POLK COUNTY -- Police and children's advocates offer the following tips for keeping children safe from predatory sexual offenders:
♦ Know your neighbors. Teach your children where they can go and which neighbors they can seek out if they feel threatened.
♦ Know how your child's day care center, youth organization, or school screens its personnel.
♦ Know the times and routes your child travels to and from school or activities.
♦ Vary routes and routines. Predators stalking certain children will learn when and where children are the most vulnerable.
♦ Don't let small children play in the front yard alone or outside the watchful eye of a responsible adult.
♦ Make sure your child does not wear articles of clothing with his or her name visible on them. The knowledge of a child's name can be used to gain his confidence or put him off guard.
♦ Raise your child with a strong sense of self-respect and with good self-esteem. Predators are looking for the lonely child who is hungry for attention.
♦ Establish and explain healthy boundaries with your child and explain that people have certain roles. For example, their music teacher teaches them music, sports coach teaches sports.
It is important to be aware and understand the limits or boundaries of those relationships.
Although people should be concerned about threats from strangers, Laura A. Ahearn, the founder of Parents For Megan's Law, said the odds of being hurt by a stranger are pretty slim.
o. Strangers are not the most common perpetrators of sexual abuse. Most children are sexually abused by someone known or related to them, often in a position of trust or authority.
Studies indicate that no more than 10 percent to 30 percent of sex offenders were strangers, meaning that up to 90 percent of children sexually abused had some type of relationship with their abuser.
Ahearn said children are abused most often by someone that they know such as a relative, the best liked coach, the pillar of the community, pediatrician, teacher or religious leader.
"Tricky people who look just like you and me but try to manipulate our children into certain actions or situations," Ahearn said.
"The best offense is a great defense. Understand the dynamics of childhood sexual abuse and you and your children will be safer."