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How to Talk to Kids about Sexual Offenders

Pete Springer/OPB

Last week a graphic booklet called “Operation Safe Summer” was sent home with some children from kindergarten to grade five in Portland public schools. Along with providing information about summer programs it also had a fact-sheet about Measure 11 crimes. This booklet was created by the Portland police. It described Sexual Abuse 1 like this:

You are baby-sitting (sic) or playing with a small child. You have sexual contact with them by touching their penis, vaginal area, or anus, or by making them touch you in those same places. You will go to prison and could be there for 6 years and 3 months.

A number of parents felt this was not appropriate language for young children and it didn’t take long for the Portland Police to pull the booklets and apologize for the inclusion. It left us wondering exactly what the appropriate language is for talking to kids about sexual offenders — about crimes they could be caught committing and about how to recognize people who could be abusive to them.

As a parent you want to protect your children, but you don’t want to scare them. So how do you talk to your children about sexual offenders in a way that is age appropriate? Many people believe that the “stranger danger” message isn’t helpful since studies show the vast majority of offenders are people the victims know.

On this show we’ll speak with experts in child abuse prevention abuot what they know works. And we want to hear from you. Did you receive “Operation Safe Summer”? What was your reaction to it? Have you talked to your kids about about the dangers of sexual offenders? How did you bring up the subject? How do you make your children aware without making them fearful? If you are a teacher or social worker, is this a lesson you have had to teach?

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