Thursday, February 1, 2018

Facts, not fear-mongering, work best for preventing child abuse

News bulletin: Sex offender arrested for violating his conditions and going to a school. The original header for this -- and what search engines "hit" on -- is "Sex offender arrested after trying to pick up children at Heber School."

The facts: A guy on the sex offender registry in Utah went with his girlfriend and her daughter to the girl's school to see her teacher and turn in some homework.

Now, this guy had done this previously, allegedly twice, and had been warned, so -- is he the brightest bulb in the box? Probably not.

However, this being treated like a potential child abduction by the more sensationalist-inclined media outlets is just nonsense. Encouraging parents to feel their children were at risk of harm is beyond nonsense; it is irresponsible. It feeds into the myth that individuals on a sex offender registry are roaming the streets and the halls of academia ready to snatch whoever crosses their paths, and it obscures the facts about actual child molestation.

After learning of the non-incident, one mother of two students at the school said she "felt sick" and credited the office staff as heroes for recognizing the man and saving the children. And an officer with the Heber City Police Department, bless his little heart, agreed. “The school staff around here, all of them are absolute rockstars at keeping our children safe,” he said.

The fact of the matter is that incidents of former sex offenders abducting children from schools are rare as hen's teeth. In fact, when I did a search for "sex offender abducts child from school," I got five hits of actual incidents spanning from 2007 to 2017, and only one of them occurred inside a school or even, as far as I could tell, on school property, and that was a situation in 2007 where a youthful-looking man actually enrolled in a school as a student. In none of the situations were children actually abducted or molested.

Are children molested in schools? Yes, we all know they are, and we all know who the perpetrators are. As sad as it is true, those who use the school setting to sexually abuse or manipulate students are those to whom their parents entrust with their care and safety.

There are fact-based prevention programs that teach children what to do if they are being molested or abused by adults that they trust. These are what the media needs to focus on.

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