Preventing Abuse: There Are No Monsters

I’m working my way through Gavin De Becker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear. De Becker works with the highest ranking government officials, including presidents, to assess risk of violent behavior. He created the MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems, which is still used by the CIA, high profile public figures, and the public. Though De Becker specializes in predicting violent behavior, many of the principles should be applied to predicting child sexual abuse.

My experience working with churches tells me that they are generally way too trusting of everyone. The majority of church leaders I speak with equate kindness with morality and trustworthiness, they have a high level of naivety when it comes to protection of children, they are oftentimes strongly resistant to making drastic policy changes that include background checks on all volunteers and accountability for volunteers working with children, and they believe that they would be able to detect an abuser if he was among them. Put another way, they believe that abusers look like monsters and therefore are easy to spot. I might add that this is not a problem that’s isolated with churches. Daycares, schools, camps, and people employing babysitters are just as trusting of individuals.

But, as De Becker rightly observes, it’s precisely because we are looking for monsters that we are such good targets. In fact, abusers are not monsters at all. They are people like you and I. They look like us, talk like us, dress like us, work like us, pray like us, and are likely some of our best friends or family members. Because we don’t want to believe that people we personally know are capable of such crimes, we hear things in the news like, “He was such a nice man. I still don’t believe he was capable of doing such bad things. He must have just snapped.” De Becker’s point is that, simply because we ourselves wouldn’t commit a certain crime, we don’t want to fathom that our close friends would either. He says:
Every day people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in midthought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it. A woman could offer no greater cooperation to her soon-to-be attacker than to spend her time telling herself, “But he seems like such a nice man” (De Becker, 30).

Point well taken. It’s so important for us to realize that real crimes are committed by real people who don’t necessarily look like whack-jobs. De Becker adds:
So, even in a gathering of aberrant murderers there is something of you and me. When we accept this, we are more likely to recognize the rapist who tries to con his way into our home, the child molester who applies to be a baby-sitter, the spousal killer at the office, the assassin in the crowd. When we accept that violence is committed by people who look and act like people, we silence the voice of denial, the voice that whispers, “This guy doesn’t look like a killer” (De Becker, 46).

He recommends doing the exact opposite of what we are doing every day–we need to observe behaviors, not personalities. Crimes are never created out of thin air. People don’t just “snap.” There are always behavioral indicators prior to acting out. This applies to murderers and it applies to child molesters. We need to be more observant of behavioral patterns that indicate problems and malevolence. I recently had a person give me a laundry list of red flag behavioral issues with a man at church–he’s giving gifts to young kids, he offers to baby sit, he takes particular interest in certain kids, he tries to isolate them by offering rides, he invites them to his house, etc. I explained that he is very high risk and should be removed from activities which include children, to which this person replied, “But he’s so nice and is highly respected by everyone.” My response was, “So what?”

So many of us fall into the trap of believing that abusers look like monsters, that we don’t even want to entertain the possibility of abuse and so our interpretation of certain behaviors becomes tainted. Consider the questions we ask the applicant for the baby sitting job or the Youth Leader position at church–Are you good with children? What are your strengths? What is your experience working with kids in the past? These questions tell us nothing of their behaviors with children. Nor do they put a would-be abuser on the spot so that we can observe their mannerisms in real time. Should we not be asking questions like, “Do you have any sexual attraction to children? Have you ever physically touched a child inappropriately or thought about doing so? Have you ever viewed child pornography? What would you do if you felt a child was soliciting sex?, etc. We can learn a lot about a person by asking the right questions. A 3 second pause or a shift in the chair can reveal a lot of information. But rare is it that I speak to people who are asking these kinds of questions. We’ve got to do a much better job at prediction and prevention of abuse.

If you don’t believe me, take it from an abuser himself. I recently visited my dad in prison and he had this to say, “Two things shocked me each and every time I abused a victim–How easy it was to get a child to act out sexually and how easy it was to get away with it.” He is absolutely right, to our shame.

