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Child-safety expert lectures on 'child lures'

Session teaches parents how to educate children about potential predators

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2003

For years, well-meaning parents have been telling their children not to talk to strangers, said Kenneth Wooden, a nationally recognized child-safety advocate.

"Well, ask a kid to draw a picture of a stranger," Wooden said. "He'll draw an ugly monster. That's not what he needs to stay away from."

Child abductors and sexual abusers are con artists, Wooden said, and parents need to teach their children to recognize the "lures" - the approaches a predator will use to appear as a friend.

Wooden will host a community awareness seminar on child lures from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today at Centennial Hall, and a training seminar for professionals from 9 to 11 a.m. Friday. His trip to Alaska is sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard as part of its Work-Life Program.

Wooden has interviewed more than 1,000 convicted child molesters and murderers in prisons across the country to figure out how they lure their victims. He found 16 lures that almost all of the predators used - asking a child for directions, for example, or pretending to have lost a pet and asking a child to help in the search.

"My whole theory was that if molesters were using lures ... shouldn't we be teaching the lures?" Wooden said.

Sexual predators exploit at least 1.3 million children in the United States every year, most of whom are between 10 and 12 years old, Wooden said. Because victims are less likely to report sexual molestation than other crimes, he estimates that number may be much higher.

Though child abductions are "extremely rare" in Juneau, where most sexual abuse of children is done in a child's home, presentations such as Wooden's are useful, said Juneau District Attorney Rick Svobodny, who oversees local prosecution of sex criminals.

"It's always good to learn something new," he said.

Preventing sexual molestation and abuse is as simple as looking a child in the eye and telling them about the lures, Wooden said. Parents should talk to their child about the lures often - whenever child molestation is reported on the news, or at least once a year.

"Do you tell a child to work on his homework only once in the 12 years that he's at school?" he asked.

Wooden has worked on television news segments on the sexual exploitation of children and has written several books on the subject.

He chose to visit Juneau this week in lieu of attending a special White House ceremony where President Bush will sign the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003, known as the PROTECT Act.

His daughters, who lobbied Congress as children to pass the Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977, will be at the ceremony instead, he said.

"My daughters deserve the recognition more than me," he said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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