Protection From Predators

Posted: Jun 15, 2007 12:00 AM
Protection From Predators
“How do these kids even know about this?”

Scott Poland, past president of the National Association of School Psychologists, asked the question in dismay as he began to absorb the findings of a growing trend reported by the Associated Press last weekend -- that the number of sex-related crimes committed by juveniles has jumped over the last few years. “Treatment professionals say the offenders are getting younger and the crimes more violent,” the article read.

The AP conducted an analysis of crime statistics and found that the number of children under 18 accused of forcible rape, violent and nonviolent sex offenses rose from 24,100 in 1985 to 33,800 in 2004. Rape and sexual assaults by adults, meanwhile, thankfully decreased more than 56 percent from 1993 to 2004.

You don’t have to be the mother of three, as I am, to be horrified at the increase in youth crime.

Consider these nauseating real-life horrors: Two 13-year-old boys in Omaha, Neb., were accused of videotaping themselves assaulting two 5-year-old girls and a 3-year-old boy. In another case, an 8-year-old boy in Buffalo, N.Y., was accused of assaulting a 6-year-old boy after he saw a prison rape scene in an R-rated movie.

It’s hardly a mystery, though, how kids today “even know about this.” As Dr. Poland himself adds, “It’s permeated throughout our society.” How did we become a nation that no longer provides a protected space of innocence for our children? Do we really believe we can raise children in a culture that constantly bombards our kids with garbage, trashes the beauty of human sexuality, feeds the depths of depravity and then expect our children to be unaffected?

Visions of sexual abuse, perversion and activity are omnipresent in our society -- and our children are paying the price.

That’s why, in my book Home Invasion, one chapter is titled “Sexualized Everything.” It’s nearly impossible to escape the bombardment of sexual images today. TV shows, movies, video games -- indeed, many of the books deliberately chosen above other titles to fill the shelves of your local library -- are saturated in sex. Even parents who take reasonable precautions can’t turn off the sewage completely.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the parents of the 6-year-old mentioned above would never have allowed their son to watch a movie with a prison rape scene. It’s all too easy for the boy to have watched it elsewhere -- say, at a friend’s house. And not necessarily on the living room TV; it could have been on a computer in somebody’s bedroom or basement. For that matter, with today’s technology, he could have watched it on somebody’s iPod while riding on the school bus.

Am I the only parent sick and tired of having to raise kids in such a toxic culture?

Your child’s exposure to the worst of humanity is probably even worse than you think. If you have access to the Internet and don’t have a filter, your child has most likely been exposed to hard-core porn. Maybe he or she is even a regular user. In a study published in February, researchers at the University of New Hampshire reported that 42 percent of Internet users aged 10 to 17 had seen online pornography over a 12-month period. The London School of Economics estimates that nine out of 10 children who go online will, at some point, be exposed to hardcore porn.

Of course, most kids who encounter this trash won’t become sex offenders. But what does the constant exposure do for their understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship? If you take a few minutes to check out, which catalogs all the best social-science research, and you will find some troubling findings about the effects of pornography. One large study summarized on finds:

“A relationship between pornography consumption and believing rape myths exists. Rape myths pertain to erroneous and potentially harmful ideas regarding rape, for example, that victims of rape are partially to blame for the crime, rapists should not get tough sentences, or rape is not a serious crime. This study found that violent pornography increased the acceptance of rape myths, and nonviolent pornography increased the acceptance of rape myths when compared to a control group.”

I could cite many similar findings, but the basic finding -- of a clear relationship between pornography use and a variety of social pathologies -- is beyond dispute. The question is, what can we do to protect our children?

To be sure, we should take advantage of technology. I use the affordable, easy-to-use filter from to keep all three of my home computers free from unwanted sexual material, and we use the blocking features on our cable television ( to keep sexually explicit movies and programs off of our TV screens.

But the best protection, frankly, is you. One thing comes through loud and clear as you peruse, and that’s the importance of spending time with your children. Talk with them, play with them, worship with them, eat meals with them. That way, you impart your values and keep the lines of communication open -- which can make a world of difference in the event that your children do have an unexpected encounter with the seamier side of humanity.

Keeping your children safe is a never-ending fight. But it’s one your child can’t afford for you to lose.