I Teach My Kids to Hate (And You Should Too)

The Bible, through the words of Jesus, instructs us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). If your enemy is hungry, we are told to feed him. If he is thirsty, we should give him drink (Romans 12:20). Point well taken. But the Bible also gives us another vital instruction. It’s one that we don’t take seriously enough, in my opinion. We don’t even like the word. Yes it’s true; we are told to hate. We’re not instructed to hate people, but to hate what is evil. Romans 12:9 (NIV) says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” This particular word for hate appears only here in all of the Bible. It is the strongest word for hate. It literally means “to have a vehement dislike for something.” It is likened to a state of rage. In contrast, we are to “cling” to what is good. That word means something like “being glued to; to be inseparable.”

Do we have a vehement hatred for evil? I mean, really–does the thought of evil make us rage inside? I’m not so convinced that it does. Neither am I convinced that we’re teaching our kids to hate evil. Let me give a little backdrop for why I hate evil. When I read story after endless story of abuse, especially abuse of children, something snaps inside of me. After hearing stories of shame, humiliation, and torture, Evil is no longer an abstract concept. It becomes personal. Extremely personal. People sometimes ask me, “Why do you subject yourself to all these stories of abuse and surround yourself with people who have been abused?” My answer is, “Why do you not?” Avoidance makes abuse no less real to the people it’s actually happening to. The vast majority of people in our nation choose to ignore this evil, and so it continues.

In my frequent travels, I hear lots of gut-wrenching stories of young children being sexualized and used for pervert predators’ own little sex experiments. Let me be clear–this is not an “attraction” or “addiction.” It is evil. Pure wickedness. Attraction means exactly that–someone is attracted, for whatever reason (I’m not arguing causality here), to children. Attraction turns evil when there is intent to act out. The word “addiction” does not properly explain child molestation either. There is a vast difference between addiction and abuse. Addiction is a craving for something. Abuse is a craving to act out on someone. Children are not drugs. They are humans. They have a soul. They are precious. When they are used, manipulated, sexualized, tortured, emotionally screwed with, brought to orgasm, forced to perform sex acts on adults, and thrown out, we cannot ethically say, “Boy, Eric was addicted to Jennifer.” Let’s not cheapen the child by referring to molestation as an “addiction.” Acting out on a child is always evil because every time molestation happens, an innocent child is harmed.

I am very cautiously optimistic about the epidemic of child sex abuse. The optimistic part comes from shaking hands with people like myself who are speaking out against abuse on a national (and some an international) level. Many people are listening and are willing to take strong measures to prevent abuse. This is commendable and hopeful. The very cautiously part comes from my experience speaking at churches. Church leaders are generally still na├»ve and are way too willing to give people the benefit of doubt. This reduces the likelihood of church leaders reporting suspected abuse in a timely manner. In fact, I’ve witnessed on several occasions strong resistance by church leaders to report alleged abusers because “they just don’t seem like the kind of guy who would do something like that.” I often tell people who respond this way not to confuse their desire for people to be pure and innocent with them actually being pure and innocent. I could wish all day long that my own father had not committed atrocities against multiple children. But that doesn’t change the fact that he actually did. We’ve got to stop pretending like evil is not around us. We can’t cower in fear, either.

Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” And so we unapologetically expose the works of darkness and shed light on the people who are abusing children in the dark. But more than exposing this darkness, we hate the evil. And we should have no embarrassment or apology for teaching our children to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Let’s start raising up the next generation to be kind, loving, and opposed to evil.

Tenancingo: Home Grown Sexual Abusers

Trucking had always been a dream of mine. I’ve always liked operating heavy machinery and traveling, so trucking was a natural fit. I drove truck coast to coast for one year in between college and seminary, while I was still single. My first time across the Rockies was in a bad snow storm. Dropping down a hill in a semi truck from 11,000 feet when it’s hammering snow is quite an experience! What makes it more adventurous is looking down and seeing other tractor trailers that have careened off the interstate to the bottom of ravines from years past. It’s an eerie feeling to see multiple unrecovered trucks at the bottom of a mountain. Once a truck has fallen so far, it’s impossible to tow it back up to the top of a mountain, so many of them end up being left there permanently.

