The highest court in New York State ruled Tuesday that viewing child pornography online isn't necessarily possessing child pornography. While the merits of the ruling itself can be argued, the case merely emphasizes the dangers your children face. The bipedal monster who derives gratification from merely viewing underaged sex acts today could actively seek to rape your child tomorrow. This is a logical progression and we would be fools not to recognize it.
There are websites online through which you may chart registered sex offenders living in your area. Most people, when they do this, are amazed and horrified at just how many registered sex offenders live in close proximity to them, even in small towns with low crime rates. According to the legal information website duhaime.org, one out of five girls and one out of six boys will be molested before the age of 18. More than two-thirds of molesters offend again. Duhaime, quoting Taking Care of Your Child, says that 4,600 children are abducted by non-relatives every year. One in every five kids will be sexually propositioned through the Internet.
Predators who target children are remarkably prevalent in industrialized society, and as the statistics bear out, most of them are recidivists – repeat offenders who are not in any way "reformed" by prison time, counseling, probation, or any of the many ineffective "solutions" our legal system seems to think will keep them in check. The fact is, a child sex predator could be stalking your child right now. The ultimate responsibility for safeguarding your children is yours.
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Laundry lists of tips to keep your children safe are about as common as the predators themselves. The following, however, are some good general guidelines for keeping your children safer in a dangerous modern world. Most, if not all, are common sense, but where your children are concerned, no amount of repetition is a bad thing. Our children are defined as dependents for a reason. They depend on their parents for everything, while they lack the judgment we are supposed to provide for them.
Thinking of hiring a male babysitter? Don't. Most men are not criminals, but the overwhelming majority of sexual predators and child molesters are male (the epidemic of female teachers sleeping with their students notwithstanding). Simply put, it's unusual (though not unheard of) for a young man to enjoy the company of, or wish to spend his time nurturing, other people's children. Be suspicious also of men and boys (or female teachers, natch) who want unsupervised time with your children. Whether it's the 20-something who wants to "date" your minor daughter, or an older neighborhood man who has befriended your preteen sons, there are very great child molestation risks involved. NEVER leave your child alone with such people.
Talk to your children about authority figures, and discuss with them what is normal and what is not. Very young people have no frame of reference. A child does not know that it is not normal, say, to be beaten with a yard stick while in nursery school, because until a very young child is told otherwise, that's just how the world works to him or her. Discuss with your children what actions are not appropriate for strangers or relatives (versus what actions are – this is the classic "good touch" and "bad touch" information). Most importantly, explain to them that it is not OK for a person in a position of authority, like a sports coach, a religious figure, a scout leader, a teacher, or a babysitter to touch them or treat them in a way that is inappropriate for any stranger to touch them.
Know where your children are. There is no excuse for a parent not to know where his or her child is at any given time. Technology can be used to help you, in this case; there are mobile phones with GPS tracking features that let you use the GPS satellites ringing the globe to locate your child via the Internet.
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Have a protocol for strangers and for changes in routine. Teach your children the old fundamentals about never accepting anything from strangers (especially food and drink), not talking to strangers and not accepting rides from them. If you must diverge from your child's routine and they are old enough to understand such things, you can teach them a code word that someone could use to establish their trustworthy credentials in case of emergencies. Guard such things carefully, and teach your children never to divulge the codes.
Never ignore or dismiss your child's concerns. Children often do not report abuse because they don't understand it or are not comfortable speaking about it. If they do express a concern in a roundabout way, always listen attentively and encourage your children to discuss their concerns in more detail.
Never allow a minor unsupervised access to a computer. Apart from the harmful things they might view when you're not around, like pornography, your children are very vulnerable to being propositioned, stalked, bullied, or otherwise harassed when online, particularly when playing online games. Always supervise your child's computer activity. Your child's computer should be in a common area, not in a bedroom.
The sad fact of the modern age is that our technology makes it much easier for societal predators to target our children. Much worse is that the ruling of New York's highest court will encourage and embolden such predators, who may well act out their desires with real victims after indulging their sick habits in secret.
While there have always been sex offenders and child molesters, it is more difficult than ever to protect your kids. At the same time, it is easier than ever for criminal adults to find, target and pursue your children. Given this, you must take the time and make the effort despite the challenges. Your kids may not always thank you for it, but the role of a parent is often a thankless one. You will know you are keeping them safe. That is all that matters.