Don’t Tell Your Mother

By Patrick M. Chierichella, Educational Coordinator

The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation

My college aged granddaughter and her friends love horror/thriller movies. The scarier the better, she tells me. These films, according to psychologists, can provide catharsis of suppressed aggression, an adrenalin rush, pure excitement, curiosity, intense emotions, and dispositional alignment, a concept in which the viewer enjoys the violence visited on those the viewer feel deserve it. Wow! As a teenager I loved the old school Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man. I am not a big fan of the genre, but will sit through one, waiting to be scared, then being surprised when I am startled. As I have aged, the appeal of horror films has greatly diminished.

Do you like scary movies? Recognize the quote? Horror film buffs will remember it as the opening of the movie, Scream. The phone rings and Drew Barrymore picks it up and hears that line. In another thriller, When a Stranger Calls, a young woman answers the phone and hears, Have you checked the children?

When I started writing this blog, those two lines of dialogue immediately came to my mind. Phone calls in both films introduce the dread that is about to impose itself upon the actors who answered. Reread those lines of dialogue, so effectively spooky, so ominous! In the former instance, a stranger implies you are about to participate in your own existential nightmare; in the latter, a nightmare beyond belief has already unfolded.

The first principle of stranger safety awareness that Matt and I present to school assemblies is the concept of personal space. We ask student volunteers to demonstrate wordlessly what this idea means to them. We attempt for a child to be able to easily describe the space around them using extended arms to make visible to all the sacred area that no one may enter without the child’s permission. We ask the children to name people they would allow into their personal space. We believe it is an effective teaching method. Any story, any fairy tale that uses a ruse by a stranger to get near a child is exploited by us.

Read the newspapers and you will understand why I get apprehensive that times have changed so quickly that we have to up our game. The instant communication of today amazes and dismays me. Letter writing seems so quaint and archaic. Texts with emojis and phonetic abbreviations glut messages from those younger than I. Voicemail, mostly unwanted and unsolicited, fills answering machines no matter that your number is on a state no call list!

Here’s a sample of what I mean. This headline appeared in Newsday, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. The article below the banner filled half a page.

Voicemail left for girl helps nab sex predator

 Astute mom, LI police lead to capture in Calif.

How’s that for sending a shiver down your spine? The registered sex offender who has done this phone tag before had made a call that was answered by an 11 year-old girl. Think of the odds of dialing THAT number! The apprehended predator said he was calling random numbers and the girl’s voice sounded young. He had warned the 11 year-old not to tell her parents. The mother luckily overheard part of the voicemail and took the phone away from her daughter. She then purchased a phone app she used to unblock the predator’s phone numbers.

The concept of personal space must be updated. How much more personal is the space when a complete stranger can be invited into it with a simple hello? The whispered message of a predator does not easily recede from the mind. The sex offender was arrested through the teamwork of Long Island’s Garden City Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on felony charges of making criminal threats, attempted child molestation and annoying or molesting a minor.

Many years ago a fellow teacher told me he was giving up all his coaching duties. Why, I asked. When the kids were younger, he said, I could actually believe that I didn’t need to be there 24/7. Trust me, he added, as the kids age you have got to be there more than ever.

Parent involvement matters. Who knows what message might hook your child when a strange message is heard. I think the following partial list of expressions that might be heard forms the basis for a good conversation with your children concerning messages from unknown sources. You can call them warning sounds, bells, or whistles. Tell your children that should they hear any of these statements in a message, they must immediately tell you. You must tell the police. Use any, some, all of these statements or one you believe focuses your child’s mind on the danger lurking on unsolicited calls.

  • I’m here for you.
  • You’re so funny.
  • You have great ideas.
  • I would love to spend time with you.
  • You seem very smart for someone your age.
  • You are so impressive. Will you show me how you did that?
  • If I hurt your feelings, will you forgive me?
  • We have a lot in common.
  • I really think we should meet.
  • You’re really cute. How about sending me your picture?
  • I believe in you.
  • I’m proud of you.
  • Go for it! Don’t let anybody hold you back!
  • I really, really like you.
  • Are your parents as clueless as mine were?
  • What we have may be special. How about we keep it just between you and me?
  • I love you.

 

Do you like scary movies? Have you checked the children? These classic movie lines thrill and chill, for sure. Now, if we add a real life predator’s plea, Don’t tell your mother, how much fear does that instill?

Stephen King had one of his characters realize Grownups are the real monsters!

Being safe takes time, effort, patience and vigilance. You’ve got to be there more than ever. What a world!

About The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation

Founded by Matthew J. Barbis after his 11-year-old cousin, Carlie Brucia, was abducted and murdered in Sarasota, FL in 2004. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation’s goal is to reduce the number of child abductions in the U.S. by educating and empowering young minds with the knowledge necessary to avoid abduction. Utilizing puppets and a formalized educational curriculum, the foundation provides elementary-aged children with the Stranger Safety Awareness Program, free of charge. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Perplexing

By Patrick M. Chierichella, Educational Coordinator
The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation

Ehrenstein illusion

When I taught, students were required to prepare and present a research investigation that hopefully demonstrated their skill in using the scientific method. Very often my charges would offer their work based on optical illusions. The above diagram is one of many called Ehrenstein illusions. What do you see?

