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What Every Parent Should Know: Experts Share Tips on Keeping Predators Away from Children

Experts advise letting children know about appropriate boundaries and that children can always talk to a parent or guardian if they feel something’s not right.

The series of stories on Ramona Patch in February and March about the trial of a Wynola man convicted of child molestation sparked a great deal of interest, some questions and other responses. We promised that we would bring you the answers from the experts to questions about how to protect your child from being molested.

Today, we bring you answers from Cathy McLennan, who is a supervising forensic interview specialist at Palomar Pomerado Hospital. She holds a master’s degree in social work and has worked with child abuse victims since 1974. She has worked with thousands of children and has been qualified to testify in 23 court cases.

In the , McLennan testified about typical “grooming” behavior. The prosecutor, Timothy Campen, told Ramona Patch after the trial that as he listened to her testimony, the similarity between Kinney’s behavior and what McLennan described “was eerie.”

We also asked another expert who testified in the trial, Sgt. Christopher Davis of the Lemon Grove sheriff’s station. Davis was formerly a detective in the sheriff’s Child Abuse Unit and was the case agent in the Kinney case.

These interviews show how the story of Mark Lewis Kinney, a musician and music instructor who taught in Ramona and other areas, appears to have been a classic scenario that can provide helpful information to the community at large.

One of the lessons from the case is that people held in positions of trust in a community can be molesters. Also, a molester can be a close family friend, a relative or family member. In fact, this is usually the case, says McLennan, who interviewed the three girls in the Kinney case and testified for the prosecution. In 90 percent of cases, she reports, the child can identify the abuser.

In her phone interview with Ramona Patch following the trial, McLennan said there’s a misconception that young children would have to be frightened into participating in being molested.

“Not so,” she said. “Usually the person grooms the child first. It’s somebody the child already knows, so the trust is already there.”

She said researchers who have interviewed known molesters have discovered that these people have a way of selecting their victims. Molesters interviewed discussed sometimes selecting a vulnerable single mom who would appreciate a male coming into the picture.

“The personality of the child is definitely a factor too,” she said. “Sometimes one child will be molested and a sister will not.”

After the selection process comes the grooming, McLennan said.

“It’s a question of how can that molester get to that child? Sometimes, it’s gifts,” McLennan said. “Sometimes it’s attention — one on one.”

Then, she said, there’s the desensitization phase, when the molester gets a little more physical. It’s not necessarily sexual; it might be back rubs, McLennan said.

In the Kinney case, testimony revealed that Kinney had taken the girls to drive-in movies, where they were all bundled up in the back of the car together with pillows and blankets. He took them on hikes, gave them back rubs and skinny dipped in a pool with them.

McLennan said that as a molester advances with a child, pornography might be used or sex talks, such as asking the child about his or her body. This breaks the barrier, McLennan said. This was the case with Kinney, the trial revealed.

“This type of behavior all leads to the sexual touch,” McLennan said.

How is a parent to know that this might be going on?

“Parents can’t spot these scary people because they don’t look any different to anyone else,” McLennan said.

Her advice for parents is to talk to kids when they are young.

“Parents should watch out for people who take an inordinate interest in their child,” she cautioned. “It happens to kids from ‘nice’ families just as much as any other family.”

She said it’s a rare child who will come forward and tell a parent what is going on.

“Be vigilant,” she urged parents.

McLennan said that studies show 25 percent of women had some sexual experience during childhood. One in six or seven boys has a sexual experience as a child, she reported. She said there was a “large study done by Kaiser in San Diego.”

“It’s a huge problem worldwide,” McLennan said.

Sometimes a parent knows about the abuse but does little or nothing to stop it.

Why?

“In the case of the unsupportive, non-offending parent, it could be a mom struggling to believe the child,” McLennan said. “Kids don’t make up this stuff very often. Usually they don’t want to talk about it. Child Protective Services gets involved if a parent doesn’t protect,” she said.

McLennan said false denial is a much bigger problem.

“Sometimes kids deny but we have evidence, such as a child has a sexually transmitted disease.”

What should a parent do if a child talks about situations that have made him or her uncomfortable? McLennan said adults should “remain calm outwardly and say ‘I’m going to do something.’ Then get the child away and allow no more contact.”

In the Kinney case, a protective order was filed after he was charged so that Kinney could have no further involvement with the girls, according to the court file.

How likely is it that a sex offender will strike again?

McLennan said, “Most of us in this field have not felt that there’s good treatment. There’s a high recidivism rate.”

According to Kinney’s file in the El Cajon branch of Superior Court, he was convicted in 1984 of performing a sex act on a 10-year-old boy. Kinney was 21 at the time. It was noted that the situation was handled by the Barstow Police Department.

During sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Chantal DeMauregne said that Kinney had stated, “I shouldn’t be here.” She also said that his repeated urging of the girls not to tell their parents indicated he knew that the behavior was wrong. According to the court file, Kinney received psychological treatment and had to attend classes after his earlier offense.

Judge Allan J. Preckel had the discretion to allow — or not allow — the information about the prior offense to be discussed during the Kinney trial. The District Attorney’s Office argued that allowing the information as evidence would give jurors a full picture and lend credibility to the three girls’ testimony. It would explain why the parents discussed the subject with their girls, rather than making it appear that the parents, by talking to the girls, put ideas in the girls’ heads, the prosecution trial brief stated.

However, the defense argued that the 1984 case was “too remote” because it happened 26 years ago. Defense attorney David Cohn also stated that the information could confuse or prejudice the jury. He chose not to put his client on the stand. After the trial, Cohn told Ramona Patch that he made that decision because the prior offense “would have immediately come up.”

