Better a thousand times careful than once dead. ~Proverb
After pondering this for many weeks, I have come to an inescapable conclusion: this will be long and disturbing. The length is, in part, due to the fact that I feel compelled to share the ‘whys’ of my dedication to this serious topic, for an explanation of the issue is not all that is needed. Ideas on countering the dangers will follow the more troubling aspects caused by touching on a topic that cannot possibly be discussed pleasantly. Crimes against children are too devastating…too horrible…too heartbreaking…too prevalent…
This will be the type of article that you read when you have time to do something lighthearted afterward…you may want to clear your mind of these things and go to a happy place…a place where all children everywhere are loved and nurtured and safe from harm. This world is not that place.
Many months ago, I answered a question a friend posted regarding supervising children. The question was about when it was acceptable to leave children in the car alone. Here’s what I said: “My first rule of thumb was that I was would never do it younger than the law allowed, but as that time approached and our oldest reached that age I decided that it was not worth it the very real, albeit small in some people's eyes, risk that something unimaginable might happen. No convenience is worth living with the realization that I did not protect my little ones when it was in my power to do so. Children are easy targets for the deranged predators that serve Satan. I did not leave my children in the car until the oldest was 15 and almost 6 feet tall. And, if you really want a good laugh, I didn't let our son go in the men's room alone until he was taller than me (which admittedly isn't that tall…he was about eleven I think). I stood outside and made my presence known, even cracking the door and talking if anyone else was in there.”
An older mother (and grandmother), who saw a need for more teaching on child safety, wrote me privately and suggested that I turn my comment into an article. Her suggestion compelled me to research, once again, something that has been dear to my heart, but that I often don’t address because of the disturbing nature.
You may read this and call me radical, you may call me a helicopter parent, and you may even call me paranoid, pessimistic or untrusting. The bottom line is this: my sole concern was protecting my children. I made them based on studies in criminal justice, news accounts and what I knew from others’ experiences. Six children later – I’d not change a thing. It comes down to this simple truth: God entrusted Jonathan and I with our children and we determined to take good care of them and keep them safe.
While I was pondering just how I would address this topic, an interesting situation occurred. A friend was in the ER with her husband with gall bladder issues and could not get home in time to meet her child’s bus. We were already watching her younger child, so she called me to ask me to meet the first grader at her bus. Consider these things: I do not know anyone in her neighborhood. I drove up, parked my car outside her house, and waited. When I saw the bus, I walked to her home and stood on her sidewalk. No one questioned me. Not one parent outside looked my way. The children got off, the bus drove away. It was so easy. It was too easy. I know that schools have protocols for letting children leave with people, but no one was there to hinder me from taking this child when she got off the bus. I told her that we already had her sister, that her parents were at the hospital and that I was taking her home. I told her that it was okay to go with me and that we’d take care of her. She knows me. She believed me and I was telling the truth. No one else there knew who I was. No one else was watching out for those kids who got off the bus, most of them were not even met by parents. Sometimes this scenario plays out entirely differently.
Consider these facts:
- Every 40 seconds a child goes missing in America.
- 797,500 were reported missing in a given year.
- 203,900 of these abductions were family abductions, 58,200 were nonfamily abductions, and 115 were the victims of the “stereotypical” types of crimes (defined by this: Abductions are considered "stereotypical" when the perpetrator is a stranger and any one of the following occurs: 1) the child is gone overnight; 2) the child is killed; 3) the child is transported a distance of 50 miles or more; 4) the child is ransomed; or 5) the perpetrator evidences intent to keep the child permanently).
- Teenage girls aged 12-17 are the group that is the greatest risk for non family abductions.
- Juveniles are kidnapped as often by non family acquaintances as by strangers.
