Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Child sexual predators 'sick'?

Below is part of a Facebook conversation between Richard Dimitri (founder of Senshido), Ryan Sainsbury (senior Protect student), Craig Walsh (briefly - Senshido affiliate UK) and myself. I thought I would copy it here as I think it raises some interesting points of view around child sexual predators...

Richard Dimitri - Senshido International: "Despite Facebook's attempts to safeguard its users from sexual predators, tens of thousands of registered sex offenders have been able to slip through the cracks in security. Those with CHILDREN please, make certain you set your privacy settings accodingly especially when it comes to your children's profiles and pictures shared."

Craig Welsh
"dirty bastards.."

Richard Dimitri
"Most yes, some are actually sick, realize, feel horrible for what they do, how they feel and even ask to be medically impaired from it or incarcerated. Nothing is ever cut and dry or black and white brother... the human being is much to complex a creature to be categorized under any label our intellectual mind can come with."

Phil Thompson
"Sorry Bro, I'm with Craig. Regardless of the human condition, to label all child sex offenders as 'sick' is a way that people can pigeon-hole the issue and use that as an excuse for the truth, and that is what most people do (not what you were doing I know, you said 'some'). And the truth is that they are cruel and in many instances, evil. 'Sometimes' they are 'sick', that is, they have a mental illness. 'Some' do ask for help, and good for them. Most are not sick and most do not ask for help. And the majority of the time, outside of their sexual practices they appear as normal as everyone else. 'Some' of them have a sexual attraction to kids, the vast majority are attracted to the power, manipulation, dominance and control that they can act out on the 'easiest' of targets, young kids.
It is wrong in every context, damaging in ways most people cannot even begin to comprehend, and absolutely needs to be called what it is: Cruel, horrific, and evil. Stage 1 of any problem we need to fix: Accept it and label it correctly...
My two Kiwi cents... Love ya fella"

Richard Dimitri
"I fully agree bro... no argument there at all, most are indeed sociopathic, however, there are some that are clinically and medically 'sick' and realize it and also abhor what they are... and even though they appear to normally function in everyday society doesn't take away the fact that a small percentage do actually have a mental condition, much like some drug addicts that manage to hide their addictions for years to both their friends and families as well as social networks. I'm not saying the law should ease up, I'm just saying that on a humane level, to simply throw a blanket statement isn't fair to the minority and is to a certain degree, a judgement... that's all :`)"

Phil Thompson
"Yeah, I understand bro. I have such conflicting emotions around this. On one hand I know that when we judge someone we don't define them, we just define ourselves as someone who needs to judge. I get that and I work hard on it every day, you constantly inspire me towards that. On the other hand where is the line drawn? I think our judgements are necessary to form our opinions, which are often ego fuelled I know, but sometimes necessary. I mean without them we would condone every act of violence and cruelty in the world and simply accept it as 'it is what it is'. I think my personal direction on this is that I will aim not to judge anyone as best I can for the way they act, how they live their lives, who they are etc until such time as their behaviour adversely affect other people or brings harm to any other person or creature. That is the point where I am happy to make judgements and form strong opinions on someone and take the appropriate action. Otherwise I think tolerance becomes weakness and even denial, which does not serve humanity or the world at all. In the case of child sex offenders, yes I appreciate that some of them are mentally sick. But most are not. It is just an easy lable that most bestow upon predators because it makes it easier to understand and accept. And to look at the issue with empathy or sympathy because the offender 'might' be sick is not giving it the weight it deserves. Personally I will choose to look upon every child sex offender as being cruel and evil. If through the process of law and order (for the countries which actually have it) it is determined that the person is 'mentally sick' then my opinion on the person may change, but my opinion on the crime never will...I think before society starts to worry about whether a child predator has a mental illness before they draw an opinion, society needs to wake up to the fact that we have an enormous problem, accept that these things are happening out there to our kids, silence the voice of denial that goes on for so many, and bring this issue into the mainstream so it can be reduced. Once that is done, then we can start categorising the predators and ensuring their treatment or punishment fits their own circumstances. Right now, we are a long way off..."

Ryan Sainsbury

"Y'all seem to be looking at this somewhat differently from myself, so I'm going to pitch in here.

