These programs, designed to help children identify and resist potential abusers, have come under fire by some parents for the graphic nature of instruction and the fact that they place the burden on children to resist abuse.
One program that has revised some
of its content to respond to parents’ concerns about its sexual content is
In its 22nd year, the Vermont-based program is used in 30 dioceses across the country, including the Archdiocese of Washington. It is based on two major tenets:
— Most children are sexually abused by someone they already know, not a stranger.
— Lures used by sexual predators fall into 16 basic categories: affection, assistance, pets, authority, bribery, ego/fame, emergency, fun and games, heroes, jobs, name recognition, playmates, threats and weapons, pornography, computer/on-line and drugs.
The creator and founder of the program, Ken Wooden, formerly an investigative reporter, identified these lures by interviewing hundreds of convicted sex offenders and abductors. Wooden’s daughter, Rosemary Webb, vice president of Child Lures, admits that a handful of people have expressed strong objections to the content.
“We try as much as possible to just talk about the areas of the body covered by a bathing suit,” she said. “When you’re covering this topic, obviously you have to explain a little of that, but we try to keep that to a minimum.”
Elementary school children in the program are asked questions, such as:
— What is pornography?
— What does “abduct” mean?
— What part of the body does a bathing suit cover?
— If someone tries to touch a child in the “bathing suit zone,” is that real love or fake love? What if they ask the child to touch them in their “bathing suit zone?”
— What should you do if anyone, even a relative, family friend or classmate, tries to touch you in your “bathing suit zone?” All adults know that it’s a crime to sexually abuse a child. And now you know too. When it comes to your body, who is in charge?
Mary Jean Bagileo
has several children at St. Mary of the
Allowed to examine the teacher’s manual for instruction before her children participated in the lessons, Bagileo was shocked by the explicit nature of some of the materials. On the day when her fourth grade son was going to receive instruction on inappropriate touching, she and several other parents sat in on the class.
She explained that the teacher began by saying, “What do you wear to the pool? Why do you wear a bathing suit?” One little boy responded, “Mr. Freeman, did you ever try to swim with your clothes on?”
Bagileo noted, “It was so evident that the teacher was going one way and the kids weren’t even there. These kids were not ready for this, certainly not from the angle that the program was introducing it.”
Another question that the program
asks children is, “Suppose an uncle or close family friend tells you that
[touching in the ‘bathing suit zone’] is really okay?”
Some parents believe that question can baffle children, particularly kindergarteners and first graders who might be confused when their parents give them a bath or administer to other health needs.
But in the Archdiocese of
Washington, which has over 20,000 children in its elementary schools, parents
are not allowed to opt out of the program.
Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Archdiocese of Washington, explained, “Members of the child advisory board, which includes a chief judge for juvenile courts and a forensic pediatrician who investigates child abuse, have expressed concerns that children may not be getting safe environment training elsewhere, and if children are being abused at home, those parents may opt out, and the abuse would be hidden.”
Five elementary school children have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse since the Child Lures program was kicked off in 2005.
According to Gibbs, these five separate counts were allegedly by someone in their family or someone they knew, not the clergy.
Gibbs continued, “We have our own child protection advisory board and a case review board that deals with clergy allegations, but we have so few clergy allegations that that board hasn’t been active lately.”
Though a handful of parents dislike the sexual innuendos of the program, most families have expressed gratitude.
a mother of three boys (fourth, fifth and sixth grade) who attend St. Peter’s
School in Waldorf, Md., has only good things to say about the program.
“Sometimes when they hear these things from their parents, children think, ‘Here go mom and dad again.’ I think if they hear it from other sources, it may send a sound message to them that there are people out there who might want to harm them, and they do need to act with caution.”
Banky noticed a difference in her children after they participated in the Child Lures program. For example, at the mall two of her sons now pair up with each other and if they see someone they are not sure about, they “high-tail it back to me and say, ‘Mom I wasn’t comfortable in this situation,’” said Banky.
Child Lures insists it is taking both the pros and cons of its program seriously.
Webb said, “We have just completed another update. We are constantly at that and we do take all praise and criticism into account at all times and try to incorporate those into any updates we do. In the last couple of updates we’ve done, especially for the younger children, we have toned down any sexual reference.”
Mary Ann Sullivan is based in
At a Glance
What it’s about: To protect children from abuse, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 required all dioceses to implement “safe environment” programs. Many parents complain that some of the programs are too sexually explicit for children. We’re investigating each program.
This week: This, the fifth in our series, looks at Child Lures, a program created 22 years ago.
Other programs reviewed so far: Talking About Touching, Good Touch/Bad Touch, Virtus and the Diocese of Harrisburg’s Formation in Christian Chastity program.
What critics say: One mother was shocked by the explicit nature of some of the materials and felt students were not ready for the program.
What defenders say: Another mother felt the program is useful because children won’t listen to their parents about the issues it addresses.