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Jeff Ward: On School Bus Stops, Sexual Predators, And Protecting Our Children

It's not just "stranger danger." The real defense against predators is understand that—far too often—the abuser is someone the victim knows and trusts.

When it comes to middle schoolers, one of things I’ve discovered is that some school bus seats are far more coveted that others. In an effort to achieve those cherished perches, students will travel great distances to arrive early at the first neighborhood bus stop.

So when my son, who barely tolerates my brief presence on the outset of my morning dog walk, suddenly started walking to the most distant stop, I inquired as to why he was lengthening his journey by an extra block and a half.

“They changed the bus stops so that one’s first one now,” he replied.

“That’s odd,” I thought, “Why would they rearrange the school bus route after four years?” When I asked him just that, like most middle schoolers in regard to what they consider a superfluous exchange, he said he had no clue.

Little did I know the answer would come the next day, when a neighbor asked if the reason my son and his friend were suddenly turning west at her corner was because of the recent conviction of yet another neighbor for possession of child pornography.

I’m sure most of you remember that 57, was arrested and charged with 15 counts of child pornography last June. In a February plea bargain deal, he was convicted of one count of aggravated possession and sentenced to 120 days in Kane County Jail, three years of sex offender probation, and fined $4,390.

As you might imagine from the comments on that , some of my neighbors aren’t too thrilled with what most of us would consider to be a very light sentence.

After a brief investigation, it turns out that our neighborhood school bus stop swap was indeed the result of Reschke’s residence sitting directly across the street from one of those stops.

Of course, it would’ve been really nice if we’d actually gotten some sort of official notice from Disitrict 304 regarding this change. When I asked my son how he knew about it, he told me the bus driver had alerted them.

While we should certainly applaud the district for making this obvious and necessary adjustment, my fear is, with a conspicuous bad guy we can shake our collective fists at, this kind of Band-Aid cure gives us the impression that we don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Despite all the media hype over random attacks, the truth is that all reputable studies agree that between 85 percent and 93 percent of child sexual assault victims knew and trusted their abuser prior to being molested. Not only that, but in 47 to 68 percent of those cases, the perpetrator was an immediate or extended family member.

Believe me, I understand why we so desperately want to believe this kind of threat comes from the outside. Who would want to suspect friends and family? But the sad truth is, the vast majority of sexual predators try to gain your trust before they strike.

Look no further than the case of Aurora West High School teacher and band director Steve Orland who was just sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually abusing two 17-year-old students. Prosecutors assert he sent the girls, whom he’d known since they were freshmen, thousands of texts as well as regularly dropping notes in their lockers as part of the “grooming” process.

So how do you recognize the signs your child is being groomed? According to the Oprah Winfrey website, these are the six stages:

1. Targeting the victim typically based on low self-esteem.

2. Gaining the victim’s and victim’s family’s trust.

3. Filling the child’s needs through extra attention, gifts and affection.

4. Creating situations where they are alone with the child.

5. Erasing boundaries and sexualizing the relationship.

6. Maintaining control through secrecy and blame.

That’s why focusing our energy on bus stops and the Reschkes of this world is so dangerous. It only distracts us. The obvious sex offenders should never be ignored, but we always have to consider from where the real threat is more likely to come.

I’ve said it before, talk to your children! When Reschke was arrested, it gave my wife and I the opportunity to discuss the grooming process with our sons, and we really laid it all out.

We talked about where they could and couldn’t be touched and who should and shouldn’t be doing the touching. We told them to always trust their instincts and that they could always come to us with anything.

Let’s not get hung up on bus stops. Dispensing with our illusions, reasonable diligence, perspective, and a better understanding of the threat are the best ways to protect our children.

Colin C. March 19, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Jeff, don't blame the schools if they do little more than change bus stops. Yes, it's more symbolic than effective in protecting children but we are the ones who put these limits on the schools. I worked professionally with teens as a counselor for many years and learned two things very quickly: most teens know almost nothing useful or accurate about sex, sexuality, relationships, and what is appropriate and not. Second and even worse, you cannot teach them anything useful in the school setting. The moment you try the very parents who refuse to address the subject with their own kids descend on the school board and administration screaming that sex education is their place alone and the schools have no business or right to interfere. So, what do our kids get as models for healthy and appropriate relationships? MTV--Jersey Shore---and a lot worse. If teens are so ill prepared for the inevitable results of puberty I can't even imagine how ill prepared and helpless our younger children are to protect themselves from predators. At least you have taught your kids something useful but don't stop with the dangers. There's lots they need to know about healthy relationships too.
Moe July 08, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Jeff, Until we find the ringleaders ..those in power/authority this will continue. A case like yours says to me that someone higher up was also involved in doing the same horrible unthinkable acts. Involved in a way of giving the ok and looking the other way or even a ring. And until we start buting these rings we will never end this. Everyone leaves a trail. We have the internet. What better trail could that be to ban together and seek out what we need to. The truth, the who and how high up..

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