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City Council Voted to Approve Sex Offender Ban, a Feel Good Measure

The City Ordinance to ban certain sex offenders from public places is unlikely to prevent child sexual abuse in Attleboro. What then should be done to protect children?

The Ordinance that bans level 2 and 3 sex offenders from certain public places is passed City Council last night by a vote of 11 to 0. 

The City proposed and passed what are called "child safety zones" which, in my opinion, is more of a slogan or a feel good measure than an evidence-based approach to deal with the issue of sex abuse in children. Despite their truly good intentions, the City Council did not consult sex offender prevention experts, the Massachusetts Sex Offender Reigstry Board, the state prison the Massachusetts Treatment Center [for Sex Offenders] or research this matter; they relied on intuition and anecdote.

The City Council  is right in recognizing that sex offenses on children are a very serious concern, but it is a concern that deserves equally serious and professional consultation.

At a , and in an opinion column on September 19, I explained some of the many reasons of why this ordinance won’t be as effective as hoped, so I need not reiterate that here.

City Council and proponents of the Ordinance rightly recognize that this Ordinance is only one small factor to provide safety, so what else should we do?

Parents can do more to protect their children from sex offenders than can any city ordinance. Effective strategies are not based on anecdote, emotion, or case examples of just one, they are based on facts and what we know about the issue.

  1. Since experts estimate that only 1 in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported, the implication is that there are a sizable amount of sex offenses and therefore sex offenders out there who are going unpunished. With this in mind it is very important:that a child knows what constitutes inappropriate contact (something called “good touch, bad touch” training); to say no when boundaries are crossed; and to report inappropriate contact to a parent and other trusted persons. Also, sex offenders try to find children in the Internet; kids need to be made aware of risks and parents need to monitor activity.
  2. Most sex offenders target teens, not children. With this in mind, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has several resources to reduce this risk, as does the Crimes Against Children Research Center. But most is not all so we cannot stop there. 
  3. A total of 60 to 70 percent of sex offenses on children are done by acquaintances of the child. With this in mind, an effective strategy would begin by addressing this huge proportion of victims. It should also be made clear to the child that inappropriate contact can come from strangers and someone known and trusted by the child. It is extremely important to let the child know that anything that happens to them is not their fault; that they have done nothing wrong; and they are not going to get in trouble for reporting any and all inappropriate contact.
  4. Since 30 to 40 percent of victims are not an acquaintance of the offender, another extremely important thing that can be done is for parents to educate their children about the risks associated with strangers and how to be smart while alone. But more importantly, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploietd Chlidren, there are several things that parents can and should do to keep their children safe.
  5. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Parents and caregivers need to be taught what symptoms to look for that indicate abuse. Education on points parents need to address with their children about sex offending is something that some third party (or the City) should offer. I am sure we can find qualified professionals who can offer workshops or draft brochures pro bono.

By educating parents and children about this issue, we will stand to ferret out some of the unknown sex offenders and bring them to justice. And finally, using evidence-based crime prevention strategies, we are likely offer the highest level of safety to our City’s citizens both big and small.

This is not a comprehensive list of what to do. My point here is to raise awareness of other more effective options we should use to increase public safety. 

 


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Gretchen Robinson October 20, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Thanks Paul. You do your usual clear-headed overview here. Well done. Sexual abuse is common and better we start facing up to that and figuring out better ways to protect our children/grandchildren. Not long ago protection consisted of "Stranger Danger' but now we know that most perpetrators are known to the children, uncles, older siblings, even parents. etc. Read "Half the House" by Richard Hoffman. He was abused by a coach and only after writing his book was the perpetrator caught. The man had been abusing boys for decades. Estimates range up to each serial predator abusing 200-300 children! That's a lot of traumatized kids growing up, often with PTSD and/or blaming themselves. It's a hard topic to look at and study, but as the adults in the culture now, it's our responsibility to overcome our repugnance and take the blinders off our eyes and start doing a better job of protecting our children. We should have Zero Tolerance for sexual abuse and harassment.
Gretchen Robinson October 20, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Thanks, Paul. You are right: Stranger Danger doesn't work; it misleads people into thinking they're 'doing something.' This is going to take a concerted effort by the whole community. Did you go to the sexual abuse program at the YMCA in North Attleboro. (I couldn't make it--but this is one of my core issues). I was so glad the YMCA broke the ice. I hope this and your column here will start the community talking about doing a far better job of protecting our children. I always wanted to bring Richard Hoffman in to speak at someplace like the Attleboro Library, then ask the Sun Chronicle to have a newspaper reporter Chronicle there and AACS tape it. But I haven't had the time/energy to do it. Then there'd be a speaker's fee. But keep that in mind...maybe. Also I am in touch with a group of former Jehovah's Witness members/adult children. There's an international sexual abuse scandal building in that church now that hasn't hit the American press yet but there's major lawsuits and scandals in places like Brazil and Australia.
Gretchen Robinson October 20, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Readers who want more info. on clergy sexual abuse may want to be reading Religion Dispatches: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
Paul Heroux October 21, 2011 at 01:03 AM
I recently learned that "Stranger Danger" is an ineffective program, something I once suggested be done. See: http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/NewsEventServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=2034 I don't care what approach/program/intervention we use, provided 1) it works and we can prove it, and 2) it is American, meaning doesn't violate due process or civil rights.
Matt October 24, 2011 at 06:58 PM
I think education and talking to your kids about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate is the most important thing. This is a scary world and you need to arm your kids with the knowledge to be able to protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations whenever possible.
Sandi Carter Brown August 19, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Paul is absolutely right on this matter. I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse and every one of my perpetrators were known to me. Parents must take the lead role in educating their children about the potential of abuse. It's amazing, if you ask a young child what a stranger is the response usually goes something like this 'a man with a beard in a dark coat and hat.' Defining what the word stranger means is the very beginning and much more effective at keeping our children safe from predators than restricting predators from certain places. It's all about empowering your children. If as a child I knew I could have said NO, my life would have been so different. Member of RAINN Speakers Bureau.
Gretchen Robinson August 26, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Sandi, I applaud your very important work. I'm so glad you were able to take a horrible experience and reach out and help others heal. I think there is a true nobility in that.

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