Experts: Vast majority of sexual abuse close to home

Family-related sex assaults far outnumber stranger cases

While Kansas parole officers plan to take extra steps to monitor released sex offenders this Halloween, experts don’t want to overshadow another problem:

They say most sexual abuse against children is committed by friends or family members.

“Upwards of 70 percent of offenders are people known to the family, and not just known in passing: known as a friend, as a family member, as a pastor, any of these,” Kansas Department of Corrections spokeswoman Frances Breyne said. “The misnomer of ‘stranger danger’ and the pedophile lurking behind the tree is no longer a responsible assessment of the situation.”

Stranger-related sexual assaults often get more attention, such as a 2004 incident in Naismith Valley Park in which a man approached a girl, lured her off a path and tried to molest her.

But those kinds of crimes in Lawrence are far outnumbered by cases involving family-related sexual abuse. Recent cases include:

¢ In 2003, a 29-year-old Lawrence man was convicted and sent to prison for molesting his 2-year-old daughter and two children whom his wife baby-sat.

¢ In 2004, a 50-year-old former Lawrence resident was sentenced to prison for sex crimes involving two female relatives, ages 5 and 9.

¢ In July, a 41-year-old former Eudora resident was convicted of repeatedly forcing three children – the oldest of which was 13 – into sexual acts while their mother was away from home or in the shower.

Breyne said family sexual abuse wasn’t often discussed.

“Nobody wants to say that their uncle molested them as a child, and now they fear for their own child’s safety,” she said. “It’ll never make headlines that a father will molest his daughter for 15 years, then go on and molest his grandchild.”

Dennis Detweiler, a certified sex therapist in Lawrence, said parents needed to become more comfortable talking to kids about sexuality and helping them distinguish between proper and improper contact.

“I think there’s a lot of secrecy around sexuality in general that’s a breeding ground for sexual abuse,” he said.

Breyne said that when it came to Kansas’ offender registry – a Web site that lists people convicted of certain sex crimes – neighbors’ fears about someone living on their block could be overblown. Many sex offenders’ crimes don’t involve children, and some people on the list in Kansas are teens convicted of having sex with an underage girlfriend.

In recent months, the corrections department has been holding public meetings around the state to educate people about what it does to supervise paroled sex offenders. Breyne said that during the meetings, she encouraged people to do research if they had concerns about a particular offender living in their area.

If the person has been released from a Kansas prison, an “offender search” at will provide information about his or her case.”

Information about people convicted in Douglas County also is available at the Clerk of the District Court in the basement of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

Anyone who’s been a victim of a sex crime can call the GaDuGi SafeCenter at (785) 843-8985.