I believe evil is the same way. Once someone has fallen so far down, it becomes impossible to tow them back to the top. I had a Bible professor who has another helpful analogy called the “chained dog” theory. Evil is like a dog that’s chained up. It has boundaries set by God. Evil still exists, but the chain restricts evil’s reach. We can either stay outside of evil’s reach, or we can taunt it and risk it latching on to us and dragging us deeper into its territory. Have any of you ever been to a place that is so dark, you can “feel” the evil?
chained dog

God warned the Israelites, “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:24-25 NIV). Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Bible mentions evil and its variants (evils, evildoer, etc.) just shy of 500 times. There is a consistent message throughout the Bible that many Christians deny. . . there is a level of evil that creates a suction point, a trap, a point of no return.

The small town of Tenancingo, Mexico is one of these places. It is the breeding ground for a major pedophile ring and sex trafficking to the United States. Young children are saying that they want to be like their dads and sell women for sex. There is no remorse, and darkness plagues the town. Psychologists are divided on what “makes” a perpetrator act out on very young children. Is it psychological factors, environmental, genetic, addictions to pornography, etc.? To be fair, nobody really knows for sure. If we are honest, we would admit that there are many hidden factors, both in the brain and in the home, that we will probably never figure out as far as causality. But one thing we can probably all agree on is that perpetrators who sexually act out on children are committing an evil. And once you begin messing with the dog, eventually it’s going to bite. And in Tenancingo, the dog has claimed its territory and is dragging people all over the place. I highly recommend watching this documentary on Tanancingo’s trafficking of sex slaves to the US. It is worth every minute.
****WARNING: We need people to watch this and raise awareness that this stuff happens all the time****

So what’s my point? Or rather, what’s God’s point? At the top of the list, remember the old saying, “If you play with fire you’re bound to get burned?” Well, if you play with evil, you’re bound to get bit. According to Scripture, we’ve all done evil. But it’s the perpetual toying with it that leads to the point of no return. There is, however, great news in all of this. For those who struggle with pedophilic thoughts at a younger age, rehabilitation is quite successful. I’d encourage parents who have allegations come against their children to not be so quick to defend them. Rather, get them the help they need.

I’ve received several phone calls with similar scenarios–a 13-15 year old boy was inappropriately saying things, doing things, or was infatuated with young children. And in all the cases (so far), the parents or guardians defended the perpetrator, not the alleged victims. Folks, if you see your child getting too close to a chained dog, don’t tell everyone else to buzz off. Help pull your child from that evil. Seek professional guidance from a sex-specific therapist. Help your child get out before it is too late. The more children learn to keep this a secret, the more they will be emboldened to act out. Help them get out. Help them find a way to deal with their attraction and aggression toward younger children. Love does not defend evil. It helps pull people from it before they become so debased that they cannot stop.

Child Sex Trafficking In the Church

Amber Lyon did a great documentary a few years back called Child Sex Trafficking on the Internet–“Selling the Girl Next Door.” Take time to watch it. This is a must watch. She talks firsthand with the Johns who were caught buying underage girls for sex. She also speaks with young girls being trafficked. Underage girls are being sold for sex every day by the thousands on backpage.com. I’ve checked out backpage.com myself and there is no hiding it. It took me less than 30 seconds to find hundreds of young girls for sale.

The internet has accelerated the sex slave industry in more than a few ways. First of all, instant accessibility to thousands of children being sold online has made it too easy for predators to offend. In the documentary, Amber posted a picture of her in her 2 piece when she was 14 along with an ad for sex. Within 4 minutes of posting the ad she began getting bombarded with calls from men wanting sex, knowing she was (though only posing as) underage. Second, social networking has provided unlimited access of public pictures of young children, allowing predators to troll for the children of their choice so that they can feed their fantasy. See my Facebook: Playground for Pedophiles to see how prevalent this is. Finally, the internet provides an “escape,” a place where people can hide dirty little secrets and remain completely anonymous.

