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Keeping Kids Safe From Sexual Predators

A veteran police detective offers parents advice from the sex crimes beat

A reader who is a police detective writes:

I was reading through the comments section in your post about the Her Too or #MeToo movement and I noticed a lot of questions from readers about what to look out for in order to keep their children safe.  I thought I might pass along some observations from over twenty years in law enforcement and over 13 years as a sex crimes detective in a city in the Southeast. These are admittedly anecdotal observations and not anything based upon actual scholarship, although there are plenty of such studies out there.  You can feel free to share any of this with your readers as you see fit.  If so, please redact my identifying information.

Generally speaking, our society still spends too much time focusing on “stranger danger” even as most people, particularly in the wake of prominent sex abuse scandals such as the Catholic church abuse scandal, know that most abuse involves people who are known to the child.  They are the ones who have access and who have the opportunity to gain the child’s trust. Obviously stranger kidnappings, sexual assaults, and the like do happen, but they’re the statistically the equivalent of being struck by lightning.  We should all take reasonable precautions to avoid being struck by lightning, by coming inside during a thunderstorm and not standing under trees or other tall objects, but that doesn’t mean that we neglect more common dangers at the same time.

As to the question “Who in a child’s life is likely to be a pervert?” the answers are common sense. We just don’t always want to admit it.  The most likely threat comes from non- related males living in the child’s home. In order (and, again, this is based solely on my personal experience and observations) the most likely offenders are:

  1. Adult males co- habiting with the child’s mother (the live- in boyfriend)
  2. Teenage step or half- brothers
  3. Step- fathers (Men who have married the child’s mother.)

Of those, the number of offenders who are the mother’s live-in boyfriend far outstrips the number of other offenders.  The NIS-4 or 4th National Incidence Study of Child abuse and Neglect that was reported out in 2010 claimed that children who lived in homes where their biological mother was cohabitating with a man who was not their father were approximately 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children who lived with their married, biological parents.



I hesitate to mention that statistic because it conflates three separate types of abuse with very different elements and that result in very different traumas, but I would also say that the idea that the ratio of “mom’s boyfriends” who were suspected of sexually abused a child compared to the number of biological fathers who sexually abused their own children that I have investigated over the years is 11:1 or 10:1; this absolutely “feels” right to me.  Again, I freely admit I’m putting out anecdotal evidence, but the ratio of boyfriends sexually molesting kids compared to biological fathers (and even married step- fathers) sexually molesting kids (theirs or anybody else’s) is, for lack of a better term, “crazy high.”  If you had to pick one demographic feature that could predict if a kid was being sexually abused or not, the answer to the question “Does their mother cohabit outside of marriage with a man who is not the child’s father?” would be the one to choose.

After you get through the checklist of unrelated males living in the home, it’s pretty much a toss-up between biological male relatives (such as uncles, grandfathers, biological siblings, biological fathers) and friends and/ or acquaintances who are in a position of special trust with the child, such as teachers, clergy, coaches, and scout masters as to “who’s next likely to abuse my child” in my experience.  Family members can be hard for parents to gauge as trustworthy or not in the absence of any personal experience or direct observations of any inappropriate behavior. And, obviously, the vast majority of uncles, grandfathers, and male cousins are absolutely not going to abuse their juvenile relatives.  In the absence of any evidence, you don’t need to teach your children to fear all male relatives.

However, “once a sexual offender, always a sexual offender” is simply a harsh reality.  If you know or have heard that Uncle Mike or Grandpa Pete “did something” to you or Cousin Becky, then you need to keep your child away from Uncle Mike and Grandpa Pete.  They will not have changed, no matter what they may claim.  It’s one of the saddest parts of having a history of abuse, but the number of sexual abuse victims who then, as adults, allow the person who abused them to have access to and subsequently abuse their children is heartbreaking.  Yes, many survivors of abuse are appropriately protective of their children, but far too many are not.  Not necessarily their fault, but a tragedy nonetheless.

As for people outside the family who may abuse a child in a youth program or on a sports team, the person to keep an eye on is the male volunteer who doesn’t have children in the program.  Again, this is common sense.  It is not “normal” for an adult male to want to be around kids that are not his own for extended periods of time.

I realize that seems harsh, but my experience in these cases have generally followed a pattern.  Yes, there are the Jerry Sanduskys out there, who have a wife and family, but far more often the suspects (outside of household members) who abused children they met through some sort of youth program that I have investigated have been never married with no children of their own involved in the program that they (the abuser) is participating in.  If there’s a childless adult male who wants to volunteer in order to hang around your kid’s scout troop or soccer team, you need to watch that guy and get rid of him if possible.  He is not “right.”

So, to recap,

  1. mom’s live-in boyfriend is by far the most likely person to sexually abuse a child.

  2. A history of past sexual abuse or sexual abuse accusations is an indicator that should never be ignored, no matter how much the offender claims to have changed.

  3. Single, childless adult men who volunteer to be around other people’s kids are simply not to be trusted. 



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