Scarier than the stranger in the park

Remember the first time you were allowed to go somewhere unaccompanied as a kid? Maybe it was to the movies, or around the corner to the convenience store. Chances are, as you set off, reveling in your hard-won freedom and clutching the five dollar bill your mom had given you, you could hear her stern warning ringing in your ears, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

Images of abducted children on milk cartons still cause parents to warn their children about strangers, and yet the truth that is a child is much more likely to be hurt by someone he already knows. Studies by child abuse experts show that in 90% of sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is someone the victim-and his or her family-know and trust.

This is the big secret that sexual predators do not want parents to know. They want parents to tell their children how to avoid strangers and what to do if a stranger approaches them in the park or their front yard or the mall.

They want parents to paint a picture of the scary, suspicious boogie man, not the friendly, approachable, trusted coach or neighbor or Sunday School teacher. They certainly don’t want parents to know the real facts about how predators select and groom their victims and their victims’ parents, often over a long period of time.

Although it has been a few years since the media was saturated with the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, the case is still a stunning example of the way sexual predators gain access to their victims and cover up their crimes. Sandusky spent years using his position within the Penn State University football program to build a reputation as a coach and to create programs that gave him nearly unfettered access to young boys.

Through these programs, he gained the trust of many young men and their families, and was able to manipulate situations so that he could be alone with individual children and abuse them. Even though several people observed and reported him in compromising situations one-on-one with young boys, it took years before a real investigation was initiated. The abuse went unchecked for many years, in part because of the public persona Sandusky had built as a person who cared about children.

An adult who seems too eager to spend time unsupervised with a particular child is one of the warning signs parents can learn about through an upcoming Family Builders training event, “More Than Stranger Danger.” This event is on March 8, at 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM at Cole Community Center, 4400 Northwest Expy, Oklahoma City, OK 73116.

The presentation will teach parents about the red flags that can indicate a potential threat from a sexual predator, and will also cover ways to talk to children at different ages about this issue. The event is free, but please register online to reserve your spot.

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