- http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/documents/Statistics.pdf or http://www.fbi.gov/
In 1981 a man lost his child to what is now called a “stereotypical” abduction and became a voice for missing children. If that little child had been yours or mine we would not look at the number 115 and say ‘only’. It is ‘only’ 115 because your child is not among them. Frankly, it is 115 too many. According to that very man, who has dedicated his life to solving crimes, “Sadly, stranger abduction cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Physical and psychological violence and abuse, abduction, molestation, and sexual exploitation are all overwhelming in magnitude yet largely unrecognized and underreported.”
If you are living in a bubble and are somehow unaware of the plethora of crimes against children, you need to wake up and take notice. Our children are precious and they are under our protection. What are you doing to protect the little souls that God has entrusted to your care?
For many reasons, I take the safety of children in my care very seriously. My early childhood was spent being nurtured and loved, playing with other children, and being cared for by an attentive family. Yet, in the area we lived, some others’ lives were vastly different and I was aware enough to catch tidbits of the news and adult conversations. I have wondered over the years if this had a large part in the nightmares that plagued me for many years and often sent me to my parents’ bed or had me calling for my mother!
What was going on in my community? Between 1979 and 1981, approximately 28 children were murdered (referred to as the Atlanta Child Murders). The killer spent his time between Columbus and Atlanta. In the late 70’s, two serial killers preyed on women in Columbus, Georgia and Ft. Benning—these murders were well publicized and widely discussed. My father was stationed at Ft. Benning – not far from Columbus. In late 1979, my father retired and we moved to Lutz, Florida. July 1, 1981 Adam Walsh was brutally assaulted and murdered in Hollywood, Florida. And, then there was Ted Bundy. I vividly recall the news during that time. Somehow, as young as I was, I still heard all of the horrible details.
Our comfort zones often dictate our choices. In 1981, Reve Walsh felt safe leaving her son, Adam, watching some young men in the arcade while she shopped in Sears. I am certain that she is not the only mother to ever have felt that way. In her case, those boys were not a danger. But, when a security guard asked the boys to leave, Adam was left to wander alone…a man approached him. That was the last time Adam ever watched a video game.
Children are often victims without a voice. They are abused in vast numbers. More than five children die EVERY day as a result of child abuse. The information on abused children is relevant even to families who do NOT abuse, because children are often abused by relatives and friends. 90% of sexually abused children know the perpetrator in some way. 80% of 21 year old studied for psychological disorders were abused. About 30% of abused and neglected children will continue the cycle (http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics/). When the home fails to nurture its children, the world pays in dividends.
In ancient Rome, the term catamite described a young man (often a child) kept as a sex slave. Today, there is an entire industry dedicated to providing slaves, most of them sex slaves. It is estimated that 1.2 million children are trafficked per year (International Labour Organization). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry — just behind drug trafficking — with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. Of the 2,515 cases under investigation in the U.S. in 2010, more than 1,000 involved children. The vast numbers involved are sickening.
The Department of Justice, acknowledging that human trafficking statistics are difficult to come by because of the underground nature of the crimes, estimates that 300,000 children become victims of commercial sexual exploitation annually. The details of the cases won against human traffickers were so unimaginable that I have determined not to include any of them. The fact that children (or any human beings) are suffering this way is unbelievable. (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/228631.pdf)
While it is impossible to track exact numbers, consider this from a news article on June 25, 2012: In the continuing effort to address the national problem of child sex trafficking, the FBI and our partners today announced the results of a three-day law enforcement action in which 79 child victims of prostitution were recovered and more than 100 pimps were arrested…The Innocence Lost National Initiative was launched in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division in partnership with NCMEC and the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. To date, 47 Innocence Lost Task Forces and working groups have recovered more than 2,200 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 1,017 convictions of pimps, madams, and their associates who exploit children through prostitution have resulted in lengthy sentences—including multiple sentences of 25 years to life in prison—and the seizure of more than $3 million in assets
It has been said that the door to safety swings on the hinges of common sense. Sadly, sense isn’t often common. Few will be inclined to read the details surrounding the incidents of missing children. Yet, something struck me once as I read many of the flyers on the Federal Bureau of Investigation Website: many children who disappear are wholly unsupervised — as they play in their yard, walk to a friend’s home, walk to the bus stop or ride their bike. The adage that there is safety in numbers is apparently no longer common sense, but it should be heeded by all. (I feel compelled to insert something that was noted earlier: teenage girls ages 12-17 are the greatest risk group for non-family abductions).
