Keeping kids safe from sex offenders - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Keeping kids safe from sex offenders

According to a government website, at least one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.

That's an alarming statistic that has parents and those aimed at protecting children looking for tools to keep kids safe.

The National Sex Offender Registry provides information about sex offenders; a listing of public registry Web sites by state, territory, and tribe; and information on sexual abuse education and prevention. Some regional public registry sites even incorporate tools that allow users to run the names of coaches, teachers, family members, or even Facebook friends and neighbors to determine whether or not they are (or should be) listed. Many sites also give users the option to receive email alerts when a sex offender moves into their area.

Sometimes a judge will restrict where an offender can live and whether he can have minors in his home. But the sad reality, experts say, is that the greatest threat to our kids is much, much closer to home.

About 85 percent of sex offenders know their victim well. In at least 75 percent of the cases, it is within the family.

That's the toughest pill for society to swallow but, perhaps, by understanding some of the behaviors exhibited by sex offenders, we can help prevent it.

Clinical psychologist and University of Hawaii professor, Dr. Barry Coyne, runs the prison sex offender treatment program that the Aloha State initiated 20 years ago to assess, evaluate and treat sex offenders behind bars in the hope of helping them to re-enter society.

According to Coyne, some sex offenders were raised to think that to be a man is to be sexually aggressive toward women.

Some offenders are also sexually and socially immature.

"He just does not know how to relate to women so, when he's a father, he sees a child there and this is his opportunity to start experimenting in ways he didn't when he was 15," says Coyne. "Why he thinks it's appropriate now, is anyone's guess."

"We have men who, even as fathers and step-fathers, they've gone into a relationship as a parasite, perhaps living off their wife's earnings, living in a home they're not paying a mortgage or rent for, and if there are children there, just as they've exploited their spouse, they exploit the children in the family as well," he continues.

Other offenders are completely preoccupied with sex and pornography, often exposed to it and even sexually abused when they were young.

"They were on their computer, downloading pornography when they were teenagers," Coyne says. "And now they're married, have children of their own, and are still looking at pornography on the computer late at night when everyone else has gone to bed."

And a warning for those who enjoy internet pornography: Coyne says you're taking a gamble because, sooner or later, child pornography will cross your screen and you may go from checking out 17 year-olds to 13 year-olds then on down to 10 and younger.

"For the most part, if you are sexually normal you're going to see an adult having sex with a prepubescent child and you will be repulsed and you're going to get out of that website as quickly as possible," he says. "But if you're not repulsed, you have a problem. You should be repulsed. If you're not repulsed, what's going on?"

More than ever people are searching Internet databases to see if sex offenders live in their neighborhood. While that's a good thing, officials stress that the important thing to protect your child is education. Talking with them and monitoring them is a very important part of keeping them safe.

One tip that experts say parents should particularly be aware of is what's known as "grooming." That's when an offender, who could be in the family, builds up a close relationship with your child, having fun at first and slowly desensitizing your child to physical contact through things like wrestling or back massages. Then, when the offender goes further, he uses guilt, secrecy and fear to keep the child from talking.

But experts say you can give your child the power and strength to avoid those situations and to come forward even if it's family member or someone you know.

Talk with them in age-appropriate ways about inappropriate touching and exposing or viewing private parts in person, in photos or online.

And there are more tools out there too, for parents. Call your local treatment center or search for materials they may have online, and educate yourself about signs that a child may have been abused.

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