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Help protect your child from predators

POSTED September 21, 2011 8:22 a.m.
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There have been several alarming incidents in Ceres during the recent past, in which a man approached children near local schools in what appeared to be an attempt to lure them into his vehicle. We have to assume the worst in these instances; that the individual intended to sexually molest these kids, that he was trying to kidnap them for other reasons, or that he had some other form of criminal intent. Investigators are still trying to gather enough information to give the public a clear description of the suspect and are investigating these incidents with intensity. We know the possible outcomes of these situations and it is seen as a very real threat to kids in our community. The Ceres Unified School District has been notified of these incidents, so steps have been taken to notify parents of the possible dangers associated with this suspect who has engaged in unwanted interactions with these children.

This column is not particularly intended to focus on the recent incidents with the suspect I referenced in the above paragraph; rather, I am hoping to raise awareness and to educate people in this area about the threats to children that presently, and frankly, have always existed. There will always be a tiny fraction of the adult population that is fixated on kids for whatever reason - but usually it is based on prurient, sexual interests in very young people. The recent three incidents are certainly cause for alarm, but another dynamic that has come into play is that the law enforcement system that has traditionally functioned to keep pedophiles under control has been weakened somewhat. Specifically, there are very large numbers of parolees that are either "at large" or have simply been early-released from prison with no legally-imposed supervision by the state. There are too few state parole agents to do an adequate job of supervising parolees, and in thousands of instances throughout the state, there are parolees who have managed to escape the monitoring of the state parole department.

The aforementioned problems translate into an increased threat to children, regardless of which community they live in. And while the police and school officials keep a close eye on the kids while they are in the vicinity of the schools, there are too many places and two few police personnel to be able to keep an eye on all kids as they travel to and from school. There is also the problem of pedophiles that may live in your neighborhood, or along your child's route to school, and use [usually] well-developed skills to entice vulnerable children into their homes for the wrong reasons. According to data analyzed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of 4,200 attempted abductions from February, 2005 to March, 2010, 38 percent of these abduction attempts occurred while the child was going to or from school.

It is not my intent to instill paranoia about every person who happens to speak to a child. However, it is important to err on the side of caution. All children should be instructed that, under no circumstances, should they talk to strangers. They are to ignore any stranger who attempts to talk to them, whether on foot, on a bicycle, or in a car. They should be taught to keep walking, or run if necessary. Screaming may be warranted as well, depending on how much of a threat the child perceives. Under the present circumstances, I suggest that children walking to or from school be escorted by a trusted adult. Kids should travel in groups, and when they have cell phones, they should be encouraged to use them to call the police immediately upon feeling threatened by a stranger. And the word "threat" may merely mean that someone who they do not know has approached and attempted to speak to them. Again, it is better to be safe than sorry. The police would rather respond to a call that ends up being "false," as opposed to having to investigate a child kidnapping because a parent or the child was reluctant to call out of concern of "bothering" the police. The protection of children is a top priority, and the police will respond without delay.

Kids need to be able to know how to describe their location, how to describe anyone that might be bothering them and, specifically, what to do when a stranger has approached them and makes them feel uncomfortable. My best advice to parents and kids is to not wait to find out what the stranger wants. There should be an immediate effort to leave, the child should not answer any questions, and there should be no communications whatsoever.

Keep in mind that a majority of neighborhoods have at least one registered sex offender living there (you can see for yourself on the Megan's Law website at, and while most of them live by the law, some are unable or choose not to and pose a serious threat to the children. There are also those offenders who have not yet been caught or who have failed to report their current residential address to the police as required by law.

Strangers are not the only people your children should be wary of. Of the 58,000 non-family abductions each year, only 37 percent involved a stranger. A whopping 63 percent of these abductions involved someone that the child knew or a person of authority. Thirty-seven percent of attempted abductions occurred the hours of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on a weekday, when many parents are still at work. And while this is all very sobering information, it is all about awareness, education, and prevention. Make sure that you know where your children are at all times, and who the adults are that are around your children when they visit their friends' houses. Children need to know what to do if someone attempts to abduct them, not to be afraid to trust their instincts, never go anywhere alone, and know where they are allowed to be when their parents are not around.

It is critical that community members report any information or observations they may have in connection with the recent suspicious incidents. Furthermore, we have the same request for any kind of situation similar to the one described here. We need as much information as possible, to include description of the individual like age, race, build, hair and eye color, any facial hair, unusual features, tattoos, clothing description, vehicle make, model, year, color and license plate and exact location of where the suspicious or criminal behavior has taken place. Do not hesitate to report any suspicious people and/or vehicles to Ceres Police Dispatch by calling 538-5712.
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