Personally, I don't care if or why a person is attracted to children. Are they sick in the head? Fine. Do they have an innate sexual preference for children? Okay. Do they have a cruel attraction to power and dominance, and prefer the thought of enacting that upon children? I, for one, would submit that this is merely another form of sickness.

Point is, what leads them to the point of wanting to do these things to children is utterly disinteresting to me. If one of them wants help, for any of these situations, I'm all for giving it to them. If they decide to spend their lives bottling their desires up in a vortex of self-loathing and despair, then that's cool too.

Myself, I see the important distinction as being between 'person who wants to have sex with children' and someone who acts upon those desires. As far as I'm concerned, your ultimate fantasy can revolve around an orgy in the goddamn maternity ward, but the moment you actually touch a child for gratification, that is the point in time that I break out a big heaping bowl of judgment and start ladling it out.

Rich, you made the distinction between people who are clinically 'sick', and those who are sociopathic. I suggest that these are two sides of the same coin. And in the end, it makes very little difference, because both are capable of controlling their actions - the difference from one to another rests not in discerning in which particular way they specifically are fucked in the head, but whether they decided to resist the urge or not.

The sole exception to this is people who are clinically psychotic, and this is so insanely rare (there are very few true psychotics, and most of their blackouts end with people injured and dead, not molested) and difficult to prove that it's hardly worth mentioning. Did a quick search, and could not find a single case where this defence was even argued.

I'm not sure why we're placing such a large emphasis on why they're attracted to children. It seems entirely academic, because in the end the practical result is the same. Ultimately, anyone who wants to have sex with children wants to have sex with children, and the question seems not to be "why do you want to" so much as "did you resist the temptation to do so?"

In the end, that's the only question the child's really going to care about."

Phil Thompson
"Ryan, good points fella. I have the same thoughts on some of what you say and different thoughts on other points you have made. Particularly your point about fantasies.

Fantasies are thoughts and thoughts equal outcomes. The missing piece in the middle is... Action. If a person with child sex fantasies goes their whole life without ever doing anything about them then I agree with you. People will have their own judgements about this but at the end of the day nobody is hurt. But as soon as that person starts to take ACTION against any of their fantasies then there is an escalating problem.

Rich’s original post referred to child predators (in fact registered sex offenders) using Facebook as a means to exploit kids. That is a serious issue. It means that they have taken action against those fantasies. They are no longer harmless. In the same way that child pornography is not harmless. An argument I have heard there is that as long as the person ‘just looks but never touches’ it is harmless. That is not so. For every photo or video of child pornography there is a victim. The innocent child on the tape or in the photo is a traumatised victim and the person viewing it for their own pleasure or to satisfy their fantasy IS guilty of the crime. They have acted upon their fantasy.

That same person who views child pornography, or hunts through Facebook looking for children, left alone with a child and to their own devices would likely abuse that child in some way. Not necessarily in all cases I know, but the probability is high. Therefore the only difference between the fantasy – once any form of action has been taken against it - and the reality is opportunity.

Therefore our responsibility is to work towards removing the opportunity for sexual predators and increasing online security in just one avenue to do that. If all we worry about is “Did you resist the urge or not” and forget the “Why and how do you carry out crimes against kids” then we will always be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. The biggest part of our job in this area is prevention. And knowing the ‘enemy’ is important so that we can implement preventative strategies to keep kids safe.

You stated: “Do they have a cruel attraction to power and dominance, and prefer the thought of enacting that upon children? I, for one, would submit that this is merely another form of sickness.” This I do not agree with in this context. My reference to this was in the context of people using ‘he is sick’ as an excuse for his actions. By that logic then every act of murder, cruelty, torture, manipulation, control, emotional or physical aggression is a form of ‘sickness’ and there are no evil people in the world. I don’t believe this is the case. There are some truly evil people out there. There are a hell of a lot more loving, caring, great people, but there are the bad ones too. And my point here is to call it what it is. An act of sexual violence against a child is evil. Regardless of where it came from, the act itself is evil. Now as Rich points out, there are ‘some’ cases where the person has a genuine mental illness and I accept that but once the crime has definitely been committed against the child this is a case where I think ‘guilty until proven innocent’ is relevant when it comes to proving mental illness as an excuse.

Loving the conversation and debate here, awesome."

