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Predators Among Us

At my first zone conference nearly 16 years ago, my mission president calmly took a piece of chalk and walked to the chalkboard. He then proceeded to pound a word into the chalkboard, and I do mean pound. The chalk was breaking, the chalkboard was moving backwards (it was a rolling chalkboard), and you could see the anger in his face.

The word? PREDATOR.

He sat the chalk down and said, You all know who I’m talking about, and you’d all better stay away from her!

Being a new missionary, I didn’t know who he was talking about, but I soon learned. There was a young woman (I believe around 20) who was an excommunicated member of the church, who had made it her mission to entrap missionaries and get them sent home. She was successful on several occasions. She was apparently sneaky (hiding in closets and coming out when the companion was in the shower, etc.) and pretty straightforward about what she was doing, and yet she was able to convince these elders to commit immoral acts with her. She would even call sister missionaries and pretend to be an investigator so that she could get phone numbers and addresses for elders. She was, indeed, a predator.

Several years ago, while serving as a Primary president in Utah, our bishop received a letter that men should not serve alone in Primary, citing the risk of abuse to children. My bishop decided to go even a step further and not allow men to serve in Primary or cub scout callings at all, even with a partner. It was, and is, discouraging to me that we have come to these measures to protect children. Indeed, I don’t believe we are truly protecting many children through measures such as this. Since then, I have seen wards adding peep-holes or windows to classrooms, or requiring doors to be left open during class. While these measures are appreciated, again I don’t believe they are really protecting many children, and here are the reasons why:

  1. Not all predators are men.
  2. Not all predators are adults.
  3. Not all victims are children.
  4. 4. Not all strangers are bad.
  5. Familiarity is not necessarily safety. A predator could be your super-nice next door neighbor. A predator could be your babysitter. It could be a family member. It could be anyone. And more likely than not, they seem like a very nice person.
  6. Abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is very unlikely to happen during class. More likely is that the primary class would be the grooming opportunity for a predator. It is the place to gain a child’s trust and friendship, setting up a situation outside of the church building for the abuse to take place. In the cases that have been reported in the media of abuse taking place in church situations, I can think of only one where it actually happened during class.
  7. Posting sexual offenders names and addresses on websites, conducting background checks to serve in scouting, etc. are helpful, but not foolproof. Every predator has a first time offending or could have been doing it for years without being caught.

So, given those circumstances, how do we protect our children and ourselves?

I think the answer lies within us. Every protection that could be put in place is never a substitute for teaching our children and ourselves to follow the spirit and trust our instincts.

Several years ago, Gavin de Becker published a book called The Gift of Fear. It’s been years since I read it, but it made an impact on me, and I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. A quick search on the internet brought up another book by de Becker called Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)). I intend to check that out or buy it as soon as possible to read it as well.

The point of The Gift of Fear is that nearly every victim you talk to had some sense that something evil was about to occur. Something about the predator didn’t seem right or feel right. We as Latter-Day Saints might call that the Spirit instead of instinct, but whatever we call it, it is important to listen to that instinct to protect ourselves and our children. We are hesitant to do this sometimes because we are afraid we might offend.

Have any of you ever met someone that you just didn’t get a good vibe from? I have, and for no good reason other than the Spirit told me to, I have kept my children as far away from that person as possible. That person may or may not be a threat, but something was telling me to use caution.

I’m no expert, but as a mom, my gut instinct is telling me that the only way to truly protect our children is to prepare them to recognize unsafe situations, to trust their instincts or follow the spirit when it is telling them that something isn’t safe, and to tell a trusted adult if anything ever feels unsafe. Whether that adult is a stranger, a primary teacher, a neighbor, a scout leader, a teacher, a relative, or even a parent tell your children that if something doesn’t feel right to them, they need to remove themselves from the situation immediately.

From the time my children were very small, they have known the proper names for their body parts. They have learned about touch that is appropriate and touch that is not appropriate. I don’t dwell on it or make it a scary thing for them, but they know that they can trust me if they ever find themselves in a situation that they do not feel comfortable with.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any 100% foolproof way to protect ourselves. Sometimes we may become a victim when there is absolutely no fore-warning. But I believe there is much more merit in teaching ourselves and our children to trust the Spirit and our instincts than in banning men from Primary, putting windows in doors, or doing background checks on leaders. The answers are more within us than through external measures.

