Predators target children who lack affection and having five or more caring adults in their lives can help keep children safe, according to Alison Feigh of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC) and the National Child Protection Training Center.
Feigh spoke on child safety and how to keep them safe at the 19th annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast May 17, a fund-raiser for Youth First Community of Promise.
Nearly 300 people came to the event and helped raise more than $26,000 to support the Youth First program.
“There is an odd myth that child sexual abuse is done by strangers, but we know in almost every case it is by someone the child knows,” Feigh said.
Only 7 percent of sexual abusers are people the child has never met. Even in the rarest child abduction cases, only 37 percent are committed by someone the child does not know, she said.
“We no longer teach ‘stranger danger.’ Kids are taught to listen to their ‘oh oh’ feeling,” Feigh said.
If children are spending a lot of time with someone and they have an “oh oh” feeling about person, the kids should tell their parents or person taking care of them, she said.
If a person, no matter their age or relationship, tries to get them to break their personal safety rules, the child should also tell their care giver, Feigh said.
“It’s not how (the child) knows them, it’s how they make (the child) feel,” she said.
“Another big myth is that children are taken using candy and gifts. The reality is children are most often lured using attention and affection.”
“It is the number one lure, even on the Internet.”
During one workshop, Feigh heard of one offender who would pick up his children at school and watch how the other parents were picking up their children to find victims.
When he would see a child whose parent would pick them up with the music blasting and the kid would just jump in the car, the man would tell his children to invite those children over to play.
He was looking for someone who could be lured with attention and affection into doing what he wanted, according to Feigh.
The children with parents that got on their level and asked questions about their children’s day, he left alone, she said.
“This is why it is so important to have examples of healthy attention and affection in our society,” Feigh said.
When asking elementary kids if they have five grown ups to talk to about their problems, the children have no problem naming who they have to talk to, Feigh said.
But junior high students struggle to name five adults, she said.
“It is the easy age to lure with attention and affection,” Feigh said.
“We know the most victimized age group is 12-17,” she said.
It is a hard age. The part of the brain that develops at this age is how to form an argument, not the part that understands the long-range impact of their actions, according to Feigh.
It is the age when the brain starts to contradict their gut instincts, she said.
Caring adults are needed to teach the kids about empathy to understand the person on the other side of the computer line has feelings and the consequences of their actions, such as emailing an explicit photo of themselves to their friends could keep them from getting a job in the future, Feigh said.
It is also important for parents or mentors to check in with the children and see how things are going, she said.
Find out how the child is spending their time and who they are talking with, Feigh said.
If the child is spending a lot of time with an adult the parents do not know, take the opportunity to meet with the adult, she said.
While teaching children about personal safety is important, “we don’t want to put personal safety solely on the shoulders of the children,” Feigh said.
“We want to make sure adults take that responsibility as best as possible. We believe it is a kid’s job to be a kid.”
“If we put the information in the hands of parents and adults, care givers, on how to keep the children safe and how to make safe societies, then we will start making a difference.”
Part of preventing child abduction and sexual abuse is showing children what healthy relationships are because children do not have good examples of real world relationships in the media, like reality television shows, Feigh said.
“The real world examples come from mentors. (Examples) will come people in real world on how to handle conflict and how to treat people with respect,” she said.
The beautiful thing about Youth First is that it connects the adults with the children, Feigh said.
There is a Cherokee story about a good wolf and wolf that fights within every person’s nature, she said.
The one that wins is the one that the person feeds, according to the story.
Creating a space for young people where they feel safe, feel nurtured and have a place to process the things that happen in their life as Youth First does feeds the good wolf, Feigh said.
Four community groups were recognized as Partners of Promise at the annual breakfast by the Youth First Board of Directors.
Dunn Bros Coffee, Home Depot, Anoka Lions Club and Anoka County Sheriff’s Office were thanked for their continuing donations, volunteerism and support of Youth First, said Michelle Anderson, board vice-chairperson.
To see the entire event, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4qNkHcmjU.
For more on Feigh, visit the National Child Protection Training Center website, http://www.ncptc.org.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]