Man at the coffee shop is being creepy to my boss's son.


Dear Stop It Now!,

I work at a coffee shop and my boss sometimes has her kids come by. I noticed that one customer who sporadically comes in always asks where my boss' son is (never about her daughter). The son is around 4 and the daughter is not much older. He asks all kinds of probing questions and though I am tight-lipped, I worry about what answers my coworkers may give.

The more concerning fact is that today, he arrived at the shop again and asked about the boy. The boy was behind a divider, but this man removed the divider to high-five the child multiple times and ask him questions. They do not have a rapport - the child does not know him. After this, he continued to ask my boss all sorts of questions about her children, if they go to school, etc.

After he left, my boss said that she was scared and does not think the man is safe. She was horrified that he was able to get behind the divider and touch her son. I feel like I should let someone know about his suspicious behavior. I don't know if I can call the police if no crime has been committed. Thank you for making these resources available. The work you do is so important and I am glad there is someone I can message about this.

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Dear Concerned Bystander,

I'm so glad you're trusting your gut here. It's clearly telling you that this person is crossing boundaries and is behaving unsafely with your boss's son. When adults are willing to speak up, that helps keep children safe - and it's fantastic that you're reaching out to learn more and seek out action steps here.

Identifying Warning Signs
You're right that this is not okay. There is no reason for a stranger to single out a child for special attention and put their hands on a child. Regardless of a person's intention, there are behaviors that adults can engage in that can increase a child's vulnerbility. And though we can't always know why someone is acting the way they are, we can be clear about what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors towards children. In fact, you might want to take a look at these Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children and these Signs An Adult Is At-Risk To Harm A Child as you'll likely be able to pick out one (or several) behaviors on these tip sheets that you have noticed in this individual. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues and boss as well.

Getting Safe Adults on the Same Page
First, it's important to get everyone on the same page. Does everyone know what's going on where you work? If not, please talk with your boss and your fellow staff members. Everyone should be aware of what this person is doing, when and to whom. If you have a log book of any kind, like for staff communication or for important shift-change information, you may want to include information about this person in there. If you have staff meetings, talk about this person - what they look like, when they typically come in, their nickname, and how they have been behaving with this child. 

Speaking Up and Setting Boundaries
Then, talk about what to do next: discuss the ways that you will all consistently intervene and respond if it feels safe. This can be something as simple as stepping in front of the child or asking them to go in the back and wait, and then letting this adult know that you're asking them to no longer touch or pose questions to this child. If this customer has a question, they can ask an adult - and inquiring about this child's personal life is out-of-bounds. You can talk with this person about the safety rules that all adults are asked to respect with children at this coffee shop. Similarly, colleagues should be informed that they are not to share details about the boss's (or any other employee's) son (or daughter) to any customers. 

You and other people at the store may even want to practice how this sounds out loud, "I'm glad that you enjoy our drinks and we appreciate your business, but we need to share something important with you. It's not okay for you to make conversation with this child every time you come in, nor is it okay to ask about their personal life. There are safety rules that all patrons are asked to follow here, like that unknown adults are asked not to talk with, touch or lead a child away from their parents/caregivers. We are requesting that from now on you speak with staff only about our products or prices. And, if you touch [child] again, you will be asked to leave the shop. Thank you." Then if they continue to cross boundaries, your boss is welcome to make the call as to whether or not they're allowed to continue to come into their business - as safety of the patrons and any children should always be a priority. Your boss may also want to lay out when (meaning what behaviors specifically) would warrant an employee contacting the authorities.

And yes, even if this person hasn't crossed any boundaries, you're welcome to reach out to your local police to talk over what's happening. It's possible they may know of this individual - or not - but sharing with them what's going on can be helpful if his behavior continues or escalates. Even if you can't file a report yet, keeping them involved may be helpful for the future.  

Creating a Culture of Prevention
Finally, this brings up overall safety - like other proactive measures loving adults can take in your family or community. I'll leave our guidebook on Preventing Child Sexual Abuse and our call Safety Planning resources for you - or your boss or colleagues - if you're interested. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: April 1st, 2024