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Amy E December 11, 2008, 12:03 pm

    Well-stated, Angie. I started “The Gift of Fear,” earlier this year and really liked what I read. Maybe this will motivate me to finish it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just want to point out that the Church has to make these policies to cover themselves legally since people have sued them for individual members’ actions in the past. It’s lame, but it’s reality.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 11, 2008, 12:43 pm

    Angie, thanks for expounding on this. Very good points, I especially like the list.

    In Boca we actually had a teenage boy (not from our ward or area) who sodomized a five-year-old in the church bathroom. It happened during Sacrament Meeting when the boy went out to use the restroom.

    It was made worse when the bishopric decided that we should continue with our usual meetings–saying nothing at all about the situation (I served in YW at the time)–WHILE the back portion of the church was cordoned off with crime scene tape and the police were buzzing in and out. (I would not kid you!) :shocked::surprised:

  • agardner December 11, 2008, 2:29 pm

    Amy, thanks. I need to re-read the book as well, it’s been awhile.

    I agree that the church needs to do all they can to protect children – not just for legal reasons but just because protecting children is the right thing to do, and I don’t oppose their measures at all (other than local authorities who decide not to let men serve in Primary at all…that is just sad sad sad to me – nothing better than a worthy priesthood holder belting out Primary songs). I think peepholes and open doors are a positive step. My point is just that all the measures in the world will not protect children if they willingly go with someone because they are “nice” or they don’t understand appropriate touching, etc. Or if they have a prompting about Joe next door but don’t tell mom or dad because they are afraid they won’t be heard.

  • agardner December 11, 2008, 2:32 pm

    Oh, and Alison – what a horrible story. It is just appalling that something like that could happen at all, let alone at church. I will admit I have allowed my kids to go to the bathroom alone, or with a sister. That’s the scary thing – you can just never protect them from every threat out there. But hopefully we can teach them to notice the cues that something might not be right with a situation and get out quickly if they are feeling that way.

  • Diana December 11, 2008, 3:04 pm

    I don’t usually post anything on here –I’ve always been one to lurk in the shadows more than anything– but I wanted to reemphasize a point Angie made. I have done everything I could think of to protect my children from abuse. Like Angie, from the time that my children were very small they knew the proper names for their body parts and and as they grew older we talked frequently about abuse; we have even discussed different scenarios that might occur along with “escape routes” or action plans should they find themselves in any type of situation where they were feeling “icky.” We talked about ideas ranging from things an abuser might say to either coerce them into something they didn’t want to do, all the way to common scare tactics an abuser might use in order to keep their secret.
    I felt as if protected my children quite well.
    Hearbreakingly, the one thing I did not do is listen to that little voice that told me something was not right.
    This “man” (for lack of a better term) appeared perfect. He married my widowed mother in law and he seemed like an answer to prayer. He was kind… he was gentle… he took such good care of her! They were temple workers, they were planning on serving a mission. Everything seemed ideal. But, there was that nagging feeling in the back of my head that something wasn’t right. I scoured the internet looking to find something, anything, that would justify the sense of unease I felt around him, particularly when it came to my children. There wasn’t anything to be found. (I even searched sex offender registry sites.) I spoke with my husband’s siblings about this inexplicable discomfort I felt around him; my worries weren’t very well received with a few of them because, after all, he was perfect and their mom was finally happy again. I finally concluded, rather begrudgingly, that I was just paranoid. That what I was feeling wasn’t really the spirit after all. I wasn’t completely convinced that all was well so I spoke with my mother in law in a rather delicate conversation (I wish I could go back and be more forceful and forthright about my concerns) and asked her to not let him be around my children for any length of time alone when the children came to visit them, and I dismissed that little voice of warning. ๐Ÿ™
    Six months later he was caught taking pictures of my mother in law’s grand-daughters w/o their clothing. As the investigation continued, uglier and uglier things came to light, things that are still beyond my comprehension. This “man” had left many, many abused children in his wake including his own daughters, and no one… not a single parent… chose to pursue any type of legal action or punishment (ha, until me, that is.:confused:) I am dumbfounded as to why anyone would turn a blind eye towards it.
    OK, so anyway, I got off track and shared WAY more than I had intended to. But I hope that maybe it helps someone??? The point that I originally wanted to emphasize is listen to that voice. Take it seriously! Don’t doubt that intuition, regardless of how insane or unlogical it feels and seems. Had I known then what I know now, there is NO WAY I would have tip-toed around the issue, regardless of how many people it “might offend.” I don’t have a single relationship that I wouldn’t trade if it meant keeping my daughters (and sons) safe.