Ryan Sainsbury

"Hey Phil, you've made some pretty good observations mate.

To be honest, when I wrote that, I'd more or less forgotten about Rich's opening post, and had started focusing on the whole judgment/difference between a 'paedophile' and a 'child molestor' part. In relation to his initial point, could not agree more with him (except perhaps the part about "Facebook's attempts to safeguard its users" - I like Facebook, but their safeguards are pretty pathetic and they really don't have any serious interest in maintaining privacy). Any movement to make children safer from online predators is something I can get behind - have gotten behind - and I've got no argument with you there.

I should have clarified that I do include viewing child pornography in the category of 'acting on those desires', on account of the fact that that pornography has to come from somewhere, and in acquiring it they support and encourage the creation of it.

As for the part about sickness, I think we're both using the same term to mean two different things. I gather that when you say it, you mean 'sick' in the sense of something which renders a person irresponsible for their actions, on account of the concept that they 'can't be held responsible' - as a result of some form of mental health issue wherein they genuinely don't realize that what they're doing is wrong, or literally lack the capacity to stop themselves. Of course, someone who just enjoys inflicting pain does not fall into this category.

When I use the term 'sick', I'm referring more generally to 'someone who has desires that just aren't right'. Be this a desire to have sex with children, or a desire to cause suffering, or a desire to feel power over other human beings - I see them all very much as sides of the same coin. The main difference between our use of the terms seems to be that your usage of 'sick' refers to people whose actions are (for lack of a better term - this doesn't really convey what I'm trying to say, but it's the best I can think of) excused by their affliction. My use is more in line with merely explaining how someone came to have those desires, and isn't in any way mitigating their responsibility. When I say 'sick', I'm only referring to sick desires - not a literal inability to control them. That's something quite else.

To summarize that ridiculously long-winded definition of mine - when I say 'sick', I'm talking about anybody who wants to do terrible things, not somebody who *literally* cannot stop themselves, or lacks comprehension of what they're doing. So, in the context in which you were using the term, I agree wholeheartedly.

"An act of sexual violence against a child is evil."

I think this is the ultimate crux of the discussion, and I don't think anybody's arguing with you. There exist cases where mental illness plays a genuine role, but they are rare and are far more likely to be used as an excuse than they are to be a genuine reality.

...I think I could have summarized my entire statement by saying "ya i agree lol"."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The future wants to be bright...

Today I spent 3 hours working with an amazing group of young women (and one young man) at an Auckland Senior High School.

The event was sponsored by our (Protect’s) Community Support Program and was arranged and co-ordinated by three year 12 students as part of an assessed project.

It always amazes me when I have the chance to work with people at this age just how keen they are for the information that we provide. The group I had the privilege to work with today were positive, open and receptive, asked relevant, well structured, and direct questions and clearly wanted to help themselves and others with the information from the course.

So often I hear people talking about how the world is such a violent place and only getting worse and how – basically - we are all damned to a future of fear and violence. But I don’t see it that way at all - it is the mission of our organisation to help ensure that is not the case – but where I have hope is in the younger generation that is coming through right now. People like those I worked with today. These are genuinely good and caring people, who are really passionate about making a difference and they are armed with knowledge and technology advances that older generations never were, these people really will make a positive difference in the future, I truly believe that.

Our responsibility (the generations currently running the place) though is to make sure they get that chance. It is to protect them by giving them the relevant life skills – self defence and empowerment skills in our case – to ensure they get through their youth empowered, confident and free from unnecessary worry and fear which they are constantly bombarded with. We need to do everything we can to get them through un-scathed so that they will be in a position to make the required changes.

From what I see at every school and learning institution that I work with is that these young people do want to “be the change that they want to see in the world”. The most common response I get after a course (today included) is students asking how they can help by spreading the information. They want to help. They want to make the world better. Our job is to make sure they have that chance. It is to protect them from the damaging effects caused by bullying, intimidation, sexual assault, general violence and self destructive behaviour often borne from damage to their self-esteem and confidence from experiencing these things. If we can do that, the future is looking a lot brighter.

The alternative is to buy into the myth of powerlessness. To keep avoiding the problem, passing it over and not standing up and taking responsibility and accepting that we CAN change things right now. We have the information. We have the resources to do this. All that is needed is the will and the understanding of the true benefits of this information.

