Controversial title, I know. But hear me out.
Charish Perriwinkle, 8 years old, is dead. Most of you will not have even heard of her. She was abducted from a Walmart here in Jacksonville, Florida, and within hours her body was found and her abductor was apprehended. He was a serial pedophile, someone who should never have been allowed the freedom to continue hunting. Moot point, because hunt he did.
I always hate it when abduction news stories lay the blame at the feet of the parents, because there’s really only so much you can do when there’s a monster on the prowl. But there are some disturbing lessons to be learned from Charish’s tragic end.
First of all, her abductor befriended the family that very day at a Dollar General store, and offered to meet the whole family at the Walmart to buy them clothes, and her mother accepted. That’s an astoundingly dangerous amount of trust to put in a total stranger, but then I know what it’s like to be poor and desperate. So I’ll give her the benefit of a doubt on that one.
But what I have a much harder time accepting is that once they were all in the Walmart, shopping away as you do, the creep offers to buy them all some hamburgers, and the mother allowed him to take Charish with him. Alone. And she didn’t get worried until they had been gone for a half hour.
Pedophile avoidance 101: Do NOT let your child walk off with a virtual stranger. Duh. That seems like common sense to me. But then, maybe I’m better at putting myself into the twisted mind of a pedophile than some people are. But parents need to learn to think like a predator in order to make sure their children are not the victim of the hunt. If you are a parent, a certain level of paranoia is not only acceptable, it’s required. So here are some tips. (And before you hurl verbal tomatoes at me, note that I’m saying you should THINK like a pedophile, not ACT like one.)
- If you are a pedophile, you’re going to want to put yourself in places where you have access to children. I always find drivers of ice cream trucks highly suspect. I look askance at men who hang around public pools or playgrounds. And if you see someone chatting up the kiddies at the school bus stop, you’d be well advised to interrogate that person. And I don’t care how lost you are, if you feel the need to drive up to a child and roll down your window to ask for, well, ANYTHING, then that’s an enormous red flag. If you’re lost, ask an adult, or risk having your eyes scratched out by me or someone like me. Yes, all of this is profiling at its worst, but you know what? I could care less. Your child is too much to lose. And if the person is truly innocent, then he or she shouldn’t be offended that you are questioning their behavior and putting your child’s safety above all else.
- Do your due diligence. Unless you know someone inside and out, for years on end, do not, repeat, DO NOT let your child go anywhere or do anything with that person alone. In fact, you’ve got to question why a person would want to spend time alone with a small child that isn’t their own.
- Meet the parents of your children’s friends. Just because someone is a parent does not make him or her trustworthy.
- Lock your doors and windows, close your curtains at night and leave your bedroom doors open so you can hear as much as possible. If you can’t afford a security system, I’d even consider putting a portable motion detector that triggers an alarm at a height that’s taller than your child so he or she doesn’t trigger it, but not taller than an adult. Aim it right over your child’s bed, and turn it on every night without fail. You can get them at Radio Shack. As a matter of fact, if you’re not a parent but know someone who is, this would make a great gift.
- Teach your children. Sadly, “stranger danger” isn’t enough, because abusers are often relatives or friends. Teach your children about good touch and bad touch. Teach them to always talk to you about things, even if someone tells them they shouldn’t. Teach them to be safe. Mind you, there is a difference between making them feel insecure and constantly afraid and teaching them that safety is important and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Even theirs.
- Don’t ignore your inner voice. If something inside is telling you that someone is creepy or suspect, err on the side of caution.
- Participate in the National Child ID Program so that your child can be easily identified if the worst should happen.
- When in public, do not let your child out of your sight. I once saw a toddler wandering around a large public library. No parent anywhere in the vicinity. This kid was in the same room as the homeless people who come to get out of the heat and use the internet to look at soft porn. I walked up to the kid and said, “Where’s your mommy, honey?” and he burst into tears. Even though the child was wailing, it took what felt like 5 minutes for the mother to wander out of the stacks to find the kid, and she didn’t seem the list bit concerned. It took everything in me not to slap that woman across the face. Twice.
- For the love of God, do not sexualize your children. When I see parents entering their kids into those beauty contests, putting them in sexy little outfits, covering them with makeup and teaching them to blow kisses at strangers, I want to vomit. When children are allowed to wear clothes that are not age appropriate, it makes me shudder. Children should not be dressed to attract. You never know what you’re attracting. And what lesson are you teaching? That your looks are a commodity for manipulation? That’s a twisted and dangerous mindset.
- If your state has a sex offender’s database as mine does, look up your neighborhood. You’ll be horrified to see how many live near you. Print out their files. Memorize their faces and addresses. And if you suspect that that person no longer lives at that address, report it to the authorities, because chances are that criminal has taken flight and is re-offending. (There’s an address near my house that looks abandoned to me, and a sex offender supposedly lives there. I’ve reported this to the police, but that address is still the one listed for this guy, and that disturbs me greatly.)
- Pedophiles LOVE the internet. Pay close attention to what your child does on line. Your child should not be talking to anyone whom you do not know personally. Period.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- As a parent, trust should not be your default position when someone enters your sphere. Trust should have to be earned, and it shouldn’t be easy.