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Knowledge is a powerful tool when safeguarding children from abuse

By David Walter
The school-less months of summer in Johnson County cause scores of area children and young adults to flock to summer programs across the county. While many parents are excited to involve their children in enrichment programs such as karate, swimming, crafts, and various sports, resources for obtaining reference checks and background information regarding the history of those working with area children appears to be limited.
While the abuse of minors by those entrusted to work with them may be a delicate subject for parents to address, issues of abuse occur among tens of thousands of young victims every year in the United States. It is difficult to conceive that people can actively commit crimes against children. The shattering of trust in humanity, the mind-boggling nature of the crimes, and the feeling of helplessness of young victims create a very real need for parents to be aware of the background of the adults to whom they entrust their children.
According to the most recent Child Maltreatment report of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there were a reported 676,569 cases of child abuse or neglect in the United States in 2011. Incidents of abuse run the spectrum from medical neglect to rape. Seventy-eight percent of these cases were neglect; close to 18 percent was physical abuse, and just over nine percent suffered sexual abuse. Among all these cases, 1,570 children died. There were 10,262 cases of maltreatment in Tennessee in 2011. Out of the reported cases in Tennessee 2,599 were sexual abuse.
Without negating the significance of any other sort of abuse, this article will be discussing the issue of sexual abuse against children. Fortunately, this form of abuse is on the decline, but quite often we still hear of incidents that rattle our psyche. News of the kidnappings in Cleveland, OH and Elizabeth Smart come to mind, but these horrendous crimes are the outliers. It is the lesser known incidents that are the most frequent and of which we are not always aware.
An interest in this story began several weeks ago when a Tomahawk reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided to attend fitness classes in a neighboring county. After one class, this person met a man who “just didn’t seem right.” After some suspicions and a quick look at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) Sexual Offender Registry, it turned out that this man was a registered sex offender with a conviction for solicitation of a minor. This same man is responsible for instructing young boys and girls at the fitness center. Further research was done and after several calls inquiring with the TBI, the parole board of the county involved, and the police department where the classes are held, no definitive information could be collected on whether or not this person was committing a crime by being in contact with minors.
There are certainly laws in Tennessee which cover sexual offender contact with minors in an officially designated location for children, such as a child care center or school, but this situation was ambiguous and did not seem to have a straight answer. Regardless, there was a registered sexual offender in a leadership position of teenagers and children. They remain in that role even after the center’s owner was notified. So it begs the question how one can responsibly avoid these situations.
First, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), most children are sexually abused by people they know and trust. Sixty percent of abusers are people known by the child but are not family members. Thirty percent are close or extended family members. The remaining ten percent are strangers to the child. Second, the APA cites studies that say close to one in six boys and one in four girls are abused sexually before age 18.
In Johnson County, there are currently 26 sexual offenders registered through the Johnson County Sherriff’s Office. This does not take into account the number registered at the Northeast Correctional Facility. Anyone can go to the TBI website and look up these offenders and their proximity to where you live. While these have served their time and been punished for their crimes, they frequently are repeat offenders. According to the United States Department of Justice, roughly one out of every 19 is rearrested for another sexual offense after been released from prison. Nearly half of those sent to prison are rearrested for any sort of criminal offense, and those with prior sexual offenses are more than twice as likely to be rearrested for another sexual offense. These statistics are only for those who get convicted of another offense. Other studies show that repeat offenders actually have a much higher rate of committing similar acts.
Knowing who these people are is incredibly important, but many offenders are never caught or go decades without being arrested for victimizing a child. Even the smallest hint of related activity should also be immediately reported to the police or Tennessee Children’s Services. To help prevent this from happening, most children’s advocacy groups recommend educating children on safety with strangers, appropriate roles and relationships between adults and kids, and in today’s world about how to be safe on the Internet. If you believe that a child is being abused, you should immediately call the police or children’s services at 1-877-237-0004.