The Fight For Innocence

The opportunistic child-molester is less premeditated in approach, and lacks the benefit of time with which to groom a child to become a victim. As such, the molester works quickly to capitalize on a scenario whereby an isolated child feels unable to escape a situation when it becomes sexualized. This scenario often occurs during events such as sleepovers, lock-ins, campouts, transportation settings, and sporting events, and involves acquaintances such as family members, youth counselors, peers, coaches, volunteers, and teachers.  In contrast to the grooming molester, the opportunistic molester may not exhibit prior behavioral patterns of isolated red-flag behavior, making it more difficult to detect.

Some Of The Problems

As an example, consider the difference between getting a splinter in your finger versus contracting cancer. When a splinter pierces the skin, nerve endings immediately signal to the brain that a foreign object has entered the body and needs immediate treatment. Cancer, on the other hand, can exist in the body undetected for a long period because the body does not immediately recognize and resist this disease until perhaps it is too late. Sexual abuse in a youth organization is similar to cancer, and without a proper remedy, may continue undetected. Therefore, solutions to the following problems must be addressed in order to effectively recognize, resist, and report child abuse.

Misconception 1: “I can detect a molester just by looking at him or her.”

Identification of physical and/or verbal attributes continues to be the most difficult aspect of preventing or detecting an acquaintance child-molester. Kenneth Lanning of the FBI states, “The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. He cannot be identified by physical description, and often not even by ‘bad’ character traits. Without specialized training or experience and an objective perspective, he cannot easily be distinguished from others.”⁷ In fact, trained law-enforcement officers are often fooled by highly skilled perpetrators.

Misconception 2: “I screen out all potential threats using criminal background and sex-offender screening.”

While still valuable, background screening is not as complete in reporting prior deviant behavior as was once believed. In fact, if fewer than 10 percent of perpetrators are ever criminally prosecuted, then 90 percent of perpetrators are not in the database. Bob Sullivan reported on msnbc.com that national criminal databases are often full of holes and lead to a false sense of security. He further suggested that criminal databases have spotty county and state participation, vary in data-format reporting, have incomplete results, and do not include federal crimes. Rhonda Taylor, CEO of Intellisense Corp., states, “We’ve done tests, and the national databases have a 41-percent error rate.”⁸ Lastly, the FBI reported, “Contrary to popular belief, no single source exists that provides complete up-to-date information about a person’s criminal history.”⁹ Clearly, background screening has value in the overall eligibility assessment process, but should no longer take center stage.

Misconception 3: “I can tell if someone is grooming or molesting by his or her actions.”

The problem here is that the early stages of grooming look strikingly similar to the activities conducted by the organization, i.e., coaching volleyball, teaching archery, mentoring, holding class sessions, etc. In fact, you may not be able to tell one from the other because they are, in essence, the same. It is not until the latter part of stage four—isolating a child—that the acquaintance molester diverts from an organization’s typical operating protocol.  And, not until the execution of stage five—sexualizing the relationship—has a child sexual-abuse act, or crime, actually been committed.

Exploring Solutions

As you may have concluded, there is no silver bullet to prevent or detect acquaintance child-molestation.  Likewise, the ocean of content spanning the web is overwhelmingly debilitating when attempting to create sustainable solutions. For risk-management professionals responsible for implementation, solutions have to be doable, relevant, affordable, and field-ready or risk sitting on a shelf collecting dust. A well-developed child-protection plan should focus on three primary objectives:

  • To prevent would-be molesters from gaining access to minors
  • To detect behavior patterns and early-stage abuse tactics, and resolve prior to an occurrence
  • To respond promptly and effectively to allegations of child sexual abuse, both camp- and non-camp related.

In meeting these objectives, six key initiatives should be developed to offer a balanced strategy focused on operational support, grounds/facilities, staffing, training/orientation, monitor/reporting, and crisis response.

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