As much as we would like to think that kids can be protected from child sex offenders by simply being taught not to talk to strangers, the reality is that keeping kids safe from people who could hurt them is far more complicated.
Child safety experts such as Gavin de Becker, renowned security consultant and author of Protecting The Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane), and Nancy McBride, National Safety Director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, point out that simply teaching kids about "stranger danger" is not effective against child predators who may be known to the children, or who are skilled at manipulating a child into trusting him.
Here are some common myths about child sex offenders and what parents should really know to protect their children:
Myth #1: The biggest danger is from strangers.
Reality: Although most parents overwhelmingly fear the possibility of their child being abducted by a stranger, the odds that your child will be taken by someone he does not know is actually very small, say experts. According to McBride, in a given year, 58,000 missing children can be classified as non-family abductions (which includes persons who may be known to the family and/or child). Of those, only 115 are stranger abductions. "These crimes involve someone the child does not know, or knows only slightly, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently," says McBride.
The truth is that most sexual abusers are known to the child in some way. It could be a family friend, a neighbor, or even a friendly clerk at a store. In many cases, the perpetrator is related to the child.
Myth #2: Child sexual abuse may be a problem for some, but it’s not that common and it’s highly unlikely to happen to my child.
Reality: The sobering truth is that sexual abuse of children is all too common. Sixty-seven percent of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies were children under the age of 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Thirty four percent of all victims were under age 12. And a staggering 1 out of every 7 victims of reported sexual assaults were under the age of 6.
Myth #3: All child sex offenders are adults.
Reality: As many as 40 percent of the offenders who victimized children under age 6 were under age 18, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Myth #4: Child sex offenders are isolated, anti-social loners.
Reality: The truth is that many child predators are charming, charismatic, and very social. In fact, they may ingratiate themselves into a family in order to get parents to trust them so that they can become closer to the child.
Myth #5: Child predators are discovered and caught quickly.
Reality: The harsh truth is that the average child molesters abuses between 30 and 60 children before he is ever arrested, according to Protecting the Gift.
Myth #6: Sex Offender Registry is 100 percent effective.
Reality: While there is a federal law that requires states to have sex offender registries, each state has its own requirements and guidelines. For instance, some states might not require all sex offenders to register. And many states have no penalties for offenders who are required to register but do not do so (thus making the law ineffectual). There are also approximately 100,000 sex offenders who are non-compliant and either haven’t registered or are not living at the address they registered, says McBride.
Bottom line: While these registries, such as Family Watchdog, can be an useful tool in spotting sex offenders in your neighborhood, they are not 100 percent effective.