Apathy and denial are the enemy of improvement and positive evolution of thought and results, yet they are prevalent attitudes around this subject. We as a society have a problem called violence. It takes on many forms. And it will never fully go away. But we have the information right now that we can deliver to our kids and young adults which can help them tremendously – skills to protect themselves physically where needed, to diffuse and de-escalate violent situations, resolve conflict at its earliest point, increase confidence, build empowerment, deal with their strong emotions and ego related behaviours - and it is mostly being kept out of their hands. This needs to change. These people should not only have access to this information when a few pro-active and responsible students or teachers organise a class, it should be available to them all.

Now before I receive emails telling me that I have a utopian view on this and that I should visit a school in “my hard area” and see what "they are like there", I have worked with schools in every type of area, of every decile rating including schools for the behaviourally challenged. I know there are some bad apples out there. Of course there are. The vast majority of our young people are really, really good people. The few who are not can be very, very bad. I have met many of these people and there is no point glossing over it or tiptoeing around it, some of them are real bad news. But they are the vast minority, not the majority as we are often led to believe. Part of what we do is give young people – the ‘good ones’ who want to be helped – the skills to keep themselves empowered and safe from harm. There will always be violence is our society. There always has been and there always will be, it is inherent in our species, but it is important to keep it in perspective, it is still the minority and we have to keep focusing on reducing it wherever possible and giving our next generations the skills to deal with it so they can move ahead in life.

As I mentioned to the team I worked with today, I truly believe that if our education was compulsory in every high school and college in the country violence in future generations would be massively reduced and some forms of it almost eliminated. This needs to happen and it is something that we will continue to work towards.

I am grateful to the students I worked with today. Every time I teach I learn something and meeting these people today strengthened my belief that our society’s future is going to be in good shape. We just need to help get them there...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Part 2: Assault on 4 year old boy for wearing 'gang colours'!

Well, my last post has resulted in a few interesting emails and I really wanted to touch on one more point that one of our senior students, Brendan, bought up.

Several people’s responses have questioned the actions of the boy’s father. What did he do about the situation? Why didn’t he “beat the s**t out of him” was one comment.

There are so many angles to this that this would be a never-ending blog topic if I even tried to go into them all. As we have always said, and the principle that our entire training structure is built upon, is there is no ‘black-and-white’ answer to violence or to self defence. None of us could ever say what we ‘would have done’ - and therefore what anyone else ‘should have done’ – in any situation unless we were actually there.

Perhaps the whole event was over before the boy’s father was even aware of it, and when he was made aware of it maybe his focus was on taking care of his child rather than taking the law into his own hands.

Maybe he was considering the future safety of his son, himself and his family. It’s so easy for armchair critics to say that he should have ‘bashed the guy’, but what about the fact that this is a gang member, in a gang run area, where the father has to live with his family. Do these people really believe that there would be no retaliation against him and potentially his family if he had decided to respond physically? Get into the real world people. I have no idea what the boy’s father’s options were as I only know what has been reported, but if he did have the option to confront the offender - after the event was already over and his boy was now safe and in need of support – and chose not to and to instead take care of his boy then I have absolute respect for his decision. That to me is perfect ‘self defence’.

This is not the Wild West, it is not about ‘defending your honour’ or appearing ‘yellow’, it is about making rational decisions which will ensure your safety and well being. Based on my understanding of the event, that is what the boy’s father did and it is not always easy to do in high pressure situations.

A common opinion seems to be that the boy’s dad should have physically assaulted the offender. Did he deserve it? You know the answer to that. But would it have been right to do it at this point? Would it have been right to lower himself to the same level as the criminal? What would that have solved? Would it really have ‘taught him a lesson’? Of course not. These guys live their lives around violence, if you think that would have deterred him from committing other acts of violence in the future you are very mistaken, if anything it would only strengthen the violent tendencies.

Let’s look at a few potential outcomes if he had decided to confront the offender. Let’s keep in mind that the event was already over and his son was safe at the point when he had to make this decision. It would have been a different story if he was there right in the middle of it and needed to protect his son as he would not have known where the situation could have escalated to, in which case an intervention would have likely been required and justified, but that is not the case here. The event was over, nothing could change the fact that it had happened and now a decision needed to be made as to what action to take and he chose to take care of his frightened son.