  • agardner December 11, 2008, 3:16 pm

    Diana, thank you for sharing your experience. I really believe that moms (and dads, but especially moms) are blessed with a gift of discernment when it comes to our children.

    I have a similar situation, although so far the person who gives me the creeps hasn’t been caught doing anything. But from the moment I met him (he is the husband of a friend), the spirit has told me to keep my kids away and to keep my distance myself. I’m sure I’ve seemed rude when I haven’t been all chatty and “let’s get the kids together to play”…but I just feel in my heart that there is reason to be concerned about him. No one seems to see a problem with him, he’s served in many church callings including being around children – and maybe I’m totally nuts not to trust him. But I just don’t, and I’m going to listen to that prompting, because I think I’m getting it for a reason.

  • Ray December 11, 2008, 4:43 pm

    This is an incredibly important topic, and I agree with just about everything in it, but I do want to make one point that I think is important:

    It’s one thing to say that the answer lies within, but that’s not a fair burden to put on young children. The steps the Church takes to protect children are in place specifically because not all children are capable of discerning the Spirit well enough to override the manipulation of a determined adult – and it’s not fair to ask that of young children.

    I agree completely that I want my children to follow their promptings of concern, but I know WAY too many children who are susceptible to emotional manipulation because of the lack of proper love and affection and Gospel discernment in their lives. To not take precautions because of an assumption that children can discern spiritual warnings, and to add the potential for them to feel”guilty” if they are abused and manipulated because they weren’t able to feel prompted to avoid the perpetrator, is a line I don’t want to cross. In this case, I would rather take a few too many precautions than one too few. I don’t want to go overboard, but, in this case, I believe we really are better safe than sorry.

    I don’t think this post disagrees with this point, but I just wanted to make it clear.

  • agardner December 11, 2008, 4:59 pm

    I agree with you Ray, every precaution we can take is necessary. I just know a lot of people out there who think that is enough, when it just isn’t. In today’s world, we need every tool we can get. Discernment (more often the parent’s, not the child’s – although a child’s feelings of discomfort with someone should never be discounted) is one of those tools. Unfortunately, some situations are going to be unavoidable, but I do think the number of incidents could be reduced with more awareness.

    No child should ever feel guilty if this happens to them. I hope I didn’t imply that. I’ll even add that most parents shouldn’t feel guilty either. Of course we want to always protect our kids, but we might miss some clues that things are happening and become angry with ourselves that we didn’t pick up on it. That’s not my intent either. I only want parents to talk to their children and teach them to recognize these situations where a “nice” person is asking them to do uncomfortable things, and that it’s okay to tell if you aren’t feeling safe with an adult.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 11, 2008, 6:10 pm

    Diana! Thank you for telling us your story. It’s good to hear from you again. So many important points brought home by your personal experience.

    Posted By: Ray…but I know WAY too many children who are susceptible to emotional manipulation because of the lack of proper love and affection and Gospel discernment in their lives.

    And truthfully, just because they are KIDS. Even kids with tons of love and affection and a growing sense of discernment can be manipulated. Most kids can. That’s precisely why we have special rules and laws to protect them and don’t require full accountability from them.

  • jennycherie December 11, 2008, 6:26 pm

    great post, Angie! I particularly love the list. I think the precautions are important but it bothers me when men are singled out and demonized, in a way, with policies that assume that predators are always male.

  • nanacarol December 11, 2008, 6:35 pm

    Thank you for the topic and for the comments. It was hard to read but I know that I want my grandkids safe!!!! Thank you all for your insightful comments.

