Protecting Girls from Sexual Predators by Being Aware and Making Informed, Intelligent Decisions (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Stop Sex Offenders (Retrieved from converseprisonnews.com, February 27, 2015)

Sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Unfortunately, the all seem to have the same thing in common – committing sexual offenses against others in efforts to show power, control, and domination, and to make themselves feel good while hurting their victims. Another very sad thing about those who commit sexual offenses against others is that they typically see no wrong in their actions. In efforts to normalize their thoughts and actions, they often appear to be in denial, externally blaming others – including their targets – rather than admitting their actions and taking responsibility for them. They often go to whatever lengths necessary to blame their victims, cover up their offenses, and manipulate others into believing their falsehoods.

In this article, I will discuss the manner in which girls can and do become sexual targets. Boys, men, and women may also be targets of sexual predators, and this article does not minimize their experience, but is to solely focus on how society often fails to protect many of its most vulnerable and innocent members.  Perhaps if parents, educators, and/or others in our society are more aware and informed about the manner in which girls are targeted, more girls will be protected from sexually traumatizing situations that they should never experience.

Research has shown that most individuals who are sexually abused or assaulted are those who are known by their targets. Often, those who target them are family members or “trusted” pillars of the community, including those in positions of great wealth, power, influence, and/or authority. Men (and women) who sexually abuse and/or assault girls are those who believe that their thoughts and actions are correct. Their perspectives and behaviors, however, are pathological, including their actions of grooming their targets throughout time, potentially gaining the trust and friendship of the target’s parents or family, and taking whatever measures possible to see that their inappropriate interactions with their targets are secret, silenced, overlooked, and/or otherwise minimized.

Sadly, many sexual offenders are never caught. Many of these highly esteemed pillars of the community are so powerful and influential – or have such strong ties with a connective network of powerful and influential people who believe and protect them – that they continue their inappropriate actions and sexual offenses throughout their lives, always getting away with them. What is to be done for girls to protect themselves from such people? Nothing? If the girls or their families went to police, they would be laughed at and humiliated out of the police station due to the infiltration into police networks by these powerful and influential people. If the girls and their families publicly identified such people, they risk being financially, socially, and professionally ruined by such people and their large network of supporters with whom they are connected.

Must victims of their sexual offenses continue to suffer in silence? No. It is up to survivors to speak out because, in so doing, the offenders are not protected. The offenders count on tactics of fear, intimidation, and ruination to silence and destroy their victims and their victims’ reputations. Being silent only protects the offenders. By speaking out about offenders, society is informed and becomes more aware of those in their communities – and perhaps, even in their own families – who are so powerful that they get away with their sexual misconduct and offenses. In these ways, at least people are informed, whether or not they believe the truth and heed the warnings about the offenders’ harmful and pathological behaviors.

One way that sexual predators groom and prey upon girls is by sizing up their parents and/or families. If those targeting girls judge that the girls’ parents are unaware, uncaring, weak, or oblivious in any way, then their daughters are prime targets for grooming by sex offenders. Parents and/or other caregivers must be loving and caring toward their daughters, having created an atmosphere in which open and honest trust is shared, in order that these girls feel safe enough to be open with them about any inappropriate actions or offenses performed against them.

Next, parents must not be too free – and should be more guarded – about with whom their daughters spend time and what activities they do. A safe environment in which everyone has passed background checks and drug tests are among the most ideal places for parents to believe their girls are safe, however people must recognize that those with enough money and power who are involved in these environments may have had their offenses undocumented. People must not always trust that the authority, stature, and appearances of those in power are necessarily honest, honorable, and respectable.

Particularly in regard to young girls, people should be aware and informed about those with whom they have interaction and contact. Outside of a girl’s family, there are those in church, at school, and at other community events and even regular family outings, such as to the local grocery store, gas station, or other business, who may target her. People, particularly men, who have regular contact and/or interaction with a girl, long enough to speak with her in a way that gains her trust in some way are those who could be suspected of grooming a girl in order to sexually harm her. Should such interactions be overlooked and/or not perceived, then such grooming will continue and likely escalate. The grooming can escalate to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. Then, a host of excuses, cover-ups, and denials begin, as well as a discrediting of the victim.

Men who hold powerful positions, and who are looked to as trusted community members, are sometimes those who commit sexual harassment and/or misconduct against girls.  Some of these men may include priests of parishes that have churches, schools, and children’s activities, as well as millionaire or billionaire members of those parishes who lead and/or participate in church and/or community activities involving children. Those men who are so wealthy, powerful, influential, “trusted,” and “esteemed” in their communities and greater regional areas who perform sexual misconduct against girls have already duped everyone before a girl realizes what has happened, before her family can support and/or defend her (if at all), and before the girl’s healing process begins (if at all). Because these men are unwilling and/or unable to be responsible and accountable for their actions, they deny them and do whatever possible to cover them up, discredit their victims, and continue to victimize others.

