The release of the Boy Scout “perversion files” highlighted the behavior of compulsive pedophiles who meshed into society, all the while committing some of the most horrifying crimes against children.
The shocking behavior leaves communities wondering how they didn’t notice sex offenders who abused dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of children spanning decades. That’s because such offenders can be difficult to identify, said Shaunna Millar, a social work professor at Wichita State University.
“What a sex offender looks like or how you identify them within this broader scope of society is a myth,” she said.
The 15 Kansas men identified in the Boy Scout perversion files represented a variety of careers and family lives. Some had multiple children and college degrees, with jobs as social workers or insurance representatives. Others were single men working in manual labor or skilled trade jobs. “People who commit sex offenses come from all walks of life and don’t fit any particular profile,” Millar said.
Pedophiles build their life around offending, and over time, become very skilled at concealing their crimes. It often starts with a pedophile choosing a line of work involving children, or engaging in activities involving the kids they’re attracted to.
“People who are going to sexually abuse children are going to put themselves in the proximity of children, first and foremost,” Millar said.
James Jackson, a convicted Lawrence sex offender identified in the Boy Scout files, was the perfect example. His jobs as a teacher and scuba instructor, as well as his volunteering as a Boy Scout troop leader, all gave him easy access to children.
Some offenders then spend years building trust in a community, using their social positions to solidify their good intentions.
“We don’t see it because we don’t expect that people are going to mistreat children,” Millar said.
Stopping such abuse starts with helping parents and others responsible for protecting children understand the behavior and motivations of pedophiles, said Carla van Dam, a psychologist and author of the book “The Socially Skilled Child Molester.”
Children need positive role models and can benefit from interactions with coaches, teachers or neighbors. But when an adult goes overboard with attention, gifts or time, it should throw up a red flag to parents, van Dam said.
“If somebody is too good to be true ... there’s a catch,” she said. “Bottom line: If someone is too helpful, too interested in their kids, and disappears when they no longer have access to their kids ... they’re not in it for the right reasons.”
— Reporter Shaun Hittle can be reached at 832-7173. Follow him at Twitter.com/shaunhittle.