The bottom line is this: unsupervised children become the prey for the lurking predators! This may sound extreme, but it is not. Go to a sexual offender database and type in your zip code. The home I grew up in has 215 offenders and/or predators (designation is crime specific) in a five mile radius. My high school has 424 in a five mile radius. In addition to the number listed, there are 68 (in the county) who have absconded and are unaccounted for at this time. The home we are raising our children in now has 38 offenders in a five mile radius. Do you know how many sexual offenders live in your area? Are you aware? Keep in mind that there are warnings on most databases so that the reader is aware that only adults are listed – so there are also a significant number of minors who are unregistered offenders. When I speak about this I often hear that children should be able to be free from fear and able to enjoy the innocence of childhood. I wholeheartedly agree – yet preserving the innocence of childhood doesn’t have to mean leaving children to themselves or failing to instruct them about safety.
Things to Consider When Teaching Children Safety Measures
- Parents must take responsibility–Children need parents to keep them safe when they are too young to understand existing dangers and to instruct them so that they come to understand safety precautions. Parents cannot be naïve about the clear and present danger.
- Strangers are not the only danger–Children are often taught the concept of ‘stranger danger’ and the fact that most predators are NOT strangers is ignored. Instead of teaching children the (often) inconsistent ‘stranger danger’ mantra, teach them safety guidelines that are relevant to your life (i.e. it is okay to talk to a stranger when mama is around, always hold a family member’s hand in public, never wander away, scream if someone ever tries to grab you, sometimes bad people try to take children and won’t give them back). Depending on the child’s age, you can be very detailed or very specific.
- Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing–Be certain that you trust your children with people who are truly trustworthy. Really, the first step to keep your child safe from predators is to understand the concept of a wolf in sheep’s clothing – that not everyone is who they appear to be. Sadly, many children are abused by family members and friends. When you leave your child in the care of another you must be able to wholly trust that person with your child.
- Teach that private parts are private–Young children who are unaware of sexual behavior should be taught that no one should ever touch their private parts (or vice versa). I pragmatically taught this by saying that we only touched private parts when washing or wiping. This is a simple concept and only needs to be stated a time or two when a parent is always there to supervise a child.
- Teach that it is not okay to keep secrets from parents–Another simple lesson to teach a young child is that it is never okay to keep secrets from mom and dad.
- If you must leave your children with others, you must be prepared to discuss and warn about sexual issues– Children left in the care of others (babysitters, day care workers, extended family members, and friends) should be taught the sex education in much greater detail. Never forget that sexual abuse comes from friends and family members – those that the child is supposed to be able to trust. Often they are coerced into keeping the abuse a secret. Again is a good reason to teach children that they can and should come to their parents about anything!
- As children begin to use the internet, teach them internet safety protocol – the internet is not a safe place for children unless they are supervised and given clear guidelines and instruction. Different ages will require different levels of instruction. It has been said that it only takes two clicks to get to Sodom … have security measures in place so your children are not lured into the darkness behind the screen.
As our children grow, they need clear guidelines and boundaries. They need knowledge and instruction. They need to understand the potential dangers. We can teach them about ‘red flags’ … about precautions … about common sense … Knowledge about these crimes doesn’t have to be terrifying or disabling. It serves no purpose to live in fear or to be overwhelmed by the tragedies that occur.
We can teach our children to trust us and to follow our lead when learning to trust others. I believe that knowledge is power. Knowing the potential dangers empowers us to prevent our child from becoming the next victim. The wisdom of God teaches us, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 27:12; Proverbs 22:3).