount your trauma in service of what they want.

Victims see and hear these actions and their fears are confirmed. Perpetrators promote secrecy by telling victims that they won't be believed. Perpetrators convince their victims that no one will take them seriously and that the grown ups will come to the defense of the perpetrator if allegations are made. Victims see these kinds of things in the news and are, once again, convinced that speaking up is useless and will be painful and discouraging.

The one bright spot in all this is the actions of the Judge in the Hastert case. He gets it! He saw Hastert for who is truly is and imposed a sentence that was 3 times the amount recommended by the prosecutor. He called Hastert a serial child molester and looked to the damage done by the abuse and the fact that Hastert tried to blame the victim by saying he was being blackmailed when all he was doing was compensating for damage done before imposing the sentence. He required Hastert be listed on the Sex Offender Registry and pay $250,000 to the Victim's fund in addition to the months in prison.  

As a society, we have to keep telling children and young people and others who are victims of sexual assault that speaking up and speaking out when abuse happens is our only avenue of action that will make a difference. As parents, grandparents, and caring adults we must always reassure our children that they will be believed and that we will be there for them throughout the process. We can stop perpetrators from living in the shadows if we keep encouraging those they harm to come forward and say!

13 Reasons and Paying Attention

One of the elements of becoming masterful at any task or art or activity is "pay attention" to what's happening all the time as it relates to the specific activity, art or task. Parenting is one of those activities that we are not born good at and we work at over time to get better and better so that we can protect our children from harm and raise them to be responsible, healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults. Paying attention to what's happening with them; paying attention to how our words and actions are impacting them; paying attention to the way they interact (or don't) with others are just some of the areas that deserve our particular attention throughout their lifetime and are particularly important during the middle school and teen years.

A new series on Netflix called "13 Reasons" is designed to educate US about how a teen's world and the issues, situations, and behavior they encounter can lead them to considering and too often even committing suicide. The series is provocative, thought provoking, explicit, and challenging. These characteristics are entirely appropriate for adults who are expanding their capacity for being good parents and working to make sure their children never go down this road to suicide. However, that is not the problem with this series. The problem is that middle school children and young, vulnerable teens are watching it unsupervised and without parents even knowing that it is happening. In one case, this resulted in a 12 year old attempting suicide. As parents this is one place we can and must intervene to stop something before we regret not having paid attention to what was happening.

This series is rated MA. Netflix intended to use that rating to communicate to parents that the show is meant for them - or at least they should preview it before letting children of any age watch it. One of the ways we can pay attention as parents and other responsible adults is to notice the ratings on movies and television shows and trust that a rating of MA, for example, means that the content if for Mature Audiences only. At the very least this rating should trigger a reminder that we should watch the show and be sure about what is covered before we let our children of any age see it.

Parents - PAY ATTENTION - Review the Netflix series before you let you children watch it. Apply the screening process that allows you to have a say in what your children can access on Netflix. Then, if you decide to let them watch the program, watch it with them or before they do and take time at the end of an episode to talk about what happened and what they heard and saw that impacted them in the story. Finally, DO NOT LET YOUNG PEOPLE OF ANY AGE BINGE WATCH THIS PROGRAM. It is not designed for anyone to binge watch it so that goes for you adult too.

Netflix is taking some steps to raise awareness about the explicit nature and subject matter in each episode by updating the audible warning that plays before the episode. However, the best way to protect your children from being targets of this material rather than educated by it is to follow the rating system and make sure that if they have access to it anywhere you are in communication with them about the show and the stories it is telling. PAY ATTENTION!

LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES

Does anyone remember that tune? The upbeat melody encouraged everyone who heard it to take time to go to the theater and watch a motion picture. On Sunday, February 28th the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the Oscars to those deserving of acknowledgement for the quality and excellence of their work. The winner for Best Picture was “Spotlight” the story of the investigative reporting that eventually shined a light on the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Shining a spotlight on the problem of child sexual abuse is a good thing. However, it is important that we get the “real” message here. The problem is child sexual abuse, not the Catholic Church.

One of the winners said that one of their goals was for the story to be heard all the way to the Vatican. I have a bigger goal. I want the story heard all the way to New Orleans and San Francisco and Tulsa and Viet Nam, and Saudi Arabia, and Dubai and Ethiopia, and everywhere else that there are survivors of child sexual abuse and vulnerable children at the mercy of skilled, charismatic predators. The ultimate objective is a world without child sexual abuse.