What if, instead of receiving the urgently needed support and caring of his dad while he was frightened and upset, the 4 year old boy (an age where children are HIGHLY influenced by violent imagery and events) was left alone while his dad confronted his attacker. The little boy is now even more afraid, afraid that he is alone, afraid for his dad, afraid of what is unfolding right before his eyes, and every second that goes by is affecting him more and more.

And then we look at two of the possible outcomes of the situation; The first is that the dad – who some people seem to assume should be a mix of the talents of David Tua, Bruce Lee, and John Rambo rather than a normal everyday dad who probably would rather not confront a violent gang member at risk of his safety and the safety of his family – is hurt in front of his child. Even if we sideline the impact on Dad himself and just look at the impact on the little boy, after what he has just been through himself he now gets to watch his dad beaten, or stabbed, or having his head stomped on, when the other option was to simply let it go and let the law deal with it.

The second option is that dad did ‘give the guy the bash’. All other factors aside such as the legal repercussions, retaliation against him and his family, emotional and/or physical trauma, let’s just look at what dad has just taught his little boy. Violent visual imagery influences and affects all children and the younger they are the more susceptible they are to it. Witnessing an actual event is many times greater than witnessing it on TV or other media, but witnessing it done by your role model and a person who is responsible for moulding your values and beliefs is going to be disastrous and maybe even irreversible. Dad would have just shown his son that violence is ok. That letting raw emotion guide your decisions - consequences be damned - is the way to go.

And the consequences of that little boy growing up with those beliefs? Well, you already know what they are and where they could lead.

Gaining control of our own natural (and normal) responses to fear and anger, under extreme stress situations is one of the most important aspects to self defence and in my opinion - based on my understanding of how the situation unfolded - the boy’s dad did that and should be praised for his actions not criticised for them.

Assault on 4 year old boy for wearing 'gang colours'!

Yesterday a 4 year old boy was playing in a park in Whakatane when a male approached him while his father’s back was turned, poked him in the chest, yelled at him and threatened him to remove the red shirt he was innocently wearing. The man then forcibly removed the shirt before his father could intervene.
The male was wearing gang colours associated with the Black Power gang, known to run the area.

This act is obviously despicable beyond words and I have decided not to make this blog about the act itself, or the scared and traumatised 4 year old boy or his family, or gang intimidation, or governmental policy regarding these issues, although they would all be valid and multi-dimensional topics.

The response from the Black Power gang today is that they will find the guy and ‘give him a good clouting’ which the public seem to be supporting; violence begetting more violence and the cycle continues. The media are widely reporting this angle (of course) and several people I have spoken to have thought it great that the gang is going to take care of the situation. I mean, give me a break!

Is this the point we have come to? A society where the immediate reaction to this situation is to support and condone a violent backlash from other criminals to solve a crime? Criminals policing criminals - great idea that is - let’s put our faith in the morals and ethics of criminal gang members to sort out these issues. I asked two of the people who supported this action by the gangs why they didn’t support letting the police and justice system sort it out. Both of them just laughed.

But what is the message we are sending behind this? I mean don’t get me wrong here; this cowardly and despicable act makes me sick. I want to see the offender punished for his crime too. But what is the message we send as a society when we support a violent response by criminals as the means to solve a problem like this? That the only way to beat violence is with more violence? That we should put the responsibility for justice into the hands of other criminals? Let’s just throw more fire on the fire and not expect it to get hotter? Look at the bigger message, it is a vicious self perpetuating cycle and if we buy into it we become part of the problem. Interesting too that half of the people who support this violence-to-solve-violence response would be the first to scream the roof down if you were to mention capital punishment for murderers, or castration for rapists (I am not endorsing support for either here BTW). So where does the line get drawn?

It is totally normal to feel anger over this crime. It is normal to feel empathy for the child and his family, and for the community as a whole. It is normal to want to see justice bought to the offender. What matters though is which form of justice we decide to support. If we lower ourselves to their level and adopt a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” (can’t beat violence, so might as well use it) attitude, we are lost, and this guy’s crime will seem like a picnic compared to what our kids will have to face in the future.

One person made the comment to me this morning; “I’m all for zero tolerance policy to violence, I hope the gang find him and knock his teeth out to teach him a lesson”. Do you see what I mean?

