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Think your child can’t become a victim?

Think your child can’t become a victim?
Think your child can’t become a victim?
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Viewpoint of Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

The message I found in my email inbox Jan. 13 caught my eye: “Important update from Franklin College Board Chair,” it was headlined. While I graduated from Indiana University – Bloomington, I spent two years at Franklin and still consider it my college “home.”

I immediately opened the email and was stunned at the contents.

“Over the weekend, the College terminated the employment of President Thomas J. Minar when we became aware of a deeply disturbing incident,” it read. Minar had recently been arrested in Wisconsin on charges of using a computer to facilitate a sex crime, child enticement and exposing a child to harmful materials/narrations.

According to reporting by The Indianapolis Star, Minar had a profile on the popular dating app Grindr and on Jan. 6 began chatting with a person identified as “Tyler,” who listed his age as 19. Early in the conversation, “Tyler” admits he’s only 15. “Very cool. I’m 53,” responds Minar, who is actually 56.

The conversation continues and the two agree Minar will pick the young man up that evening at a local McDonald’s. “Instead of a teenager, Minar was greeted by police officers,” reads the IndyStar.com account.

As is typical in such cases, Minar immediately denied any wrongdoing, portraying himself as a role model to someone who appeared to be a young gay man. The Star reported that Minar told police the messages were just fantasies and that he, being a “distinguished person” in the higher education field, was only looking to mentor the teen.

Disgusting. Sickening. Shocking. Horrifying. Pick whatever descriptive word you choose; they all fit quite well.

Once again, I found myself having another conversation with my kids about sexual abuse. I don’t call it that; they’re still too young for such blunt terms, but they understand that nobody should ever talk to them or touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. And if someone ever does, it is never — ever — their fault. I’ll never forget reading a court file of an abuse case in which a stepfather molested his teenage stepdaughter. The girl’s mother blamed her daughter.

I’ve been talking to my children about this subject since they were preschoolers. Some may criticize me, believing that’s way too young to bring up such a disturbing topic. If I weren’t in the profession that I’m in, I might very well agree with them.

The stories I hated the most, the ones that will stick in my memory forever, are the stories I’ve written about child sexual abuse. Many years before I had children, I reported on an incident in which a woman sexually abused a preschool-aged male relative. After that, any illusions of wanting to maintain childhood innocence were overshadowed by the stark reality that any child can be victimized and most often it’s by an adult they love and trust. I promised myself I would do everything in my power to make sure my children never experienced such a crime, the aftermath of which can impact a person for their entire life.

In this day and age, it’s becoming more and more difficult to shield our kids from harmful influences.

I’m stunned at the number of children who have smartphones and their own laptops. Not only is it unhealthy developmentally, it’s very dangerous. My kids have very limited access to anything online and, frankly, I wish they had none.

Part of our conversation this time was about what they should do if they ever receive a message from an unknown number or a chat from someone they don’t know when they’re playing a game. I told them about the two instances in Washington County in which men drove from other states to meet young teenage girls they’d met online. Thankfully, those two cases ended the same way Minar’s did.

I don’t care how many controls or limitations you place on a device, you should never assume it’s enough or that it’s foolproof. It’s not.

In my opinion, another big factor is acceptance of people as they are. Rejecting a child because they are gay or trans-gender makes it pretty difficult for them to believe they are truly loved. It can also open the door to them seeking acceptance from people who will take advantage of them, possibly abusing them. Kids, no matter their age, need to know their parents truly love them as Jesus does. Unconditionally.

I hate hearing the term “stranger danger.”

Let me quote a U.S. Department of Justice report on child victims: “The vast majority of prison inmates whose victims were under age 18 had committed some form of sexual assault or molestation. The victims were typically children whom they had known, not randomly selected strangers. Nearly a third of those serving time in state prisons for violence against children had victimized their own child or a stepchild.”

That’s a pretty sobering reality check.

We need to worry a whole lot less about stranger danger and a whole lot more about weird Uncle Bob who pays a little too much attention to his niece or nephew. Talk to your kids and tell them if they get a funny feeling in their stomachs when they’re around a certain adult (be it coach, pastor, teacher, etc.); they need to believe it and talk to an adult they trust immediately.

I’m so proud of the Franklin College Board of Trustees. While Minar’s innocence or guilt can be determined in a court of law, the board acted swiftly concerning his time at the college. They met quickly and promptly terminated Minar.

They also initiated a way for any students who might have been victimized to come forward. The email read, “While there are systems already in place, additional resources will be engaged to continue to provide our students a safe, confidential means to report incidents of inappropriate behavior.”

It’s human nature to deny wrongdoing when we’re caught red-handed. “I made a mistake.” “I’ve never done anything like that before.” “It won’t happen again.”

Talk to any law enforcement officer and they will tell you that the “first time” really isn’t it. It’s only the first time someone’s been caught.

Child victimization isn’t new. It’s a crime that is as old as time. I do believe it is more prevalent now, due to the ever-increasing role technology plays in our lives. It’s not something that’s ever going to end or go away. It’s up to us as parents, then, to do everything in our power to protect our children. They’re depending on us to keep them safe, and education is a huge part of that.

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