Many people will now see this movie and, as is typical for many people, they will talk about what a terrible thing it was that there was so much child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. They will consider “priests” as the problem and some will even take themselves away from the practice of their Catholic faith. However, the real long-term value of this story is that it focused that spotlight on a problem that children have been dealing with virtually on their own for centuries.

Priests don’t molest children – predators do! People who have a desired to have sexual, romantic, and inappropriate social relationships with children and do not do something to stop themselves from acting on those desires are the problem. They groom children and families. They cultivate community relationships in their effort to create and support an environment that allows them to operate undetected. The ultimate value of the crisis in the Catholic church is that it raised the issue of child sexual abuse in a very public and visible way and showed the impact on the lives of real people that we come in contact with every day.

Everyone should see the movie and then get make it priority to find out how they can stop these predators from every hurting a child again. There are a few programs that provide that for adults. If you want to know about them, contact us. We can give you an overview of all the programs we are familiar with that focus on this new approach to educating adults. This is the future of safe environments for your children. Take time to learn about it and how you can be part of the solution.  

 

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IN 2015 - ARE WE MAKING A DIFFERENCE?

A look back at 2015 could leave you shaking your head in dismay. In January 2002 the Boston Globe published a series of articles that helped to shine a light on a issue long hidden from our view - the sexual abuse of children by people they know and trust. Since that series opened the door to this issue for the public it seems as if there are almost dialy stories of those arrested for sexually molesting innocent children in our communities. Some might think the problem is worse, but is it? Are more children at risk or did raising awareness about this issue simply bring it into the light and force us to deal with something that has been hiding in the background for centuries in the bright light of day. The facts tell us that bringing this issue into the forefront of our thinking and awareness has made a significant impact on incidents of child molestation. It is more public - not more prevalent!

What is happening today is that what was in the dark is now coming into the light and more people are willing to speak up and stop predators. I often hear people say that they long for the “old days” when there was not so much child sexual abuse. The truth is that children were not safer back then – they were just alone in dealing with the abuse. The truth is that there is solid research evidence that child sexual abuse has declined in recent years.

Research tells us that an estimated four percent (4%) of all children in the public school system will be molested by a teacher or other staff person in that school system by the time they graduate.[i] This has been happening for as long as there have been public schools but no one knew. Children were convinced that they would not be believed – so they simply kept quiet. School systems hid allegations against teachers because is the eyes of administration officials, the best teachers could not actually be harming kids in that way – and they were the ones being accused. If there was indisputable evidence of the abuse, teachers were “let go” quietly and no record of the reason was ever recorded. Therefore, they were free to go somewhere else and do the same thing, and they did.

Today children are more likely to speak up. Parents are more likely to stand up for their children. Schools find it more difficult to hide from the allegations against teachers and child protective services and law enforcement are better trained to handle the complaints. This does not mean that there is a bigger problem. It means that we are now doing something about it.

The massive education program undertaken by the United States Catholic Church is making a difference in parishes, schools, and dioceses. The presentation of programs such as Keeping Them Safe, and Protecting God’s Children® are raising awareness across the country and calling attention to the need for all adults to speak up and speak out on behalf of children to stop child molesters from taking away their innocence.

In 2015 problems in the United Kingdom surrounding historical abuse of young boys apparently sanctioned by MI-5 could no longer be silenced and are now under investigation by Parliament. Abuse of children in other countries where silence has been the norm is now coming to the forefront of worldwide attention. The problem of human trafficking involving children and women is a public conversation that can no longer be silenced.

Every time we encourage another adult to learn more about the way predators gain access to children you are protecting them from harm. Every time we advocate for better programs and more education in your public school systems we are creating a new, safer world for children. 

[i] Shakeshaft, C., Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature; Prepared for Planning and Evaluation Service Office of the Undersecretary US Department of Education, 2004.

 

WHAT COULD WE LEARN IF “THEY” WERE WILLING TO SHARE?

There has been a good deal of research conducted with convicted offenders over the past 25 years. These in depth studies have provided VIRTUS with the material that forms the foundation for the programs we offer in prevention education. Studies of this kind are extremely valuable resources for those of us committed to preventing abuse from every happening. Learning about the primary risky behaviors of potential predators and identifying ways to intervene in the grooming process are essential to the goal of prevention that is the top priority of Protecting God’s Children®.

