March 5, 2014

Beyond Stranger Danger

By Holly Luttenegger, MA
Forensic Interviewer & Community Educator
Mississippi Valley Child Protection Center, Muscatine, IA
Child Abuse Council

When speaking with parents about how to protect their children from sexual perpetrators, I often hear comments about teaching children not to talk to strangers. However, it is not enough to teach our children about the popular concept of stranger danger. In reality, more than 90 percent of child sexual perpetrators are people whom the victims knew prior to the abuse being committed. There is a common misconception that child molesters hide in the bushes at parks and entice children into their white vans with promises of candy. While there are incidences where this type of scenario has occurred, child sexual perpetrators are more commonly individuals who have built the trust of the child and his or her family through a process called grooming. This is why it is important to talk with children about sneaky people, as opposed to strangers, and to openly communicate with them about their bodies and inappropriate touching.

Many parents also express concern over the number of registered sex offenders living in or near their neighborhoods. Due to the creation of the National Sex Offender Registry in 2006, we can now easily pull up a map showing where almost every registered sex offender in the country lives. Some are frightened to see all the little dots identifying the location of these offenders, while others seem to have a false sense of security over knowing whom to watch out for. What we must keep in mind is that these are the offenders who have been caught and are being supervised by the Department of Corrections. These are people that are legally required to stay away from children. They are also strangers. With proper supervision, we can ensure that our children do not have any contact with these registered offenders.

We all have the ability to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse. Here are just a few tips:

1. Avoid situations where one child and one adult are alone together.
2. Teach children about private parts and inappropriate touching.
3. Teach children that they should always tell when something is wrong.
4. Find ways to tell adults who care for children that you are educated about sexual abuse.
5. Listen and be supportive if a child discloses abuse.
6. Report any suspicions of child abuse to child protective services and law enforcement.

By openly communicating about child sexual abuse, we can arm our children with the tools to protect themselves and deter potential sexual perpetrators from targeting our children. Don’t let the stigma of talking about child sexual abuse keep you in the dark.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention, education and treatment programs, you can visit us at, or contact me at