Speaker busts myths to help protect your children

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Cory Jewell Jensen of Portland, Oregon, has worked with 7,000 child molesters during her 35-year career with the Center for Behavioral Intervention.

Jensen

Now, she travels the country sharing her research to help communities better protect their children. Tuesday, she spent the day leading trainings for Dubois County. The program, titled “Protecting Your Children: Advice from Child Molesters,” was co-sponsored by the Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition, Crisis Connection, the Department of Child Services and the Southern Indiana Law Enforcement Training Council.

The day began with a daylong training for law enforcement and ended with a training for the general public Tuesday evening.

“There are a lot of myths that have persisted about offenders that we need to correct,” Jensen said at the beginning of the evening session.

One of those myths is the idea of “stranger danger.” According to years of research, Jensen said, most child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know.

To support the claim, Jensen shared the results of one survey that asked 1,652 male offenders about their relationship to their main victim. Only 5 percent of the offenders said they were strangers, while 26 percent said they were a family friend or acquaintance, 22 percent were a person of authority such as a teacher or coach, 16 percent were a biological parent, another 16 percent were another relative and 14 percent were a step parent.

“That’s why that stranger danger thing is so silly,” Jensen said. “What we should be saying is Uncle Timmy danger or Mommy’s boyfriend danger.”

Another myth is the idea that abusers were abused as children. Jensen said that, in reality, the abusers get stuck in the sexual exploration phase that children go through around 5 or 7 years old. While most children grow out of that phase quickly, child sexual abusers get stuck in that phase, continuing to interact with younger children sexually into their teenage years and adulthood.

“Most of you at this point in your lives ... can’t imagine crossing that line and abusing a child,” Jensen said. “Doesn’t it make sense that they would have had something going on throughout their lives?”

From there, Jensen went on to share advice on how to protect children from the convicted child molesters she’s worked with. The biggest piece of advice seems simple: If a child reports being sexually abused, believe them. In practice, however, Jensen said, adults often side with the accused adult over the child. The abusers count on that.

“Trust your child, not me,” the abusers wrote in a pamphlet Jensen distributed. “They deserve your trust. I don’t.”

In cases where children report abuse, the data is on their side. Only 8 to 12 percent of accusations are false, Jensen said, a tiny number considering an estimated one out of every five girls and one out of every 10 boys will be abused. If someone is accused, Jensen said, assume they’re guilty, even if they’re not convicted, and keep them away from your children.

“I know that’s a horrible thing to say, but mathwise, that’s the way it is,” she said.

Once accused, there’s only a 10 to 30 percent arrest rate, Jensen said, and a 3 percent conviction rate. She stressed that those numbers aren’t because the reports are false. Rather, it’s because sexual abuse cases are difficult to prove, and abusers are practiced liars, often able to convince adults, sometimes even police, that they’re innocent. The most common comment Jensen said she sees in police reports is, “This person couldn’t have done this. I know them.” In the pamphlet, the convicted offenders addressed that.

“I am someone you know,” they wrote. “But you don’t really know me. I hide who I am.”

The pamphlet also says to not only teach children that it’s not OK for someone to touch their private areas, but that it’s not OK for them to touch those areas on other people either.

“Teach your child about sexuality,” the pamphlet says. “If you don’t, I might.”

Jensen also stressed the importance of using the proper names for body parts, rather than euphemisms. That way, if something happens and your child reports it, whoever they report to will understand them.

The bottom line, Jensen said, is clear communication and involvement in your child’s life. Be the parent who talks to their children about safe sexual behavior and who volunteers to help with activities. And keep an eye on the adults who are around your children.

Use your own behavior as a litmus test, Jensen suggested. A lot of offenders will mimic normal behaviors, but take them a step further in the open. A high-five might be a hand grab or squeeze. An arm on the shoulder might become an arm around the waist. Watch for that, and find a way to address it if you see it.

SWICACC Director Tammy Lampert ended the evening with a reminder that Indiana is a mandatory reporting state. That means any adult who suspects a child is being abused or neglected must report it to authorities. Her advice was to report an incident to both law enforcement and Child Protective Services and to keep reporting it until it gets investigated.

“Tell, tell, tell,” she said. “Report it until someone helps you.”




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