In Amber’s documentary, you’ll find what should be common sense to us all–prostitutes don’t enjoy doing what they do! As she interviews hookers at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada, it becomes apparent through the tears that it’s a less than desirable “job.” As one prostitute weeps, she recounts her childhood molestation, “Virginity wasn’t an option where I came from. It was taken from me. When you get in the game and someone wants to sleep with you for money, and you’ve already lost your virginity, it’s like, ‘Why not?. . . Why not?’. . . . . Sex is not as sacred as it once was.” Dennis Hof, owner of the brothel, tells Amber why pimps seek young children to be trafficked–“They’re easily manipulated.” I interviewed former porn star Crissy Moran last year and asked her if she believed that the statistics are true that up to 90% of women in the sex industry have been sexually abused as children. Crissy said, “I definitely believe it’s true. The women in this industry are very broken.” Crissy herself had been sexually abused multiple times as a very young child. Living in a Christian home, virginity was idolized. When that was taken from Crissy at a young age, she too thought this of the idea of selling her body for money–“Why not?”

The maddening thing for me is that many of (if not the majority of) these women who were sexually abused as children were abused by trusted church members. This makes church one of the largest sex trafficking vehicles in the country. You may think I’m exaggerating, but everywhere I travel I’m told countless stories from survivors whose virginity was stolen from them at a young, young age. Heck, I don’t even have to travel to hear stories of sex abuse in the church. Several of my friends locally tell me story after story of sex abuse that has happened in their churches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make people fearful of churches or paint the idea that Christians are creeps. I’m a minister myself and I believe it’s the faith community that should be stepping up to turn this problem around. But to live in denial is the best way to ensure that the church’s trafficking of children continues. I can’t emphasize enough how prevalent abuse is in the church. And believe me, it’s not just Catholics.

I hope that I can shed a light on this atrocious evil that is being done in secret in the name of God. It’s not funny. It’s not something that happens every once in a while. It’s not something to take lightly. I leave in 2 days to conduct a seminar on abuse at a church in Michigan. I’ve already heard stories of saddening abuse from people who will be there and I will hear several more from people in my audience. It happens everywhere I speak. It is our job as Christians to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:11-14 NIV). Folks, it’s time we get out the spotlights! Tell your church leaders that this problem is real, that it happens all the time, and that we won’t stand for the church being silent on the sex trafficking of our young children.

Be sure to check out Amber’s video:

Why You Shouldn’t Hire a “Mitter” (Male Baby Sitter)

Last week Lynn Perkins, CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter.com, wrote a Huffington Post article titled Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Hiring a Male Babysitter. In the article, she lays out 3 reasons why parents should consider hiring a “mitter.” They are:
#1: It brings diversity to your child’s life and allows you to do your part to break down gender biases.
#2: They bring a different style of play.
#3: It’s an opportunity to provide your kids with a valuable male role model.

It didn’t take long for other articles to surface, praising this move to hire “mitters” and “mannies.” The push to hire the “manny” (male nanny) has been popularized in New York City. There is an increased demand in male sitters and nannies, and this is for a number of reasons. As I skim articles and comments, there seems to be a demand primarily because people don’t want to be labeled “sexist.” In fact, Perkins’ first reason to hire a “mitter” is that “it brings diversity to your child’s life and allows you to do your part to break down gender biases.” Allows you to do your part to break down gender biases? This very statement shows that we have lost the ability to look at differences between men and women objectively. Do we really need to hire a male baby sitter to “do our part” in breaking down the biases? If we objectively look at men and women who sexually abuse children, the facts themselves produce biases. Listen to what the famed Corey and Steve Jensen have to say:
The FBI estimates that there is a sex offender living in every square mile of the United States. One in ten men has molested children. Most child molesters are able to molest dozens of children before they are caught and have a three percent (3%) chance of being apprehended for their crimes. Boys and girls are at nearly equal risk to be abused and almost a quarter will be molested sometime before their 18th birthday. Fewer than five percent (5%) will tell anyone.1