Anyway, as always this is just food for thought, if you’re not hungry, don’t eat.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Keeping our kids safe...

Every parent is concerned about the safety of their children. In a society where 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 8 boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 16 it is worth getting some education around how to keep them safe.
Yesterday I had a discussion with a parent who asked me what 'moves' (referring to physical self defence) were the best to teach his two young children. I told him they were the least important aspect of personal safety for kids (albeit still important) and asked him if he was teaching them what to look out for so they could identify and avoid potential predators to start with. His reply was along the lines of "No, I just want to teach them what to do if a stranger grabs them. I tell them to stay away from strangers and all that of course".
This is the all-too-common type of response I hear from parents, and was one of the key reasons we developed our 'Guardian Angel' program, so let me challenge a couple of old beliefs here. Obviously this is a broad subject so I will just discuss a couple of key points here today.

The world is changing so rapidly with new technology, new laws and new societal forces that it is a constant challenge for parents and caregivers to teach their children to stay safe from harm.

Our efforts as a society to prevent crimes against children have not been able to keep up with the increasing levels of risk and vulnerability of our children.
The age old mantra of “Stranger Danger” which has become so ingrained in our psyches as the answer to teaching children to be safe is outdated and no longer relevant on its own. We need to move ahead with the times and adapt to the changing world around us if we are to best protect our kids.

So many crimes against children are preventable. In hindsight, so many parent’s of child victims look back and say “If only she’d known what to look for…”, “If only he hadn’t gone with him…”, “If only she’d talked to us about this, we could have caught it before it got out of hand…” etc, etc…

Prevention is about education. And the education must be specific and relevant to our New Zealand society today.

One of the most important aspects to child safety is open and honest communication between yourself and your child. Children who do not feel that they are listened to or understood at home are far more vulnerable to the exploitation of child predators. Remember, the predator is always looking for perceived ‘easy prey’. Low self confidence, low self esteem, low self beliefs, and a feeling of loneliness and isolation are all perfect tools for the child predator to use to their advantage.
This is also why we are such big advocates of martial arts for children. A good martial art instils confidence and positive self-beliefs in the child, automatically making them a “harder target”.

A home environment which makes your child feel confident and comfortable to discuss any matters, including sensitive ones, without fear of judgment or embarrassment is the first step, and one of the most powerful steps, in keeping your child safe.
The sad reality is children are too often afraid, embarrassed or confused to discuss or report their fears, situations and experiences.

As more and more crimes against children are reported by the media, and talked about in our social circles, we are in danger of building a paranoia around keeping our kids safe. This is not the answer either. There is a huge difference between paranoia and awareness. Living in paranoia is no way to live life, and can make us take things to extremes forcing an already rebellious teenager for example, to do just the opposite of what we want.

Awareness is about discussing openly the safety strategies and rules in a positive and reassuring way, as opposed to instilling fear into your child about all of the nasty things that could happen to them if they don’t follow the safety rules.
Kids need to be empowered with positive messages and safety skills that will build their self esteem and self confidence while helping to keep them safer. Kids don’t need to be told the world is a scary place. They watch the news, hear adults talking, and may even experience violence firsthand so they are well aware of that already. Rather, they need to know that their parent or caregiver is there for them if they are in trouble and have it reinforced that most adults they encounter in their lives are generally good people who would not hurt a child.

Part of the process of ensuring that home is always a ‘safe haven’ for your child in addition to open communication, is to absolutely ensure that if you impose a punishment upon your child for misbehaviour, that punishment should never place your child in danger in any way.
We recently read a case file of a young girl who went out for a night with her friends, and arrived home after her curfew time. As this was not the first time she had done it, her mother decided to teach her a lesson and lock her out of the house. Too afraid of her mother’s wrath to knock on the door, she headed for a friend's house. A man approached her, manipulated her into conversation with him, 'sympathetically' listened to her situation and in doing so gained her trust…
He then abducted her, repeatedly raped, and murdered her.
The actions of her mother, fed up and looking to send a clear message to her daughter by denying her the safety and refuge of her own home, indirectly resulted in her death. A punishment should never place a child in danger.