  • Tinkerbell December 11, 2008, 9:47 pm

    Thank you for this post. I had the same thought as Amy E – I think a lot of the precautions are both for children AND adults – to keep adults from situations where they could be accused of anything. I particularly liked this point in the list: Not all predators are adults. Quite honestly, that’s one of my biggest concerns. I heard about the story Alison related, and that scares me to death. We have a couple of great YM in our ward, but I won’t ask them to baby-sit. When my brother lived with us, I didn’t let his friends help him baby-sit. There’s just too much weird stuff out there.

    Oh, and one of my neighbors 6 doors down showed up on the sex offender registry. He’s lived there for 5 years. I am not too sure what to do with that information. You know that talk by Elder Ballard that went around the internet (followed by an email about how you are not supposed to send talks like that around the internet?) One of the things he said is not to let your children play outside alone. Even though he technically didn’t say that to me and my stake, I still think it is good advice.

    It is sad that we live in a society where we have to watch our children like hawks.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 11, 2008, 9:48 pm

    I agree jennycherie. I think we can, however, recognized that the statistics do show men abuse far more often. But to only protect kids from men does unfairly characterize them. If the measures are good, they are probably just as good for all of us.

  • Tinkerbell December 11, 2008, 9:49 pm

    Alison, how did that mother handle it? I picture myself ripping the kid’s eyeballs out. It would take a force stronger than me not to.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 11, 2008, 9:50 pm

    I was thinking about how to manage Primary if all the teachers had to double up. It would be difficult, but doable. Which reminded me that I think 2 hours is WAY too long for Primary. Sharing Time is unbearable, at least to me as an adult it is. I think 15-20 minutes of singing, the little talks (for practice), and then 20-30 minutes in an age-appropriate lesson would be plenty. But then again, I’m easily distracted.

  • kiar December 11, 2008, 11:27 pm

    This is one of the reasons that I began homeschooling. I know it may be a little paranoid of me, but there is a small handful of people that I truly trust with my children. When they are away from me, even when they are with those that I trust, I am in a constant state of panic. (what can I say, I hide it well). I will not compromise my children in any way, or spare the feelngs of those who I have a weird vibe from. If the spirit says don’t, I sure as heck don’t!! and that goes for everyone. there are people in my family that I will not let my children be alone with. I refuse to just stand by and hope that it doesn’t happen. I will not let my children pay for the possible hurt feelings of an adult. This is not to say that I don’t let my children have friends, or any kind of social life. I just understand better why my mom always let me play outside people’s houses, never inside.
    As for the Primary mandate, I have been in a presidency since I graduated YW’s. I understand why the rule has been made, but feel like there needs to be more depth put into it. I think that perhaps we are jumping the gun on men being banned from the Primary program, and need to find another alternative. Perhaps half doors on classrooms, so that the children can’t run out, but so that there is monitering. Perhaps Bishops and Primary presidencies should be praying and fasting a little harder to determine the worthiness of the people that they are calling. (Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the correct pattern is being followed in the calling process, then predators would not be called?)
    We need to stop being so desparate and plugging people into callings that are not right for them.
    Just my 2 cents

  • jennycherie December 12, 2008, 3:13 am

    Posted By: Alison Moore Smith. I think we can, however, recognized that the statistics do show men abuse far more often. But to only protect kids from men does unfairly characterize them. If the measures are good, they are probably just as good for all of us.

    I completely agree on both parts.

    Posted By: TinkerbellI think a lot of the precautions are both for children AND adults – to keep adults from situations where they could be accused of anything.

    That’s a good point, Tinkerbell.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 12, 2008, 10:07 am

    Posted By: kiarDoesn’t it stand to reason that if the correct pattern is being followed in the calling process, then predators would not be called?

    No, I don’t think so. If so, why would anyone be called who, for example, gets excommunicated?

    A couple moved into my ward when I was a teen. They had just married. The man had been a stake president in another stake, during which time he had an affair with his secretary, divorced his wife of forever, left their six kids to marry the secretary (who had also been married in the temple), and moved into our ward with her two kids. Stake presidents are called by general authorities. Shouldn’t they have called someone who wouldn’t commit serious sin while in office? What about the GAs who have been ousted? Why didn’t they know Paul H. Dunn was lying all those years?