Perception is singular yet we hope universal. We live knowing we are connected with others; that these others experience the world in similar fashion. Back in 6th grade, I learned I was red/green colorblind. Now this does not mean I have no color receptors, but that mine function differently from most of you out there. I do have color confusion with browns and greens. There have been numerous times when my wife has urged me to change the color combos I dressed in that day. I wonder if my appreciation of artwork is based on some misperception of the work. An artist’s palette cannot be decoded by me.

A while ago, we visited friends in Florida during the first week of February. I rose early and went outside to retrieve the daily newspaper. I was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. As I picked up the paper I saw a gentleman out for his morning walk. He was dressed in sweatpants, parka, winter cap and gloves. He looked at me and I looked at him as if we were both a little bit off.

Differing perspectives from the same set of data will produce head scratching conclusions. It can be perplexing, to say the least.
Just before the recent elections, my wife and I received in the mail a letter telling us of the recent relocation of a Level 3 sexual offender to a street near an elementary school in our home town. The man had served his time and, with our county closing trailers in which he and others had been housed, needed a new residence. This man had been convicted of forcible sexual assault on an EIGHT YEAR-OLD child. He was now living on a street bearing the name of that elementary school! The letter urged us not to vote for a particular candidate since he and his party leaders would continue to do this type of relocating. The powers that be have decided they see no problem with housing such an offender in an area where he will see, daily, children walking to and from school. In my mind’s eye, I previewed a true horror film in which, to paraphrase an old thriller movie, the voiceover intones, “He’s on your block!”

A November 12th, WPEC TV essay in Palm Beach, FL, Sexual Predators: Why the laws aren’t working, highlighted a glitch in the system that allowed released offenders to describe their residency as transient, meaning they more or less resided in a general area of the county. A TV reporter attempted to find some of these offenders at their so-called addresses and came up empty. Newsday, Sunday November 24, warns about 467 sex offenders that New York State cannot locate. Movies and TV shows will use the relocation and hopeful anonymity of a sex offender as a theme in its dramas. Advocacy for fair treatment of released offenders speaks of humane treatment for this group. But, they are not all Valjeans, nobly trying to live an honorable life, nor are we all Javerts intent on destroying whatever chance they have.

A 1990 study by HE Barbaree and WL Marshall published in Behavioral Science and Law found that the recidivism rate for child molesters with female victims ranged from 10% to 29% and for child molesters with male victims the range was 13% to 40%. Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense.

In 2005, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence found that overall follow-up studies typically find recidivism for sexual offenders at 10%-15% after 5 years, 20% after 10 years and 30%-40% after 20 years. The article notes these numbers are conservative because not all offences are reported.

Conversely, a Wall Street Journal article from January 24, 2008, by Carl Bialik writes that recidivism is more an emotional response than a reality. Recidivism rates vary widely depending on which crimes are counted, the timeframe of the studies, and whether repeat offenses are defined by convictions, arrest or self-reporting.

Arthur Herman, in his book The Cave and The Light, writes of the philosopher Plato. “…there is always a higher standard, a model of excellence by which everything we do or say or encounter must be measured-and inevitably be found wanting. At one level we become …conscious of our own shortcomings and weaknesses. We move through life aware we could be, or should be, someone different: more honest, more courageous, more compassionate.”

Recidivism is therefore a troublesome issue. There are advocates for the released/paroled sex offenders. There are community activists, NIMBYs, rightfully frightened by the potential for harm to their children, putting a former predator so close to prey. It is easy to be philosophical about the question, to wish for more honesty, courage, and compassion. I do not question the visceral response of any community.

Not all offenders fall into the category of child abductor. Yet I cringed when I read an article that categorically noted how rare the murder of a child such as Carlie Brucia is. Doesn’t the very fact that it happened make it one too many? Dylan Thomas wrote, After the first death there is no other.

We all have different viewpoints on a multitude of issues. I believe we must universally agree to insure our children’s safety. We can keep a watchful eye on our kids. We can lobby for stronger pre-reentry psychological programs prior to relocation. We can argue for prudence, for compassion. We can press our case against the audacity of policies that put violent offenders near potential victims. And, then again, put forth the proposition that people are entitled to a second chance. It is all about perspective.

But we cannot ever blithely go on as if these offenses will never be repeated or that we will be there forever. Better to instill, to build in our children a sense of self-reliance and strength to deal with questionable situations they encounter.

Furthermore, Remember the most dangerous predator is the one unknown, the average looking one, the one unidentified, and now the one hiding from authorities.

It is in our hands to deal with this unsavory issue in as caring and delicate manner as possible.

Be Safe!

About The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation
Founded by Matthew J. Barbis after his 11-year-old cousin, Carlie Brucia, was abducted and murdered in Sarasota, FL in 2004. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation’s goal is to reduce the number of child abductions in the U.S. by educating and empowering young minds with the knowledge necessary to avoid abduction. Utilizing puppets and a formalized educational curriculum, the foundation provides elementary-aged children with the Stranger Safety Awareness Program, free of charge. The Rose Brucia Educational Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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