This work has been done by highly qualified researchers using excellent techniques and submitting their work to peer-review. Discovering the answers to the questions about how predators do what they do is the work of social science researchers in this field. There are other important answers that are available that do not require the kind of concentrated interviews that were necessary for these studies of predator behavior.  These answers can be found in data that is available but hidden from public scrutiny.

At least two well-known youth saving organizations have been gathering data on incidents involving children and the volunteers and staff that work with organizations for many years. The data found in their files identifying volunteers that are now considered ineligible to participate and records of every allegation forwarded from local affiliates hold a wealth of information about high risk behaviors as well as high risk locations, high risk circumstances, high risk policies and other things. The problem is that not only is this information not available for public review, the organizations have not even been looking at the files for their own benefit.

In our society, where the fear of being sued is real, the unwillingness of youth serving organizations to share this information in an open forum is not surprising. The people responsible for the well-being of the organization are weighing the real financial risk of making possible damaging information public against the possible good the data could do when considered by responsible adults. Too many times in our lives we see and hear about the “cost vs. benefit” analysis that places an emphasis on the financial realities of a potential risk about the real loss of human life and quality of life. That is often the way the world works and sometimes that kind of analysis benefits us all. However at other times the cost has been more than we could tolerate. The failure of Ford to replace a small part that cost lives when the Pinto exploded was determined to be callous disregard for human life. Recently Chevrolet has been answering for decisions it made along the same lines. The interesting thing is that we know these youth serving organizations are gathering the data. We know they are not “analyzing” it and we say nothing until a child is molested and then they resolve the complaint and nothing changes. 

The failure of organizations such as these to use the information gathered to inform them of the types of risks they face in reality and to shape their policies, procedures, practices, and training is unfortunate at best and unconscionable when any child is harmed. When one considers that the information gathered could help other organizations, churches, schools, and groups enhance their ability to create and maintain safe environments, it is difficult to justify keeping the information hidden.

One of the most devastating aspects of the Church’s history with this situation was the discovery that there was a great deal of information about the past actions of predator priests available in the secret archives of the Church. The laity, the public, the media, and the legal system were appalled at this fact, even though the actions of the Church were thought to be consistent with Canon Law.   Society expects something more when the well-being and safety of children is involved. Society expects us to rise above our personal concerns and cost/benefit analysis to do whatever it takes to make the world safer for these precious gifts God has entrusted to us - the children in our lives.

As members of the community, we can stop blaming and start advocating for open sharing of information. We can stop pointing fingers and begin to encourage those with valuable data available to them to examine it carefully and share with us what we all need to know about how we can make the world safer for our children. We can give up accusing and instead appreciate the challenge it is for an organization that truly cares about children to “air their dirty laundry” in front of the world. We can resist criticizing and in place of the criticism, support them by thanking them for being willing to open up their files so we can work together to prevent child sexual abuse.

Pointing fingers and blaming will not protect children. Information about the who, what, where, and when these events have happened can, however, help us create safe environments. If we are willing to see the information as a valuable resource and thank these organizations for having it analyzed to help us all help children be safe from predators, perhaps they will be willing to share what will otherwise remain hidden from view.

 

 

THEY ISOLATE KIDS IN SECLUDED PLACES

“She is just so generous with her time. It seems she is always willing to work with kids one on one after school and she is always volunteering to sponsor or chaperon youth activities. I don’t know her very well, but I appreciate her commitment to kids.”

Have you ever heard someone say something like this – or thought it yourself – about someone in your neighborhood, school, or community who seems like someone who just wants to help? Most of us have had this experience. This willingness to help and the real need in today's fast paced world for community support means that those who are willing to provide help at a moment's notice earn our trust really quickly. In short order, we don't give their offers of help a second thought - we just smile, say "thank you" and accept.

Even so, if you take a good look it is likely that you will also see there have been times when you had a concern about another adult’s relationship or interactions with children, but they were so nice, and such a willing volunteer, you overlooked your dis-ease with the situation? That dis-ease may be telling you something. It fact, it is possible what you were experiencing is one of the most effective tools that child molesters have in their behavioral arsenel―the ability to “groom” families and the community.

The grooming process includes the physical and psychological grooming of children but they are not the only targets of the predator. He or she needs to create an environment that allows for abuse to occur. So, they groom adults. One of the most popular and effective ways they do that is to convince parents, supervisors, and other adults that they are generous, kind people who genuinely care about children. Predators work hard to convince adults in a child’s life that all that matters is the best interest of the child and that the adult is only concerned with that objective.

