Know the Red Flags
Summer can be such a great time of the year. It’s a time for family vacations, barbeques, lazy days by apool, and longer days to spend in one of Ukiah’s parks or participating in one of our city’s greatrecreational programs.
It is also a time when kids and teens can be taken advantage of.
Last week, the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) received yet another call of a strange adult trying to lure a young teenager into a car. These types of incidents seem to be occurring with more frequency.
Also unsettling, our police detectives just finished investigating a complex child pornography case involving a local resident. The evidence revealed pictures and videos portraying horrible acts being committed against children. Heartbreaking and infuriating.
I really want kids to be safe, to walk or bike around town and enjoy their summer without fear.
To help make that happen, Ukiah Police Department actively manages more than 50 registered sex offenders who live in our community. Many of these registered sex offenders are homeless and live on our city streets. Many more live outside of the Ukiah city limits, and are monitored by the Mendocino County Sheriff.
All of our law enforcement officers actively enforce the requirements of these registrants, verifying their residences (when they have them) and the terms of their probation or parole through regular compliance checks.
Even with this oversight, it is disturbing to know that people who have committed offenses requiring them to register as sex offenders, live right here in our community.
But what it is even more disturbing is that there are others in our community – hiding in plain sight – who are trying to prey on young teenagers and children.
In this column, you may have read my advice to kids and parents before, but I think it bears repeating: all local law enforcement officers strongly encourage kids not to accept intrusive behavior, and we think it’s incredibly important to teach kids how to protect themselves.
In fact, every child should learn how to fight back – scream, yell, say no, stomp their feet – basically, do anything they can to express that they will NOT be a victim of a crime. Kids need to know they have permission to break all the behavior rules they have ever been taught if doing so will keep them safe.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com) published a simple guide to help children avoid child abduction:
- I CHECK FIRST with my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults before going anywhere, helping anyone, accepting anything, or getting into a car.
- I TAKE A FRIEND with me when going places or playing outside.
- I TELL people “NO” if they try to touch me or hurt me. It’s OK for me to stand up for myself.
- I TELL my trusted adult if anything makes me feel sad, scared, or confused.
Every child should know that sometimes people want to trick or hurt other people. No one has the right to do that to a child.
Laura A. Ahearn, LMSW and Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, created a list of characteristics that have been identified from actual cases as markers for potential trouble. On its own, one red flag may not mean the person is a predator, but accompanied with other red flags, it may indicate that the person is capable of sexually abusing your child. They are:
- Someone who wants to spend more time with your child than you.
- Someone who manages to get time alone with, or attempts to be alone with, your child or other children.
- Someone who insists on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding a child, even when a child doesn’t want this affection.
- Someone who is overly interested in the sexuality of a child or teen and asks either the parents or the child sexually-oriented questions.
- Someone who relates extremely well to children and spends most of his/her spare time with them and has little interest in spending time with individuals their own age.
- Someone who has few or no boundaries and does not respect the limits of their role in their relationship with children.
- Someone who regularly offers to babysit, help-out or takes children on day or overnight outings alone.
- Someone who buys expensive gifts or gives children money for no reason.
- Someone who frequently walks in on children/teens in the bathroom or in the locker room while they are showering or changing.
- Someone who goes to parks, beaches, or public places where children congregate, and spends an exorbitant amount of time staring or taking photographs of children for no apparent reason. You should be suspicious of anyone attempting to photograph your child without your consent.
- Someone who inappropriately makes comments about the way your child looks.
Ahern says that convicted sex offenders say that parents are naïve - they’re worried about strangers when they should be worried about people who know their children. The best offense, the Crime Victims Center says, is a great defense. Understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and you and your children will be safer.
Most child sexual abuse, up to 90 percent, occurs with someone a child has an established and trusting relationship with, whether known by the parent or not, and who is often a person in a position of authority.
If you would like more information to help protect and educate children and teens, a great place to start is www.parentsformeganslaw.org
To help you determine what types of crimes are occurring in your neighborhood or near your child’s school, you can find an interactive map at the UPD website (www.ukiahpolice.com). This map is located under the “Live Crime Map” tab, and it includes detailed information about crime activity near your home or school.
If you’d like to be notified about crimes that occur near a specific location, you can sign up through the interactive map. We have also posted several links you can use to obtain more information on keeping kids safe under the “Missing, Exploited and Child Safety Resources” tab.
As always, our mission at the UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.