Workshops promote abuse awareness

INDEPENDENCE -- What does a sexual predator look like?

INDEPENDENCE -- What does a sexual predator look like?

Is he the disheveled, creepy-looking man hanging around playgrounds watching children?

Maybe.

But according to police officers who spend their careers chasing sex offenders, abusers who target children are frighteningly good at appearing trustworthy.

In the 5,000 confirmed cases of sex abuse in Oregon each year, rarely are the suspects strangers and rarely do they grab children off the street.

"A sex offender looks like your dad, your uncle, your mom's boyfriend, the nice neighbor down the street," said Polk County Sheriff's Detective Burney Krauger.

Rather than be frightened of that prospect, law enforcement officials say parents should learn the subtle warning signs.

Local agencies are hosting several seminars in the area between now and April, showing parents and others who work with children how to recognize potential offenders, and what to do if they suspect a child is being abused.

The child safety presentations are based off of research of Cory Jewell-Jensen, the co-founder of the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton.

Presenters at the first local workshop, conducted at Independence Elementary School on Nov. 4, said offenders laughed when Jewell-Jensen told them what children were being taught about protecting themselves. Kids were being told to avoid strangers and told to tell abusers "no" and tell someone about incidents.

What sex offenders said about how they select and gain the trust of the children they victimize revealed those lessons are useless to stop most predators.

Independence Police Officer Bob Barlow said offenders are often undetected because they put themselves in a position of trust and manipulate children into not telling other adults about the abuse.

They often victimize children in single-parent homes and whose parents may be inattentive, stressed or substance abusers. They choose children who are troubled, or considered "troublemakers," and therefore easily dismissed if they do speak up. In many cases, predators manipulate parents almost as much as they do children.

Molesters offend up to 120 times before they are caught. Police attribute that to their ability to infiltrate families and organizations working with children. They are often helpful, generous and appear to care about the children they abuse.

Statistics about child molesters can defy conventional wisdom.

About 80 to 90 percent of offenders are men. However, less than 1 percent of abuse cases are perpetrated by strangers. Though sex offenders often did not have healthy sex education or had been exposed to pornography or witnessed sexual acts in early childhood, only 25 to 30 percent of them were sexually abused as children.

The facts may be shocking, but experts say the best defense is education and vigilance.

"If we give you the tools and the information, you can make better decisions," Krauger said.

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Child Safety workshops will be at the following locations:

* Lyle Elementary School, Dallas, at 6 p.m. on Nov. 10.

* Ash Creek Elementary School, Monmouth, at 6 p.m. on Nov. 19.

* Oakdale Heights Elementary School, Dallas, at 6 p.m. on Jan. 19.

* Henry Hill Elementary School, Independence, at 6 p.m. on Feb. 16.

* LaCreole Middle School, Dallas, at 6 p.m. on April 20.

For more information about the presentations, call Susy Fleming at 503-623-9268, ext. 1382.

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