Judge Preckel, when asked by Ramona Patch about his decision regarding whether to allow the prior conviction as evidence, declined to comment because the case is still open to possible appeal.

McLennan said professionals working in the child abuse field “don’t understand the problem well.”

“I’ve seen thousands of kids and there is no one explanation for it,” she said. “Sometimes the offender is married. There’s no consensus on why this happens. It’s not a given that a child who has been abused will become an abuser.”

Kinney’s court file indicates that he had never married and had no children. After the verdicts, prosecutor Timothy Campen told Ramona Patch that there was no known history of Kinney having been molested as a child. Campen said Kinney’s diaries from his youth, however, seemed to indicate unusual beliefs about sex.

During his closing arguments, Campen told the jury that although many people might ask why it happened, they were not there to answer that. Throughout the trial, he stated that child molestation is a “private” act and so by definition there are usually no witnesses of the acts other than the children, so that the girls’ testimonies should be taken into account. Jury members who spoke to Ramona Patch following the trial said they found the girls credible.

Davis, the former agent who investigated the Kinney case, has reviewed or investigated hundreds of child sex abuse cases. Ramona Patch conducted an interview with him after the Kinney case by email. He said several common themes have come out of the investigations he has been involved in. One is that the suspects, most often male, took advantage of the children’s lack of education about sexual matters or the privacy of their bodies or the children's naivety due to their young age. The children simply did not know any better, he said.

Sometimes, Davis said, a suspect will build an element of “secret” and tell the child that others should not know. A molester may instill guilt and even negative consequences if the child reports.

“This can be a very compelling reason for a child not to tell because they may be told they will lose their mom, dad, love, animals, etc., and that they participated and will be in trouble,” Davis said.

“I have seen children who are, in essence, simply bribed. They receive gifts, toys, fun activities or extra ‘attention and love’ if they continue their participation.”

Regarding prevention, Davis said, “The first line of defense needs to come from parents and the home and not from some outside government or school agency.”

He said parents need to discuss the privacy of their child’s body and how they are amenable to hearing if someone touches the child in a way the child doesn’t like.

“A discussion of sexual matters can take place as the parent feels the child is ready, but any parent can tell their child of any age about inappropriate touching,” Davis said.

“Parents should provide their child with ‘what if?’ scenarios that include touching by strangers and/or someone they know. For example: ‘What if an adult you know asked to touch you on a private place?’”

These scenarios are also good for presenting potential kidnapping situations as well, Davis said.

“‘What if an adult asked you to help find his dog or a place on a map in his car?’”

Davis said parents need to assure the child that he or she will not be in trouble when telling the parent of anything that may have happened. Parents need education too, Davis said.

“People tend to rationalize or don’t want to believe that a person could or would do these acts. When another party notices something that does not seem correct and notifies a parent, the parent should take the time to ask the child in private. Assure the child that it is OK to talk and tell.”

In the Kinney trial, jurors heard how parents asked each child individually whether anything may have happened, after an adult cautioned them that perhaps they should not be allowing their children to spend time alone with Kinney so often. At least one of the girls was reported to have broken down in tears and was upset for the rest of the night after talking about Kinney’s behavior to her parents.

“Parents and guardians should inquire with the child without being ‘leading’ or putting words, acts or people’s names into the inquiry,” Davis said.

“The next step is to monitor what your child is looking at on the computer and what they have access to for email, Internet and interactive games. Security software and parentware can be purchased at all major retailers and often some is built directly into the OEM software. The Internet has lots of boogie men in dark rooms that are always on the prowl. This is a large problem and goes back to ‘access’ to a child," he said.

Davis recommends the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as “an excellent resource.”

This is a federally funded organization with lots of resources and education for citizens and law enforcement, he said.

McLennan, the forensic specialist, said the Palomar Pomerado Hospital Center for Child Abuse provides education too. Staff can be contacted by calling 760-739-2150.

Other resources in San Diego County include:

San Diego County District Attorney’s office, which offers a printable brochure in English & Spanish http://www.sdcda.org/preventing/child-molestation.html

County Department of Child Welfare Services toll free hotline 800- 344-6000.

San Diego County Sheriff's Department Child Abuse Unit  858- 974-2310

Concerned Parent April 15, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Kinney did a despicable thing and was fairly prosecuted. However, be very careful of persons on the side of the prosecution; what they say and believe. Do your homework. In re: McLennan, MSW claiming high recidivism look here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_offender or here http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm or here http://www.collateralvictims.com/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=5&Itemid=56 As a parent I want the safest possible world for my children. As a citizen I want the most accurate information to educate myself and my family and to have the most effective laws and enforcement. Please, stop grandstanding and make effective and truthful public comments and legislation.
Rework Laws April 18, 2011 at 06:18 PM
The laws are not effective as they are currently written. Kinney did not get a fair trial, or sentence. We want our children to be safe but at what point do we call the people making the laws, for becoming too obsessed with catering to peoples emotional wants and not to what our state and country really need. There are thousands of people in jails and prisons serving sentences that are not proportionate to the crime. Where does the parents responsibility to protect their own child come into play. Where do people who have served their time get a chance at a new life? In cases such as these do never do. For a person who is on the list they never get their life back. False accusations happen everyday. At some point the witch hunt will have to stop and people will have to open their eyes to the reality of what has been really going on. While it is upsetting and horrible when things really do happen that hurt kids and young people, as a group we are over reacting. For everyone person in jail/prison for these crimes there are also the people left behind, many times young children who will never have that chance that having 2 parents brings. What a disservice we are doing for them to ignore the fact that they even exist. This system needs to be reworked.

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