Parents Beware: Misconceptions about the Natascha Kampusch case all too common

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This week, I attended “Crimes Against Children,” a conference at Camp Dawson in Preston County, West Virginia. There, the FBI NAA (National Academy Associates) program featured several experts who spoke about the problems confronting today’s children. While the public—as well as the media—often believes violence is a natural component in the sexual crimes of children, that’s rarely the case. The current breaking news about Natascha Kampusch appears to support this fact. So in light of what those experts said, Natascha’s abduction and abuse bear analyzing.
Natascha, then 10, disappeared from Vienna, Austria, on March 2, 1998, while walking to school. Eight years later, authorities say she’s in relatively good health, after having been locked in some type of cellar all those years. Her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, 44, threw himself in front of a train after Natascha was found. From initial news reports, it seems Natascha did not know her abductor—which is unusual. Nor was there violence—which is quite common.
The American public (and, I’m guessing, society in most parts of the world) mistakenly believes that cases like this one are the norm: strangers abduct our children. That’s how we came to have so much prevention literature on “stranger danger,” where the stranger is often depicted as a man in a trench coat who offers candy to little children to trick them into going mindlessly with him.
But at Monday’s conference, I again heard something I know from personal experience to be only too true—the real danger to children comes from people they know, and often know well. “The forgotten molester is the acquaintance molester,” Kenneth V. Lanning, a retired FBI special agent, told an audience of law enforcement officers, social workers, and teachers.
This molester is one society refuses to discuss, Lanning said, “because he’s one of you. You’ve invited him over for dinner. Or you go to church with him.” Instead, society instead prefers to focus on stranger abduction, because it’s easier for us to believe strangers will victimize our children, than will the people we know (and even love).
News reports about Natascha indicate she was also victimized sexually. But since the authorities are relating she’s in “good health,” that may confuse us. This ties in with the second fallacy: that violence is part and parcel of such abductions and or sexual crimes.
“Sexual offenders do not use violence. It’s simply not necessary. If you do use violence, look at all the trouble it causes. The single dumbest thing you can do is abduct a victim and become violent,” Lanning said.
Which brings me to another topic pertinent to this issue: sexual activity with children. As one of the online news sites has reported about Natascha’s situation, “Whether the sexual contact … was consensual or forced on her was not yet clear…”
Excuse me, did I read that correctly? You bet. Which shows how little some branches of the media know about this sensitive issue. For the record, and as Lanning likes to say, children cannot give consent for sexual relations. Just because they can participate in it, doesn’t mean they can give consent—for it isn’t legal to have sex with a child (as defined by legal terms, anyone under the age of 18) and, furthermore, children lack the emotional maturity to understand the consequences of having sex. This means they’re not responsible for what happens to them sexually when the other person is an adult. (And even when the other person isn’t.)
So let’s just take the ‘consensual’ nonsense out of the equation right now, when it comes to Natascha and others like her. (For even if she had sex with her captor after she turned 18, years of any such sexual abuse would still render her unable make a good, sound decision.)
Other important points for parents to consider when trying to protect their children, as gleaned from that recent conference include:

  • The Internet poses a huge danger to children.
    Jerry Spurgers, a special agent with the FBI in Little Rock, and Jim Barrett, a sergeant with the Conway Police Department, both in Arkansas, related the 2002 case of Kacie Woody’s abduction and murder, by the 47-year-old man who masqueraded as a 14-year-old admirer.
  • Children and teens aren’t getting the message. Denise Holtz, a special agent with the Pittsburgh, Pa., FBI, said she has spoken to more than 40 classes this year alone, and her findings have been the same every time: If parents are explaining Internet safety use to their children, the children are either not hearing, or not listening. Therefore, parents need to set rules (and review them often), regularly monitor their children’s computer use, and keep the computer in an area frequently used by all family members.
  • When faced with a threatening situation, call for help. Teach your children how to help themselves. Holtz said she teaches kids if their gut tells them danger is nearby, to run! “Run toward somebody who looks like a mommy,” she suggested.
  • Grooming is alive and well. Child pornography, defined as images of children in sexual poses or situations, is being used in grooming, which is the process of befriending a child in order to then sexually abuse her (or him). Tessa Cooper, a victim specialist with the FBI, and Maureen Runyon, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, both out of Charleston, W.Va., said they’re seeing a lot of grooming cases where child porn is used prior to a sexual assault.
  • Adults who prey on children will try to act on their perverted desires. When using the Internet to befriend and then lure their victims, these offenders will get around to asking about having a real world sex encounter. That’s the word from Dave Perri, an assistant U.S. attorney in Wheeling, W.Va. “It’s not a question of ‘if.’ It’s a question of ‘when,’” Perri said.
  • Report anything suspicious to the authorities. According to the news, Natascha’s captor exposed himself to a neighbor’s daughter, whose father never reported it. Wayne Sheppard, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the NCMEC works with local, state and federal law enforcement officials, to investigate reports of suspected or actual child sexual abuse. So either call your local police, or 1-800-The-Lost, if you think a child is in danger.


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