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A Lot Can Happen to Children 'Out There' If Parents Aren't Careful

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2003 – They come from all ethnic backgrounds. About 95 percent are males, 70 percent are white, and they're only about 15 years old when they start molesting children. Startlingly, molesters and victims are related in a third of the known cases.

Tom Smith, commander of Detachment 344, Air Force Office of Special Investigation, spent a year working with the FBI profiling child molesters. He knows how to identify these predators and the tricks they use to get to your children.

During a recent hour-long briefing at the Pentagon, Smith presented those cruel statistics and explained the mindset of the pedophile, hoping it would help parents keep their children safe from molesters and abductors. He also discussed how to choose a babysitter and how to protect children while they surf the Internet.

Smith said there are different types of molesters, the situational and the preferential.

The situational molester is not the stereotypical pedophile -- the "guy in the trench coat," Smith said. "This guy actually doesn't prefer sex with little children," he continued. "He may molest a child because he's under an unusual amount of stress, or maybe because of boredom or curiosity."

The more serious predators are the preferential variety. Smith characterized them as molesters who lack interpersonal skills, and who will attack strangers and very young children, even infants. Also, the preferential molester is more likely to lure children away or abduct them by force, he said. These criminals aim to inflict pain on their victims and sometimes will kill them.

One method this type of molester uses to get close to the victims is to shower the child and family with gifts. Another is to offer reasons to be with or near the child. This kind of molester, Smith said, often spends weeks, months -- even years -- before an act of inappropriate fondling may occur.

"They will start to work on your child psychologically to learn what makes them happy, what makes them tick," he said. "They will offer to help to take care of your kids, to baby-sit. They will make excuses to be with the family; they will work you to the point that you would never believe it is them.

"And they will wait for just the right moment to trade sex with your child for some type of attention -- whatever will make your child happy."

To help protect your child from these predators, Smith asked parents to educate their children about pedophiles' tricks:

  • Be suspicious of anyone who is more interested in your child than you, or who seeks opportunities to be alone with your child.

  • Be wary of anyone who touches your children inappropriately or discusses sexual information with them.

  • Explain roles and boundaries to your children. "Music teachers teach music, not sex education," Smith said.

An average of 3,900 children are abducted in the United States each year, Smith said, but only about 300 are abducted by strangers. The motives for child abduction vary from a custody battle to ransom to sex. He said statistics show that most abductions occur in middle-class neighborhoods and less than one- quarter of a mile from home.

And, he added, despite what is reported on the news, "The reality is that while it is a heinous crime, or that the child was sexually abused, the vast majority of children abducted will make it home alive."

When choosing a baby-sitter, Smith said, the best sources for leads are family, friends and neighbors. Advertising at your church and local high schools also works. Other tips included:

  • Be wary of some advertisements for sitting services. Some agencies may not be bonded or they may not screen employees properly.

  • Being bonded doesn't mean an agency will protect against anything that happens to your child, Smith said. "If they do screen their employees, how thoroughly? Are they doing criminal background checks, for instance, or drug screenings? These are the things you might want to ask."

  • Simple rules for hiring a baby sitter: Check references, interview extensively, have your child present during the interview, and observe interactions between child and sitter.

  • Merely "hearing" that a baby sitter is good isn't enough. Interview the sitter and ask for references -- and then do check them out.

  • Have your child present at the interview. Not all children and sitters are suited to each other.

  • Set ground rules for the sitter, such as: lock the doors, no guests, no leaving, and check on the children regularly. Unless you tell them otherwise, Smith said, expect baby sitters will do what they want to do.

  • Upon returning home, talk with the baby sitter and find out what happened while you were away.

  • Ask your children later if anything happened that was unusual or made them feel uncomfortable. Were there any telephone calls or visitors?

  • Ensure the sitter has the name, address and phone number where you will be. Have emergency numbers of the police and fire department, your children's doctor and the local poison control center.

Smith said the Internet poses an array of risks for children due to the wide range of inappropriate material online. He noted many Web sites contain material that is sexual in nature -- and hateful, harassing and violent as well.

"You won't believe the stuff that people will say to your children on the Internet," he said. "If your children go into chat areas, there's a very high possibility of their seeing this type of material."

Smith said pedophiles use Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms to get to know children and to gain their confidence and trust.

"If your children ever feel threatened, or pressured, or made to feel uncomfortable, be sure they know to tell a parent or to contact the online service," Smith said.

Rules for online safety:

  • Never allow your child to give out your home address, home or work telephone numbers, or the name and location of their school.

  • Children should never agree to send or e-mail their photograph to someone they do not know. "The next thing you know is, you see your child's face on someone else's naked body. This can happen," Smith warned.

  • Don't allow your children to meet with anyone they met online unless it is in a public place and a parent or guardian is present.

  • Set rules for your children's Internet use: Time of day and length of time to be online. Appropriate sites to visit.

  • The Internet can be a way of obtaining credit card and other financial information about you, so don't allow children to shop online unsupervised.
Smith told the audience he wasn't trying to scare parents, but warn them that a lot can happen "out there" if they're not careful.

"Most people after hearing this briefing just want to go home and hug their child. That's what I did," he said.

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