    Somewhere there is a line between inspiration and having an infallible crystal ball.

  • davidson December 12, 2008, 11:05 am

    Agreed. Joseph Smith never received the revelation called the Word of Wisdom until (a) the smoke in the room where the School of the Prophets was held became nauseating; (b) Emma complained about the chewing tobacco mess on the floor, which fell to her to clean (:angry:); and most importantly, JOSEPH FINALLY THOUGHT TO ASK ABOUT IT. Why didn’t He just give him the revelation in advance of that, BEFORE Emma had to clean up the swill? I guess because we don’t grow when things are handed to us; He wants us to experience, think, wonder, ask, and act. Omniscience isn’t something required to be a good mother or bishop or stake president or General Authority. Omniscience will be a wonderful gift to look forward to, but it isn’t a prerequisite to righteousness here and now.

  • facethemusic December 14, 2008, 7:07 pm

    Trying to catch up!!! Great post Angie! And like the others said, your “list” is right on.
    Jennycherie can tell you, my kids never go to the bathroom alone at church. When our son was little, my husband always went with him. My girls are 9 and 11, but they know they are not to go to the restroom alone. If one of them has to go, they both go so that there’s never one of them alone in the halls or restroom while the rest of us are still in Sacrament.
    There is one brother at church who I’ve ALWAYS had an uneasy feeling about. And if there’s one “gift of the spirit” I know I have, it’s discernment of people. Two or three encounters with a person, where I can talk with them briefly, get a sense of their body language, the way they speak, the things they say and I’ve pretty much got them “figured out”. My gut instincts and good or bad first impressions of people have YET to ever be proven wrong, though they haven’t always been confirmed.
    So I’ve learned to trust that voice. This particular brother is very nice and appears to be “good” with kids, but I’ve always had an uneasy feeling– and my husband has the EXACT same feeling.And that’s all it is… a feeling. There’s no “logical reason” to assume he has any ill intent, no “behaviors” that make him suspicious. It’s just a “gut thing”.
    About or 5 years ago a “new” brother started coming to our ward. He sat right behind our family almost every week. He was very friendly and gentle in nature. But after just a couple encounters with him, I started getting that uneasy feeling. And in all honestly there was nothing that he was actually DOING or saying that was “creepy” or inappropriate. It was just my gut saying “there’s something not right, here”. Then after about a year he suddenly stopped coming to church. He’d been caught in a sting operation distributing child pornography.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 16, 2008, 10:21 am

    Well, Tracy, that explains why you like me so much!!! :bigsmile::wink:

  • jennycherie December 16, 2008, 1:59 pm

    Posted By: facethemusicThen after about a year he suddenly stopped coming to church. He’d been caught in a sting operation distributing child pornography.

    how do you know all this stuff? am I just clueless or do I have a bad memory? I had no idea we had such drama in our ward!

  • facethemusic December 17, 2008, 8:34 pm

    Well, Tracy, that explains why you like me so much!!!

    I know you were being silly, but it IS true!! Seriously!! I had you pegged on the ldshomemom groups at yahoo, when I only knew you as “gingerhead”. (And honestly, part of it is because we think so much alike. ) I’d read some of your responses and would be shouting YES! at the computer! Then I fell upon Mormon Momma, and after a couple posts, recognized you by the way you answered things even though I didn’t recognize you by your real name. ๐Ÿ™‚

    how do you know all this stuff?

    the whole “being married to a police officer” thing helps a little, in that regard. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Whenever someone LDS gets in trouble, Bill is always called to do some priesthood/police officer counseling in the jail.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 17, 2008, 9:45 pm

    Holy cow, Tracy, I had no idea you knew me back in the “anonymous” GingerHead days. That was my screenname on AOL–back when AOL WAS the internet. (Sam and I were actually charter members of AOL, joining in…hmmmm…about 1989. I was on staff there for some years in the Family Computing forum and later in the Homeschooling forum.) So my first email address was gingerhead@aol.com. For fun, I just googled that email address and it still comes up on three pages–and I haven’t used it probably ten years. ๐Ÿ™‚

    For years people thought my real name was Ginger.

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