When it comes to preventing child sexual abuse, most parents want to believe that knowing where their children are and teaching them the fundamentals of “stranger danger” will be enough. However, what do we do when it’s not enough?
- The perpetrator isn’t a stranger at all?
- Physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities prevent a child from communicating when they might be in danger of being abused, or are actively being abused?
- What if children find themselves in trouble and have no choice but to ask strangers for help?
Situations like these are more common than many families might think, and they demonstrate the importance of efforts such as The OffenderWatch Initiative. To better illustrate our meaning, we’ll look at some examples that are based on true-to-life events.
A 10-year-old child asks his parents if he can play at his friend’s house down the street. The child’s parents, who have met the friend’s family in passing and thought they seemed like nice, normal people, give him permission to visit. The child’s parents are unaware that a relative who is a convicted sex offender has been living with the friend’s family for years. Their son is sexually assaulted while at his friend’s house.
A few decades ago, this child’s parents would have had no way of finding out about the relative’s conviction or locating his residence. Today, however, they have the opportunity to sign up for alerts from OffenderWatch that will notify them if any convicted sex offender lives in or moves into their area. This information can be utilized before they determine where it’s safe for their child to play, and can also help to educate their child on which of their neighbors he should avoid.
A teenage girl helps to care for her neighbor, who has significant developmental disabilities, a few afternoons a week. Over time, she begins to notice some troubling characteristics and behaviors, and suspects the young neighbor might be a victim of sexual abuse. Because she isn’t sure if her suspicions are correct, though, and cannot figure out whom she would share her concerns with, she is too uncertain and afraid to act.
Thanks to the social media and community presence of OffenderWatch, this teenage girl could find resources regarding sexual abuse that she would not have been able to access before. She can access the OffenderWatch website to read about how to identify signs of abuse, and how to report suspected sexual abuse. She is even aware that she can contact OffenderWatch for assistance in notifying the proper authorities and filing a report. The cycle of abuse involving her neighbor will be interrupted far more quickly because of her level of awareness, and the young neighbor can receive the care and treatment she deserves.
A 6-year-old child attending a busy outdoor festival becomes separated from her family in a crowd. Her parents have diligently taught her about “stranger danger”, and as a result she stands rooted to the spot, terrified and lost, for several minutes as people stream around her. The noise of the crowd drowns out the sound of her parents calling her name. When a kindly-looking gentleman finally notices her and offers to buy her some cotton candy while they look for her parents, she accompanies him out of sheer desperation, not knowing that he is a dangerous predator.
A young child is not able differentiate between people who are merely unknown to her and people who may actually be dangerous. This is the key reason that The OffenderWatch Initiative stresses teaching children about “bad strangers” instead—people who make them feel uncomfortable or threatened, or take advantage of their vulnerability, or ask them to do things that no adult should ask of a child. This same child (even in her frightened state) can be taught to distinguish between these “bad strangers” and people who can usually be relied upon to help in an emergency, such as a uniformed police officer or a mother with children of her own.
A child seeking help from one of these types of strangers has a much better chance of being safely reunited with her family than the one who has been taught to fear all strangers.