So what about “Stranger Danger”? We’ve all grown up with it. We’ve all been told to “Stay away from strangers”. And this message/concept may have served us well, but it is now redundant and needs updating urgently.
This is a big call.
The unfortunate reality is most cases of child abduction/exploitation (well over 80%)are committed by someone known to the child, and maybe not known to the parent. The offender does not fit the “Stranger” role so therefore the child’s awareness/guard is down.
Often a child predator will make seemingly innocent contact with the child. They use subtle tactics and manipulation to gain the confidence of their victim, befriend them and lower their guard, again removing the “Stranger” label.
It is important that children and parents understand the types of situations, tactics, and approaches used by these people.

It is far more important to teach children to be aware of certain types of situations than certain types of people. That is the concept at the core of 'Guardian Angel'.

When describing the “Stranger Danger” concept to children, parents often promote visions of “dodgy”, “sleazy”, “dirty” looking men. This typecast labelling is very dangerous. Many times the predator does not fit any of these profiles. They are the everyday “normal” looking person, the neighbour, the teacher, the friend’s parent. Typecasting dangerous people promotes a narrow view and leaves the child open to all of the unexpected possibilities. It is the situation or action that the child should be aware of, regardless of who the person is. Besides, as adults we have the benefit of experience and honed decision making skills that we have acquired over our lifetime to identify dangerous people, and we still often get it wrong. So how do we expect our kids to be able to identify “bad” people when we can’t even do it?

Also keep in mind that if your child needs help, the “never talk to strangers” message in isolation effectively eliminates a key source of help for your child if they are in trouble. They just need to know who to get help from if they need it.
Parents and children need to know what the common approaches of a child predator are. For example, an adult pulling over their car to ask the child for help with directions, lost puppy, etc. Adults should not have to ask kids for help. Kids can ask kids for help. Adults should ask adults for help.

As our children are bought up to be polite, to respect their elders and obey the orders of adults, it is important to let them know that in these situations it is ok to say “no” to an adult. Their personal safety is always more important than being polite.

All common situations, setups, manipulations should be discussed with your child in a positive, clear, calm and reassuring way. This is far more important and effective than teaching them to look out for a particular image or profile of a “Stranger”.
Kids should view safety strategies as positive, and even fun (in a serious way). They don’t need to be frightened into thinking the world is a big scary place full of people who want to hurt them, they get enough of that from the media every day. They need to know that they have you there whenever they need you, and that most adults they encounter are good people, the safety rules are there just in case…

Here are a few things you can do to help prevent possible exploitation or abduction situations:

- Teach your children to recognise potentially dangerous situations and teach them that it is ok to say “no” to an adult.

- There really is more safety in numbers. Teach your child to always go places with a friend if possible. This is a major, key point.

- Teach them to know the difference between “good touches” and “Bad touches”. Any touch in a place where a bathing suit would normally cover is a bad touch, as are any which make them feel frightened, confused, uneasy, uncomfortable or “funny”. They should know it is ok to say no and to tell you immediately if someone does try to touch them in this way.

- Checking first with you before going anywhere, or doing anything new should be promoted as a healthy and positive part of your household routine with your child. This is a major point and can not be emphasized enough. The way you promote this concept to your child to ensure they “buy in” to it is vital, they need to see that it is always in their best interests and they have your full support.

- Know your child’s friends, and their parents, and have up-to-date contact lists for them all. Knowing where your children are and who they are with is important. Through open communication this can be done without seeming “controlling” or “invasive”.

- Be aware of anyone who is giving inappropriate or expensive gifts to your child, or paying them an unusual amount of attention.

- Pay attention to changes in your child’s behaviour and be prepared to sit down and discuss what the issues are with them when they occur. These are often a call for help and should be treated sensitively but seriously.

- Be empathetic and supportive to your child’s worries and fears, listen to them carefully and help guide them to find a solution together.

- Teach your children to trust their intuition and feelings and let them know that if it feels wrong it definitely is and they have the right to say no.

- Be diligent of anyone who is in a position of care for your child. Babysitters, sports coaches, tutors etc. References from people you trust are a great place to start. Be extra diligent if the situation requires that your child be left alone with the individual in privacy.

Obviously I have only covered a few of the key points on child safety in this article. There is a lot more to it, but these points are a good start and something worth thinking about.