(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a five-part series that will appear in the Olean Times Herald during April. Throughout the month, the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center will provide information, advice and host events to get people in the community talking and thinking about ways they can help prevent child abuse.)
OLEAN — The numbers of sexual crimes against children are staggering and the personal accounts of child abuse are heartbreaking.
Studies show that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. More often than not, the offender is someone the child knows.
According to Cory Jewell Jensen co-director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Ore., “Most child sex offenders commit dozens of crimes before they are apprehended.”
Ms. Jensen has studied and worked with adult sex offenders for over 29 years. A recognized expert in the field of adult sex offenders, she has published numerous articles on the evaluation and treatment of sex offenders, testified as an expert in local and federal courts and has been a featured guest on radio talk shows and the Oprah Winfrey show.
Karen Hill, director of the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center (STCAC), just attended one of Ms. Jensen’s trainings, entitled “Protecting our Children: Advice from Child Molesters.”
“Cory’s training highlighted the importance of educating the adults in our community on the strategies child sex offenders use in order to gain access to child victims,” Mrs. Hill said.
She asked Ms. Jensen to share her knowledge about child molesters and how they pick their victims so people in the Southern Tier can take steps to protect their children.
Ms. Jensen said most people assume they would know if a relative, friend, co-worker or volunteer were a child molester.
“In reality, there have been scores of people who, unbeknownst to them, were related to, acquainted with, or they supervised someone, who turned out to be a child sex offender,” she said. “Unfortunately, offenders do not advertise their sexual interest in children so they are hard to spot.”
Ms. Jensen added that most people believe that children react to abuse by telling or showing symptoms, but less than one in 10 children tell anyone they are being abused and very few victims exhibit signs.
“It’s easy to understand why offenders don’t broadcast what they are doing. What is more difficult to understand are the reasons why many victims chose not tell,” she said. “To begin with, most offenders are someone their victims trusted and felt safe with.”
Ms. Jensen said offenders report that the initial stages of abuse involve giving their victims lots of attention, engaging in loving and affectionate behavior, playing with them on their level and over-complimenting them.
Offenders told Ms. Jensen that these strategies accomplished several goals by helping them weed out children who might resist, reject or report abuse while at the same time allowing for the gradual desensitization necessary to advance to more intimate and intrusive touching.
She said offenders slowly violate boundaries by getting children comfortable with being touched by tickling and wrestling with them, having them sit on their lap, walking in on them while they are changing or using the bathroom, kissing and hugging them extra or touching their private parts “accidentally.”
Mrs. Jensen said child sex offenders dedicate enormous energy to groom children and keep them from telling. At the same time, they use the same techniques to groom parents and caregivers and the community. She said child molesters come up with creative excuses or rationalizations about what happened.
“Most professional forensic experts cannot tell when people are lying, so regular people should not expect to do any better,” Ms. Jensen said. “The best thing all of us can do if a child says they have been abused is to report the situation to the proper authorities. The worst thing we can do is to accept the explanation of the accused.”
Mrs. Hill said caregivers should talk to their children about sexual abuse, including the strategies offenders use before they happen.
“For instance, offenders tell children the touching is ‘their fault’ and that they will ‘get in trouble’ if it’s discovered,” Mrs. Hill said. “We recommend that parents tell their children that it’s always the bigger person’s fault and they will not get in trouble.
“We also recommended that parents talk to their children about general safety issues several times a year and mix sexual abuse into conversations about other pertinent safety issues such as wearing bike helmets, street crossing and drug and alcohol use.”
She urged parents and caregivers to trust their instincts.
“If you don’t feel comfortable with a situation, don’t leave your child or if your child seems uncomfortable, scared or resistant to being with a particular adult or older youth, ask yourself, “Why?” Mrs. Hill said.
Ms. Jensen said she knows talking to a child about child abuse is difficult and sex offenders depend on that.
“As one offender told me, ‘No one wants to talk to their children about sexual abuse, but if they don’t, it’s easier for me to be the person who introduces them to the subject,’” she said.
As parents, we must become more educated about sexual abuse and offender grooming behavior so we can be alert and prepared to confront inappropriate situations with our children, and in our communities, she added.
Mrs. Hill said while educating children is important, only caring adults can stop child abuse.
“To combat this devastating issue, adults in our community must take a proactive stance in prevention,” she said. “While it is important to inform and empower children, the responsibility for protection is an adult’s job. Children are no match for a sexual predator.”
For more information about Child Abuse Prevention training opportunities, contact the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center at (716) 372-8532.
Steps to protect children from child molesters
® Talk to your child about sexual abuse.
® Trust your instincts
® Don’t let young children go into a public restroom by themselves.
® Be cautious about who you allow to baby-sit or spend time alone with your children. Get references.
® Try to bathe and dress your own children. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like: “What did you do that was fun? Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about?”
® Get to know the people and homes where your children play.
® Periodically check on your children, especially when they are playing with other kids in your home. If you know that one of your children’s friends has been sexually abused, be more attentive to their playtime.
® Don’t let your children walk or ride their bike to school or to a friend’s home alone.
® Children should travel in groups or with an adult.
® Know your neighbors. Develop a Neighborhood Watch or Block House program.
® Supervise all Internet activity closely. Consider subscribing to an Internet service provider (ISP) that screens for obscenity and pornography. Make a family agreement about conversations before allowing your children to go into chat rooms. Children should never give out their phone number, address or school name to anyone they meet over the Internet. Periodically, ask your children to see the kinds of chat room conversations they engage in. Talk to them about the dangers of sharing information on the Internet.