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I’m going to warn you right now: I’m discussing a topic so horrifying you will want to flip the page. In fact, I won’t be surprised if you instantly turn to the Pulse. No town is exempt from this crime—not even our quaint, mountain town. However, no matter how damaging these acts are to its vulnerable victims, sexual predators often elude charges for years, sometimes abusing hundreds of children before they are caught.

“I am disappointed in myself and the situation. My life is over,” said Ted Komada, Killip Elementary teacher, after being caught sexually abusing two children. After reading the article in the Arizona Daily Sun, one detail of the crime particularly stood out: “One of the children examined had injuries consistent with rape.” After reading this about his arrest, I ruminated on Komada’s response and repeatedly re-read his quote, pausing on the word “disappointed.”

I apologize in advance for my unsympathetic tone regarding Mr. Komada’s response, but he’s “disappointed” about the “situation?” “My life is over.” Are you kidding me? Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising to me.  Most pedophiles are completely disconnected from their victim’s fear and typically avoid any type of accountability. They are masters of control, illusion and manipulation.

Larry Nassar, previous USA Gymnastics coach, was recently sentenced to life in prison for abusing more than 200 little girls, some as young as six years old. Nassar’s crimes were horrific and sometimes included penetration. Even more disturbing, he performed these acts behind a sheet while trusting parents were present in the exam room. Listening to dozens of tearful testimonies, stories became a slide show of freckled faces, trusting smiles and ribbon-wrapped pony tails. Feeling helpless, I grabbed my pen and began brainstorming ideas on educating our children, improving institutional accountability and, more importantly, reducing the number of crimes.

Unfortunately, research indicates reducing sexual abuse is nearly impossible. Evidence recommends child and parent education over utopian goals of re-wiring pedophile mindsets. In fact, most sexual predators will be released and continue to groom new victims. Pedophiles are experts of selection and choose environments entrusting them to troubled, naïve or meek children. They rely on the perfect job/role to exploit the victim’s vulnerable circumstances or absentee parents. I often ask myself: How do we protect children from calculated, obsessive predators hiding inside trusting settings?

After sifting through expert opinions, I came to the conclusion that parents need to be able to recognize red flags and teach children confidence, courage and assertiveness. More importantly, parents should teach children to honor their intuition when they sense danger. I tell my kids, “If something feels creepy, it probably is.” If you have an introverted, shy child, improving their skills of assertiveness can be life-saving.  I practice scenarios with my children: “Don’t touch me that way. I don’t like it.” Then have them shout it.

Predators often convince victims that no one will believe their accusations because they often “lie and tell stories to get attention.” Even more repulsive, they plant seeds of self-doubt and fear by placing responsibility on the victim: “You didn’t have to take off your underwear, Sarah. So you must have liked it. You don’t want to get me in trouble, do you?” Creating shame is the perpetrator’s most effective tool for keeping children quiet.

By building confidence in children, parents empower them with the freedom to say “no” to an adult. Children are often rewarded for people-pleasing, “being good” and “listening,” but remind them to trust their gut too. If they don’t feel like hugging Uncle Fred, don’t make them. Encouraging participation in unwanted affection sends children a clear message:  Adults have power over your body and your right to say no.

“No more” were the words permeating the courtroom before Nassar’s life-sentence.

After listening to dozens of terrifying stories, I pictured a tiny, swollen ankle screaming for ibuprofen. A child’s relief as Nassar entered the room, smiling and giving words of comfort. Then, after, the shame, terror and self-doubt, eventually, leaving a helpless eight-year-old child to her own survival tactics and sacrificing ligament pain to avoid the monster living in the exam room. Throughout the years, Nassar probably prided himself for evading authorities, although I’m sure he won’t forget the words of one fearless testimony: “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” 

Shawna Ritter (aka Honey Guns), local hairapist, blogger and derby girl, has lived in Flagstaff for over 25 years. She graduated from NAU in 2000. Ritter can be sighted running her two boxers downtown or taking out speed walkers on her roller skates.

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