If you think you’re keeping your kids safe from child sexual predators by telling them to “stay away from strangers”‚ you’re WRONG! Don’t let your kids become victims. Read this article now‚
The information that Crime Prevention Program Specialist Teri Poppino shares about child molestation is, to many, startling
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Several months ago, we sat in at a special meeting at which Crime Prevention Program Specialist Teri Poppino talked to group of neighbors in northeast Portland about child sexual predators.
“For years, it has been ‘common knowledge’ that typical child molesters are creepy, smelly strangers, who entice kids into their clutches, entreating them with nickel candy,” Poppino began. “But the fact is: A child molester looks like me; or you, or you,” she says as she points to herself and others in the room.
The room fell eerily silent. One mother’s face turned ghostly pale. A father looked stunned as he sat motionless, his mouth agape.
“The truth is that child molesters‚ child sexual predators‚ know the child, perhaps better than do their parents,” the former police officer continued. “Molesters know what clothing, foods, TV shows, video games, and school classes the child enjoys and dislikes‚ more than their mother or father do.”
During her presentations about defending your kids against child sexual predators, Poppino talked frankly. Occasionally, she said, parents will leave‚ they find the information she presents too disturbing to contemplate.
Again, at the East Precinct Commander’s Forum on May 1, Poppino is sharing her message with East Portland neighbors.
Most kids grow out of the “playing doctor” phase of adolescence, Teri Poppino says‚ but sexual predators never do.
Shattering molester misconceptions
It isn’t a life event that turns a “normal” person into a child molester. “Most little kids have ‘played doctor’ when they were young. But soon, the novelty wears off and the typical child loses interest. But, most molesters never grow out of it, and keep playing the ‘game’ with friends, then with other, younger people as they get older,” she tells the group.
Simply teaching kids that all “strangers” are bad, and people whom they know are “good”, is dangerously unsafe, Poppino instructs. “The fact is, a molester can be young or old, male or female, or of any race or religious belief. They are likely to be stable, employed, and respected in the community. They may be looked up to as a community leader. Moreover, they are ‘trusted’ and thus, have easy access to the ‘objects of their affliction’, your children.”
Scary facts better than misinformation
Poppino doesn’t tell groups this kind of information just to scare them, she says‚ but instead, to help them understand that child molesters play a “confidence game”, and learn to play it well. “Molesters don’t want to get caught. They learn to be very good at not getting caught; and they’re helped by ‘stay-away-from-strangers’-types of misinformation.”
Poppino explains why molesting parents are difficult to catch.
Molesting parents are especially difficult to catch and prosecute, she goes on. They look “normal” to other people. They “accidentally” expose themselves to their children while changing clothes or using the bathroom. They may touch their children sexually while tucking them in bed at night.
Then, they tell their children, that “this is what all loving fathers do with their children”, so they don’t tell others. Parental molesters may be so good at manipulating children that the kids never tell, because they love the parent.
“The very best prevention we have is open communication with our kids,” says Poppino, herself a mother. “Instead of warning them to ‘stay away from strangers’ or scaring them with sex talks when they are too young to understand‚ simply let them know,over and over again, to come confide in you if anyone talks to them, or touches them, in any way that feels odd, yucky, or strange.”
It is easy to “trick” a child into keeping a secret, She adds. “Our children need to know that anytime someone touches them, and then swears them to secrecy; this is not right. Even if the situation seemed fun, this is a secret they must not keep. Get to know any older kids or families who want to spend more time with your children.”
Poppino urges parents to think about people they know who may take a “special interest” in their children. “They may be good, pure souls; and they may not.”
The key isn’t making kids feel uncomfortable around nice people, but making them aware of specific behaviors. “The key is to teach them to watch for inappropriate behaviors and actions.” Constantly remind your kids, she continues, that “secret touching” is never the child’s fault; and they aren’t “bad” if they get tricked into it.
Poppino says to pay attention to individuals who pay a “special interest” in your child and trust your intuition about people in your life.
Many adult molesters target single moms, she explains. “Why? Once they earn the trust of the mother, they have access to their kids. I tell all single moms to never share their personal history, especially if it includes molestation or victimization, with any people they date.”
Finally, Poppino urged parents to “Trust your intuition. If you feel something is not right in your child’s relationship, act on it immediately.”
Up to you
“As you walk away from this training, you will hopefully have an increased sense of awareness. This isn’t information to scare you, but to strengthen you,” Poppino concludes. “If you are like me, you may become hyper-vigilant. This is OK; I assure you, over time, your feelings will normalize.”
What we can’t bring you in this article is the video tapes Poppino uses during her special presentations on this topic. Attendees see, and hear, child predators tell how they approached children and used them. These videos are both chilling — and informative.
To see the complete program on child molestation presented for your group, contact your neighborhood’s Crime Prevention Program Specialist. Also, contact the Portland based, nationally-recognized, Center for Behavioral Intervention at (503) 644-2772.
¬© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service.