Five things all parents should know about sex offenders
Posted on November 9th, 2011
As a lawyer, I represented survivors of child sex abuse. I worked with people who were broken and who would never be whole, people who were slowly piecing their lives together, and people for whom it was still too early to tell if they could recover. Sadly, some can never move past being a victim of sex abuse, and they will continue to be targeted by abusers and victimized throughout their lives. A fair number turn to alcohol and drugs.
One thing they all have in common: none of them should have been victims in the first place. In every case I handled, someone knew the pedophile was abusing children, and yet did and said nothing while the abuse continued.
It’s worth repeating: in every case, someone knew.
In every case.
A person who preys upon children for sexual gratification is a sick, twisted bastard. (And, yes, they usually are men.) But a person who says nothing while the pedophile continues to abuse children? That’s pure evil. There is always an excuse: “I didn’t know anything for sure,” “I didn’t want to get him in trouble,” “Everyone loves him,” “No one would believe me.”
It’s cowardly, craven, and contemptible. That fear of standing up and doing the right thing because it is hard and because it may mean social ostracism — that may mean the difference between dozens (or hundreds) of children who get to grow up and lead normal lives or who get to face a lifetime of pain.
There are so many things I wish parents knew about serial child abusers, except the knowledge comes with nightmares and can’t be unlearned. That said, here are five things all parents absolutely, positively must know.
1. Pedophiles are where kids are. When I take my daughter to parks near me, I play a game I call “Spot the Perv” while I push her on the swing. Pedophiles are where children are: they are in parks, in schools, in children’s activities.
And — this is the hard part — accept it. Be vigilant without being obsessive. I still take my kid to the park, to school, and to activities. There are pedophiles in the world, but it’s still the world we have to live in.
2. Most pedophiles have never been caught. Background checks are nearly meaningless. Most pedophiles haven’t been caught or prosecuted, and won’t show up as pedophiles in a background check. And even if they’re caught, they may plea down so that they don’t appear on sex offender registries. One of the creepiest, most prolific, and truly disturbed abusers I’ve ever seen (who was long shielded by his church) now lives across the street from a school.
Again, know this and accept it. Don’t let it consume you.
3. Teach your child to be strong and trust her instincts.You can’t put your kid in bubble wrap and shield them forever. Your job as a parent is to foster independence. That means they have to navigate the world with pedophiles in it. Teach them to be careful and what to do if they are confronted. That’s for strangers.
But what about people that you may know? Let your child know that if your child is uncomfortable with a situation that you will back them up. This means if you get a call at 9 PM that your child wants to come home from a sleepover, you’ll go get the child, no questions asked. (In fact, I did this when I was eight, after a friend’s father touched me inappropriately; my mother, for all her faults, praised me for doing so). If your child doesn’t want to go to a certain friend’s house, there may be a reason why. Teach your children to trust their instincts, and respect their choices.
4. Believe your child. If your child comes to you and tells you something happened, be calm and listen. Really, as hard as it is: be calm. Believe your child. (Believing your child is probably the most important thing you can do.) Comfort your child. If your child wrestles with shame, work (with a counsellor) to help the child know it wasn’t the child’s fault.
5. Report suspicious behavior. This is where adults fail children. Don’t assume if you report the behavior to a person’s superior in an organization that anything will be done. In fact, almost always, nothing will happen. To paraphrase almost every deposition I’ve taken: a superior calls the abuser into a meeting and says, “Did this happen?” The abuser says, “That’s ridiculous! That child is troubled.” The supervisor doesn’t do anything.
Contact the police. Follow up. Talk to other parents.