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…
4. Does Your Child Have a New Guardian Angel?
The Washington Post:
“Victim 4” took the stand and told his story. He was devastatingly credible. He spoke frankly, graphically. It was a brave performance, prefiguring the courage of the other seven victims who came forward later. When he was at his most vulnerable as a boy, lacking a father figure, Sandusky had swooped in like a guardian angel, only to reveal himself, gradually, as a fiend.
Jerry Sandusky was no Clarence the angel but he mastered the role — as most child sex offenders do. The classic ploy of the predatory pedophile is to “swoop in” to rescue children from unstable and single parent homes.
According to USAToday.com, Sandusky lavished extravagant gifts on his victims. Records say that he gave one boy of 11 trips to professional and college football games, a computer, clothes, and even cash.
Obviously, not all child molesters have such resources. Nonetheless, lavishing his intended victims with gifts is part of the seduction process.
Adults with a genuine interest in children want to bring them up to their level, not sink down to the child’s level of maturity. They teach them to use adult tools, not play children’s games.
It’s important to note this too-good-to-be-true friendship can aim at you just as easily. Gaining your trust is the ultimate goal.
By befriending the parents first, and eagerly offering to babysit, run the child to sporting events, etc., the predator gains easy access to the child with the added bonus of the parents’ blessing — and even gratitude! At this phase of the process, your child may not be the primary target, but the prize.
One mother of a Sandusky victim illustrated this as she testified through tears. With heart-wrenching regret, she told of how she insisted amid protests that her son spend time with the villain because he needed a father figure.
She missed this crucial sign…
3. Is There Someone He Just Doesn’t Want to Be Around?
I heard the dull pain of guilt and regret in Melissa’s voice, as she spoke of her son’s abuse when he was only seven.
Mick didn’t want to go to Joey’s house and play anymore.
Melissa couldn’t understand the sudden change. The boys had always played together after church. She knew Joey’s parents. He was a professor and she was a homeschooling mom. They both loved their adopted son.
Early one morning Melissa had made arrangements to drop her two boys off at Joey’s house for the day. Mick protested, begging to go with his mother.
Melissa knew that Joey’s parents were very strict so she chalked up the boy’s resistance to not wanting to spend the day in such a rigid household. But when Mick’s pleas became more persistent, Melissa became concerned.
She took her concerns to her husband and suggested they just take Mick along. He promptly dismissed her fears and told Mick to straighten up, behave, and play nice. Just stay out of Joey’s mom’s way.
Mick never spoke of that day until his late 20s. Only then did he feel safe enough to explain that it wasn’t the mom, or even the dad, that terrified him. It was Joey.
The back-story here wasn’t common knowledge, even in their small community. Joey was adopted out of a sexually abusive home — diapers were removed. The mother’s strictness, once dismissed as overzealous parenting by Melissa, was really an attempt to protect the other children from potential abuse. This ultimately failed.
On the surface, all the pieces fit. Smiling faces. Watchful, loving parents from church. It never occurred to Melissa that sexual predators aren’t always adults. In telling her story, sometimes it’s hard to tell which is harder for her to cope with — her son’s ordeal, or the sign she missed.
2. Is Your Child Sexually “Advanced”?
It’s one of those phone calls you don’t want to make. Cindy struggled to muster up the courage to tell her best friend. It was hard for her to even think about it, let alone say the words out loud.
But she had no choice.
Cindy had walked in on her seven-year-old little boy and her friend’s son. They were not playing trucks as she expected. Instead, they were engaged in oral sex.
Completely horrified, she yelled at both boys, separated them, and then went and called her best friend to come over right away.
Would you dismiss the incident as a simple case of childhood curiosity?
The predator wants the child to accept sex as normal. Casual sex and an interest in pornography are not normal in children. A child with an unusual knowledge of sex or one who talks of it casually may have been abused by an adult.
1. Have You Seen a Radical Change in Behavior?
Missy was never one for girly things like dolls. She preferred teddy bears and baseball games just like her brothers.
A winning season just ended with an explosion of hats flying up into the air. Everyone headed for the gates, except for Missy.
She had become good at hiding. The ending of the game, the crowd thinning and the lights shutting down, signaled only one thing to her — the car ride home alone with dad.
Sitting in on the floor of a locked, dirty cement bathroom, afraid to go home. Unfortunately, the only one who looked for her was the one person she didn’t want to find her.
When the unthinkable happens, it leaves marks. The sexual assaults began for Missy when she was in second grade. Her grades fell. She became withdrawn and never wanted to go home. Although she could no longer concentrate well enough to learn to read, she cried at the end of the school year — afraid of the summer at home.
Over forty years later, Missy still wonders why no adult in her life noticed she had radically changed overnight.