I offer 3 reasons why people should not hire “mitters”:
#1 Men are far more likely to sexually abuse children than women
It sounds sexist, I know. But the facts speak louder than our self-righteous need to not sound like a misandrist. Estimates vary. Anywhere from 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 men have sexually abused children. In contrast, 1 in 3,300 women has sexually abused children (Abel & Harlow, The Stop Child Molestation Book, 2001, pg. 23). It is common knowledge that a person is far more likely to die in a car than in an airplane. We don’t cry foul at this finding because statistics prove it. Statistics should speak louder than our agendas. Statistically speaking, your child is far more likely to be abused by a male than a female. That does not mean that all males are sex offenders, or that women will never sexually abuse a child. It simply means that hiring a man puts your children at far greater risk of being abused.

#2 Background checks and trust make your family a prime target for sex offenders
The vast majority of sex offenders have never had any previous criminal background, making background checks a source of false security. I’ve read blog after blog and comment after comment touting “mitters” as something great–as long as you trust the person taking care of your kids. It is precisely because of trust that child abusers are empowered to abuse. When we completely trust people, our guards go down. My dad, who is currently serving a life sentence for child molestation, was a “manny.” I can tell you firsthand that he was the guy EVERYONE trusted. He passed background checks. He had glowing letters of recommendation. He was not socially awkward. Kids loved being around him. He was fun, kind, and caring. In short, he was the ideal guy to hire to watch your kids! But there’s something else we need to be aware of. Pedophiles who want to offend children will find opportunities to win the trust of others and gain access to children.

#3 Pedophiles find the path of least resistance
With the surge in “mitters” and “mannies,” pedophiles see an opportunity to gain access to children. How great is it for the offender to know that people are actively searching for male sitters? While I agree that men need to play an important role in children’s lives, I don’t think that person should be a hired baby sitter who has unlimited access to our children. The statistics are just too grim to open up that door. There is only a 3% chance of a child molester getting caught for any 1 instance of abuse, less than 5% of children ever tell when they are abused, and 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 men have molested a child.

These are reason enough not to hire a male sitter. You can argue that this will “ruin it” for the men who are not child molesters (and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of sitters who are not molesters). But, frankly, I’d rather ruin it for them than ruin something far worse for my children. Losing an opportunity for a job is not quite as devastating as a child losing his innocence to a predator.

Rewind to Fast-Forward

Sasha I had the chance to speak on abuse in Tulsa, OK a couple weeks ago. Everywhere I speak, 1/4 to 1/2 of my audiences have been sexually abused as children. I recently received a message from a preacher friend who said, “40% of the women in my congregation have been sexually abused as children.” The numbers are probably higher, knowing that many survivors of abuse never disclose their abuse to anyone. These are more than just numbers, though. I listen to the stories and hear see the pain in their eyes when they speak. There are ripple effects that effect just about every aspect of life–from intimacy problems, to depression and sexual promiscuity, to lack of trust and PTSD. You name it, and most survivors have experienced it. This is national sexual assault awareness month, yet this taboo subject will find little attention in the media.

I always like hearing stories of survivors who are empowered to help raise awareness and help other survivors of abuse. A friend sent me a link to a video produced by Sasha Neulinger. You may know him as the young actor who played Shallow Hal as a kid. He also played the obese kid in the movie When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. At any rate, Sasha has gone through 200 hours of home videos shot by his dad and is retelling his childhood story through the home videos. You see, underneath the happy moments captured on home video was a dark family secret–Sasha was being sexually molested by his two uncles. Both uncles sexually molested Sasha’s dad as a boy, too. Sasha and his dad are using this film as a way of healing for them and for other survivors.

Give this three minute video a view and let Sasha know you support this endeavor. He is trying to raise enough support to put the video to production. Let’s help empower survivors of abuse by listening to their voices.