Two of Ariel Castro's victims, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, have announced this month that they are being interviewed for a book. The third victim, Michelle Knight, will appear on a November airing of the Dr. Phil show. I imagine that most people will read the book not as voyeurs, but to learn from it, to figure out how it could have happened and to try and make some sense of it. It's hard to imagine being the next door neighbor, the friend, or the co-worker of a monster. Truth is, many of us probably are.
When authorities are receiving reports of child abuse every 10 seconds of every day (and it's believed that 2/3 of abuse goes unreported), it's likely that children are being abused in your midst. Is abusing a child of your own the same as kidnapping a complete stranger and holding that child captive over months or years? Somehow we may not categorize it in the same way, but to the children experiencing the horror of abuse at the hands of any adult, it is exactly the same.
Ariel Castro, Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, Michael Devlin, these are a few of the notorious kidnappers of the past decade, and we've all watched their stories unfold in the media. How many more of them are out there, yet to be caught? Do you think you would recognize one if you met him? According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are about 185 "stranger" kidnappings of children each year. That means a person like this is snatching a child every other day in this country. Obviously, the majority of these stories make local headlines, but most must not become national news or we'd all be marching on Washington to get something done.
What about the bigger danger? What about the predator who isn't a stranger? There are 7.4 million children (based on 2012 census figures at 10%) in the U.S. today who will be victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18, and more than 90% of them will know their abuser.
The most recent national news example of this was Jerry Sandusky, and predators like him present the real danger to our children. More than 90% of the time, predators know their victims. Jerry Sandusky is the "poster child of predators." If you read his story and learn how he targeted his victims, you'll see a textbook predator in action. Upstanding, well-respected citizen, productive member of society, married with children of his own, seeks ways to be around children in a volunteer or professional capacity, targets children based on certain characteristics (broken home, need for male mentor, single mom who is over-worked and spread too thin, loners, compliant), builds a relationship with the parents, grooms the child and the family over a long period of time, uses threats and intimidation to silence his victims, and falls back on his reputation when he is accused of wrongdoing. It's CLASSIC, and it's amazing that this approach works so well considering the fact that predators use it almost 100% of the time when they are targeting victims who they know.
Why do we make it so easy, and what can we do to keep our children from being targets? The first, and most important thing all parents can do is start the conversation. Begin when your children are able to talk and learning body parts. Teach your children the correct anatomical terms for all of their body parts and teach your children which body parts are private (no one else can see or touch). Give your children control of their bodies by allowing them to determine who is allowed to kiss/hug/tickle them. Give them permission to say no to physical interaction and let them set their own personal boundaries. As they get older, teach them about predators the same way you teach any other safety topic. Tell them what they need to know and then repeat, repeat, repeat (how many times do you remind your child to look both ways when crossing the street?). Make personal safety a constant topic of conversation so that it becomes habit. Finally, if you are puzzled about the best way to start the conversation, or want your children to have more information and tools, sign up to take a Revved Up Kids class or workshop when your child is elementary school age.