Her voice was low, steady, and unfamiliar:
“We haven’t met. I know you just moved in not too long ago. You have a boy about ten, is that right?”
With a rapidly growing concern swelling in the base of my throat, a hesitant “yes” was all I could muster.
“He’s made friends with [the boy that lived behind us]. I’m not going to say too much. But please don’t let him play inside their house.”
With little else said, she hung up. There really wasn’t much more to say. She articulated the unspoken message quite well. I took her advice without any further questions.
Our kids learned about “stranger danger” beginning in grade school. We followed up at home by making it a point to tell them that we would never send someone they didn’t know to pick them up — for any reason.
We also took the experts’ advice and established a secret code word for safety. I worried about, and took many deliberate precautions against, abduction.
Like most parents, I didn’t have to read these statistics. I could practically feel them:
US Department of Justice reports, nearly 800,000 children younger than 18 are missing each year, or an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day.
Abductions happen. We see the children’s faces on the walls at the store, and cringe with every Amber alert. But we don’t mentally subtract the fact that of those 800,000, only 115 children were victims of the “stereotypical” kidnapping of a stranger snatching them — what we fear most. With all of the attention drawn to it, we tend to think sexual assaults are more likely to come with abduction.
In all my precautions, it never occurred to me to tell my son that not all moms and dads were good. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to explain to our ten year old that I suspected his new best friend’s dad was deeply disturbed.
Most children can’t begin to comprehend the depraved acts a person with a friendly face can do. They’re still looking for bad guys with black hats and a sinister laugh. How do you protect a child’s innocence physically without devastating him mentally?
The FBI tells us that predatory pedophiles, like the obscure man behind us and Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant coach just convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, have a pattern of seduction.
It sickens me to admit that, had I not gotten that call, I don’t know that I would have recognized the signs.
Ask yourself these questions…