Aware parents can nip sex abuse in the bud, local crowd told

Exper says children exposed to inappropriate behavior may become offenders

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Child sexual abuse

• 20 percent of children and teens experience sexual abuse.

• 10 percent of children and adolescents have molested other children.

• 35 to 40 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by juveniles.

• 55 to 85 percent of child porn offenders have previously abused children.

• 40 percent of “acquaintance rapes” are committed by juveniles.

• Only 5 percent of cases have physical evidence.

• About 20 to 30 percent of sex offenders are psychopathic.

What is child sexual abuse?

• Sexual contact between an adult and a minor.

• Sexual contact among children.

• Exposing children to porn or using them in porn.

• Having sex in front of children.

SOURCES: Clark County Sheriff’s Office Offender Search, http://icrimewatch.net/washington.php.

"Tell me what you think about sex offenders," Cory Jewell Jensen said to the crowd Tuesday night at the YWCA on Main Street. The full room, made up mostly of women, was completely silent for several moments before an audience member calmly answered: "Scum."

Jensen, a nationally known speaker and co-director at the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Ore., led a workshop on protecting children from sexual abuse -- and from becoming abusers themselves. The sex offender population is expected to increase, she said, because people are being exposed to porn and adult sexual behavior at an earlier age, giving them distorted attitudes about sex.

"It's generally a problem that starts in childhood," Jensen said.

Sex offenders may have been over-sexualized or sexually abused early on; had arousing contact with other children, lacked healthy sex education and guidance as youth, or adults in their lives didn't identify inappropriate sexual behavior during childhood and intervene.

Sexual curiosity and discovery is normal for kids, but persistent or inappropriate sexual play or coercing other kids into performing sexual acts are red flags. Parents should regularly check on their children during playtime; those who catch their children engaged in inappropriate acts should stay calm and ask what they're doing and where they learned it.

Parents should be open, involved in their kids' lives and ready to talk with them about sexual behavior, development and abuse. This way, children see sexual abuse as something they should talk about and report. Reading books together, such as "Where did I come from?" "It's my body," "What's Happening to my body?" and "A Very Touching Book ... For Little People and Big People" can get the conversation started. Jensen advised telling children that touching other people's private parts is inappropriate.

For decades, Jensen has worked with sex offenders from all walks of life, including athletes, lawyers, ministers and police officers. It's hard to pick out the sex offenders based on their standing in the community. After all, she explained, those who want to gain access to children may seek out work or volunteer efforts that puts them in constant contact with youth.

Clark County has 1,256 registered sex offenders, including 43 Level III offenders who are most likely to reoffend. There are 571 registered sex offenders living in Vancouver, including 18 Level III offenders. Only 3 to 10 percent of offenders are ever caught.

Sex offenders are con artists, Jensen explained. By the time they're caught, they've already committed an average of 120 offenses, giving them plenty of time to formulate a response for inquiring individuals. They look like normal people with normal jobs and often have no criminal record, so most people will try to find another explanation. Many incest offenders are able to talk friends and family out of reporting them, so they continue molesting.

Child sex offenders target families with uninvolved parents who have weak bonds with their kids and are too stressed to pay attention. "Problem kids" with low self-esteem, who may not be supervised as much and get into trouble often are not only less likely to report sexual assault, they're less likely to be believed when they do, Jensen said.

An offender first grooms a child by promoting physical contact: rough housing, hugging, tickling and massaging. They may test the child's ability to "keep secrets" and expose them to dirty jokes and porn. Certain tricks can make sexual assault harder to identify. By befriending the child and making it seem like it's OK or even rewarding the child, the offender can manipulate children into cooperating with abuse. Some mistakenly believe they're showing love or affection and that the acts being done to them may not be painful.

Parents should be alert for offender behavior and watch for adults who:

• Are "always available" to watch kids.

• Buy children gifts for no reason.

• Want to take children on outings that involve being alone with them.

• Have a lot of child friends.

• Volunteer with youth groups, but don't have any children in those groups.

• "Accidentally" walk in on kids while they're dressing or using the restroom.

• "Accidentally" touch private parts.

• Make sexual comments to or about children.

Parents should be aware of anyone who spends time alone with their child, whether it's a baby sitter, coach or someone who's in the public restroom with them. By setting rules and boundaries, parents can decrease the risk that their child could become a victim.

While most of the people you know would never harm your children, Jensen said, parents should be aware of possibility that someone you know, like or even love could commit a sexual offense. If a child says they've been abused, most likely they're telling the truth. Most victims can recover if parents act calmly, swiftly and responsibly.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.