Many abusers are caretakers of one sort or another and they often have jobs that give them access to children. They are skilled at developing loving, trusting, powerful relationships with children and sometimes filling emotional voids in a child’s home life. Potential molesters often develop a rapport with one of both of the parents. The objective is to gain the parents’ confidence and begin to break down any barriers to access to the child.

Child molesters create positions of power in their communities to gain access to children. They are masterful at manipulating the situation and drawing adults into their web of deceit. Adults who find themselves being seduced by the grooming tactics of a child molester are not bad people or stupid people―they too are victims of the abuser.

It is important that adults stay alert and maintain their observance of the behaviors of other adults in the environment. Child molesters are masters of manipulation and control. Noticing adults who seem to prefer being alone with children or young people rather than being with the other adults is a key element of our efforts to protect children from predators and maintain safe environments.

Be aware of people who repeatedly invite children to their homes – but never invite the parents. Take note of adults who hang around with kids all the time. For examples, at parties or events, they are with the kids all the time rather than the adults. They seem to prefer the company of children. Notice if an adult is always volunteering to help out―with babysitting, homework, school or church projects, and special events.

Does this mean that people who are work with and love kids are suspect? No, it means that when an adult repeatedly excludes adults from activities and seems to prefer being with children, other adults should notice the behavior and check it out.

Keep your eyes open. Tell a responsible person if an adults’ behavior raises concerns and if you suspect abuse, report to civil authorities. All the awareness in the world may not protect a child from being abused, but being oblivious, or failing to pay attention to the warning signs is an open invitation. By using our eyes and our reason, we have a real opportunity to stop abuse before it occurs.

GROOMING - WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO WE KNOW IF IT'S HAPPENING?

You haven’t known your new neighbors long, but the father seems like a genuinely nice guy. He and his wife have three children. They were at the neighborhood pool party last weekend and you saw him offering to help out others in the neighborhood. Apparently, his son is on the same soccer team as some of the other children, including your son, and, since he works from an office at home, he offered to take the boys to and from practice.  He also offered to let your son practice with he and his son on the weekends. You are a “single parent” this summer as your spouse is on an extended assignment for work in Mexico and the schedule is hectic. The new neighbor seems like the answer to a prayer but is he for real or a predator in action? How do you tell?

Most child molesters are appealing, sometimes charismatic people who have tremendous ability to win over everyone around. They use their talents to gain children’s confidence and to obtain parents’ trust in order to act on their own sexual desires.

Molesters target children who are comfortable with them and are, therefore, vulnerable. They also look for children that are experiencing difficult of challenging times. Then they befriend the child and the nurture the child’s comfort and ease. This makes it easier to convince the parents that the child molester is really just there to help out. Parents frequently see the molester as a kind, caring, and generous person who genuinely cares about children.

Identifying the motives of an adult who comes into a child’s life can be difficult. How do you tell the difference between a compassionate adult who genuinely cares about children and a predator? Molesters work hard to make the children feel special and to reassure caretakers of their sincere interest in the child.

Parents who are often overwhelmed by complicated schedules and increasing demands from all sides are sometimes just grateful for the support. They see only what the molester wants them to see. They want to believe that they would instinctively know if someone was grooming them or their child so they let down their guard and that opens the door for the molester.

To protect children, parents must be cautious about all adults who come into their child’s life. They must be reluctant to give in to the tendency to accept an adult’s offer of assistance at face value. They must be particularly skeptical of any adult who demonstrates a special interest in a child or group of children or prefers to spend time with children rather than adults.  Parents must be alert to all the warning signs of potential molesters. They must pay attention when an adult gives gifts to a child, particularly without permission, or when the adult goes overboard touching children. Any or all of these signs should raise red flags and red flags require additional investigation.

The only way to know whether an adult is a child molester is to remain on alert. Pay attention to all the adults in a child’s life. Notice whether any of them exhibit warning signs of abuser. Be aware of what is going on in the child’s life. Ask questions and listen to children. Find out whether someone is letting children do things even when parents disapprove.

As Bishop Raymond Boland reminds says in A Plan to Protect God’s Children: “, which is part of National Catholic Services primary prevention program for the Catholic Church, [Parents] must develop a very health suspicion about every program (and adult) to which they entrust their children…Take nothing for granted…”  Keeping eyes and ears open and remaining alert to the potential risks are a parent’s best defense against the grooming practices of child molesters.