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This information can be downloaded from this page in PDF format. Single printed copies are also available by request via e-mail: oag@oag.state.md.us or telephone: (410) 576-6300 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free in Maryland

   

WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MY CHILDREN FROM UNIDENTIFIED SEX OFFENDERS?

The single, most important fact that we must understand to protect our children is this:

MOST SEX OFFENDERS ARE NEVER APPREHENDED BY THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

Being concerned about the sex offenders we do NOT know about, therefore, is just as important as focusing on those we do. This means taking steps to safeguard your children against sexual abuse from known convicted offenders, other strangers, and people they know. The following are common sense guidelines to help your children stay safe:

A. TALK OPENLY AND LISTEN CAREFULLY.

The key to your children’s safety is effective two-way communication. You must give your children the knowledge they need to protect themselves, and they must feel able to express their fears and describe any real problems they may encounter. This requires an environment where you and your children feel comfortable talking about sensitive, embarrassing, or frightening things. Listen to them and believe them, even about little things, for the conversations about little things build the foundation for communication about big things that could change their lives. Emphasize a few key points which will foster more open communication:

  • You always want to know if something scary, confusing, embarrassing or weird happens to them and you will never be angry. You want to know even if they are not sure exactly what happened.
  • If an adult does something that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused, it is the adult’s fault and not the child’s fault, even if the adult tries to blame it on the child. You will never blame it on your child.
  • An adult who tries to make a child keep a secret, or tells him something bad will happen if he does not keep a secret, is very wrong. Children should not keep adults’ secrets.
  • You or someone can always help, even if your child thinks something has happened that can never be fixed.


B. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO BE AWARE AND CAREFUL, BUT NOT AFRAID.

Be honest and open about dangers, but you know more than your children need to know. Avoid scary details, talk in a calm and reassuring manner, and use language that is age-appropriate. For example, with a young child it would be enough to warn, “there are people who do bad things to children,” when talking about safety rules.

C. FOCUS CHILDREN ON CERTAIN SUSPICIOUS SITUATIONS AND BEHAVIOR RATHER THAN CERTAIN KINDS OF PEOPLE.

Warning children to beware of “strangers” ignores their vulnerability to unidentified sex offenders whom they may know quite well. Teach your children instead to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior in any adult. Be sure to emphasize that they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately if they encounter such behavior, which can include:

  • Asking a child for help. Children help other children, but should not be asked to assist adults, like giving directions or helping to “find a lost puppy.” An adult who tells a child his parent is in trouble and offers to take the child to the parent is also highly suspicious.
  • Paying an unusual amount of attention to a child. Offenders often initiate seemingly innocent contact with a victim and cultivate a close relationship over time. Most adult-child relationships are healthy and positive, of course, but certain behaviors can be warning signs of trouble, like insisting on physical affection the child does not want, giving inappropriate gifts, wanting time alone with the child, etc.
  • Touching a child or asking to be touched by a child in areas of the body that would be covered by a bathing suit. No one should touch your children in any way that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
  • Asking a child to get into a vehicle or following a child on foot or by car. Children should know never to get into someone’s car without parental approval, and always to make a loud scene if someone tries to take them somewhere or force them into a car.
  • Asking to take a child’s picture. Children should know never to let an adult take their photograph without parental consent.

D. BE SPECIFIC AND ENGAGE IN ROLE-PLAYING TO TEACH THE BEST RESPONSES TO DANGER.

Act out different situations and give children specific ideas about what to do. Examples include:

  • Your child is separated from you in a store or other public place. Tell your child not to wander around looking for you, but to go immediately to a police officer, store salesclerk or other person in authority, or to a mother with children.
  • A man tries to get your child into his car. Tell your child to make a loud scene by kicking and resisting physically, and by screaming things like, “this man is trying to take me away,” or “this man is not my father,” or “help me - he’s hurting me.”
  • Your child’s soccer coach gives him a ride home and touches him in a way that feels uncomfortable. Tell your child that he does not need to be polite. He should say no, or stop, or he should push the coach away. He should also tell you immediately what happened, even though the coach said not to tell anyone else. Emphasize that people who do this kind of thing almost always make the child afraid to tell anyone else, and explain that this is wrong. Explain that a child should not believe any adult who says something bad will happen if he tells a secret. Your child should not keep other adults’ secrets from you. Emphasize also that if an adult touches your child or asks to be touched, it is NOT your child’s fault.

E. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO TRUST THEIR INSTINCTS AND UNDERSTAND IT IS SOMETIMES O.K. TO SAY NO TO ADULTS.

In the effort to raise our children to be polite, well-mannered, and respectful of authority, we may miss conveying the message that their safety is nonetheless always more important. They must learn to trust their own feelings and know that they have every right to say no when they sense something is wrong, like someone trying to take them somewhere, touch them inappropriately, or do anything else that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.

F. MAKE YOUR CHILDREN AWARE OF KNOWN, SPECIFIC THREATS.

If a convicted sex offender does live or work in your community, make your children familiar with the offender and the risks he may pose to them. Show them the offender’s photograph, warn them to avoid inappropriate or unsupervised contact, and instruct them to tell you immediately if the offender initiates contact with them or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.

G. KNOW YOUR CHILDREN. KNOW WHERE THEY ARE, WHO THEIR FRIENDS ARE, AND WHAT THEIR DAILY ACTIVITIES ARE. BE SENSITIVE TO CHANGES IN THEIR MOODS AND BEHAVIOR.

Although sex offenders can be the most unlikely suspects, you are the best gauge your children have of whether they are at risk from someone in their familiar circle. Watch for suspicious behavior in adults who come into contact with your children, and watch for changes in your children which could signal trouble. Above all, keep talking to them.

 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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