The small Catholic parish in my small hometown of Gowanda in Western New York State is one such place of which I am aware that several people have had these experiences throughout a period of decades. To my knowledge, no one has ever officially reported the instances of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault that have occurred there and/or as a result of powerful people who are parishioners there. Many of those who have committed such offenses remain leaders and active members of this parish. A current priest there from Salamanca, New York threatened one former parishioner with Mafia action due to her knowledge of his sexual harassment and pedophilia toward girls. The survivors who have left the parish are aware that the shear wealth and power of those people would extremely outweigh anything they could ever say or do in any futile attempts to obtain justice. In effect, obtaining justice is impossible, and the lies, cover-ups, and misconduct will likely continue far into the future since those particular people are tied to the area.

Therefore, people must always be aware of and informed about others. Sometimes, those who dress well, have money and power, and/or be in positions that are spiritually-supportive of others are the very people who should not be trusted. This is further correct, especially if such men have free and open access to children, and even if they can pass every background check. Just because a “trusted” and “esteemed” man can pass a background check does not mean he does not have a sexualized pathology. People must be active in guarding and protecting children, even in places typically considered safe, such as churches. People must be aware that appearances are not always what they may seem, in order to be activists in adequately protecting children.

This is also not to say that all men who are involved in children’s activities are sexual predators. Certainly not. I recognize that there are many more men of honor and respectable character in our society than those who are not. Thank goodness for that! It is simply that, in a world where children have no rights and are often manipulated, controlled, objectified, abused, and/or sexualized, those vested with their care must be more vigilant and effective in our protection of them. Even those who do all they can and who have the best intentions toward protecting children may be unable to protect them. However, we must always do whatever possible to achieve that end.

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Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

Be a Halloween Buddy, not a Bully (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns (Retrieved from HauntedEve.com, October 31, 2014)

Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns (Retrieved from HauntedEve.com, October 31, 2014)

Things have changed alot for Halloween since I was a kid, and I think that’s for the better.  There are communities that have trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, costume contests, and other fun events at their fire stations, churches, apartment buildings, or other locations.  I also think that these events have a tendency for increased safety, rather than kids going door-to-door in their area, or even in surrounding neighborhoods.  One never knows the type of person who will be standing on the other side of the door, and/or what state or mood he or she might be in.

It was different when I was a kid.  Kids always walked around the neighborhood, dressed in their Halloween costumes.  We went door-to-door in my neighborhood in Collins, New York, a small, rural town outside of Buffalo.  I always remember that one of my parents took my brother and I around the neighborhood, or a parent of our neighborhood friends did so.  By about age 12, we were really considered too old for neighborhood trick-or-treating, however there were always many teenage boys in the neighborhood who continued to go out into their late teen years.

I remember, growing up, that there were at least three consecutive years in which my family’s house was egged by the older teenage boys.  After this occurred for two years straight, my brother and I vowed that we would try to catch some of them in the act, as we anticipated that it would happen again.  And, we were correct.  What happened that third year that our house was egged was really shocking, incredible, and discouraging to me about these many teenage boys in our neighborhood, whom I henceforth considered to be bullies.

So, on that Halloween night when I was about 12 years old, we had just turned out the outside lights for the night.  Only a few minutes passed before we heard banging sounds.  Mom, my brother, and I were watching TV and looking over our candy from the Halloween haul.  We all sprang into action.  We all ran to the front door, and found that our house was being egged.  My brother, who is younger than me, was the first one out of the house, running into the front yard, yelling and trying to scare the older boys off.

Following my brother out of the house, I lit out like I was on fire, racing after one of the slower boys after they all took off running.  About 15-20 boys had lined the street, surrounding our house, which was situated on a street corner.  So, all of these boys had a larger distance between us, and a better chance of getting away without being caught.  I continued to chase after this one boy in my stocking feet, gaining on him.  His heavy candy bag weighed him down as we ran through the back yards of three neighbors in the pitch darkness.  Having played in those yards, I knew them well, running without benefit of any light, listening to the boy ahead of me without being able to see him well at all.

By the time we reached the third neighbor’s yard, I tackled the boy, and we fell to the ground.  He was shocked that I not only caught up to him, but took him down.  He was filled with so much fear and embarrassment that he left his candy bag behind – my prize.  I took it home as evidence that I caught him, and was very proud of myself.  The next day, my dad went to the home of that particular boy – because I knew who he was – and he talked to his dad about what had happened.

Never again after that was our house egged.  It really shed a different light on all of those bullyish boys in the neighborhood who picked on my brother and I so much because we were good kids who always tried to turn the other cheek.  Unfortunately, adhering to a “Christian” way of behaving in those regards often sends an inaccurate message to others that we weak rather than strong, as we actually were.

So, my message this evening is to be a friend, be a buddy.  Don’t be a bully.  Halloween can be a scary and upsetting time for many people, especially children.  People’s nerves and emotions tend to run highly on Halloween, and it is no time for hurtful pranks and games that can turn ugly very fast.  It is better to be safe than sorry, and be kind to others on this one day of the year that can become unpleasant rather than fun.  Be a buddy, not a bully on Halloween!