What can I do about this man who talks to children?
Dear Stop It Now!,
This neighborhood guy acts like adults aren't there and just talks to the parents' little girls. He's asked at least 2 of them to get in his car. He told one child that he was going to call the Department of Social Services on her parents so she could live with him. Multiple reports have been filed by different people but the police say they can't do anything because he hasn't touched them, he was just talking to them.
Dear Concerned Community Member,
It makes sense that this man's behavior towards children is raising concerns with you and other community members – it’s great you’re looking to plan preventatively and take a protective stance on behalf of the safety of the youth in this neighborhood.
Identifying Warning Signs
You are right that this man’s behavior can be a Sign An Adult May Be At-Risk To Harm A Child. Although the police may be able to take a report of the warning signs you and others have observed, as you have found out, most often the police cannot respond unless a law has been broken. However, you can still take protective steps.
One thing you can do is share this tip sheet with other community members – like those who made the report or witnessed some of these incidents, or even parents of these children. It may help these worried adults better define the concerning behaviors they're witnessing. It sounds like you’ve got a network of folks who are having their guts say “something isn’t right” – and I’m glad that they’re willing to take action. The more information people have, the better prepared they will be to take action if and when a crime happens.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to wait for a crime to happen. I’m curious, has anyone talked to this man? I know this can feel for many people almost like the exact opposite of what you should do here, but I can say that – if it is safe – many folks have had successful conversations in this kind of situation. Now, success doesn’t necessarily mean that this person says, “Yes, I can see what I’m doing is worrisome, you’re right and I’m glad you pointed that out.” Instead what you’re looking to do is to help this person understand that there is a network of supportive caregivers around these children willing to speak up even when it is uncomfortable to do so. This makes it less likely for him to continue to engage in these unsafe behaviors, as this creates more protection around the child(ren).
Why Having a Conversation is Protective
Folks who are looking to cross the line with a child may pick children who seems to them to be vulnerable. For example, these might be kids with minimal supervision, who have a chaotic home-life or maybe who are exposed to mature, boundary-crossing, or abusive behaviors at home or in the neighborhood. Also children with disabilities, absent parents or even children whose parents aren’t willing or able to speak up when they see something that doesn’t sit right with them. And it could just mean a really shy child, maybe a child with few friends and seems to have difficulty making connections with his or her peers. This doesn’t mean that your child or any of the children observed is any of these but one critical way to protect children – because a child cannot keep themselves safe – is to speak up on behalf of their wellbeing.
Is this something that you, or perhaps you and another community member may be able to do? I recommend that you have an ally with you, and that this conversation happen in a public place. Please remember – your personal safety always comes first. Also, this conversation doesn’t have to be accusatory or inflammatory, but the next time you see this man you can talk about his unsafe behaviors and set some clear limits with him. To prepare, take a look at this advice column, from a caring adult with a similar concern: What should I do about man staring at children as they leave school?
You can say something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you talking to some young girls, and have also heard of you asking them into your car. That makes me really uncomfortable because you have no reason to do that – and it’s unsafe. We’ve reported your behavior to the police and will continue to do so because our community takes a protective stance on children’s wellbeing. I’m asking that you not talk to these children anymore.” Please feel free to tailor these words to your liking. And, this is a simple easy template you can share with these other parents too should they want to speak up and say something.
Using Allies as a Resource
Perhaps you all can meet together and work on a “game plan” – something everyone sticks to whenever anyone notices this man talking to children. That may involve quickly involving another adult ally (if possible, you may all want to exchange phone numbers), then going to intervene by talking to this person and getting the child out of that situation, then contacting their parents if they’re not there. If someone notices another parent with this man alone, you all can make a pact to check-in and see if the parent needs support in setting limits. By working as a unit, you all can be support and get support in this challenging situation.
It may also be helpful to start planning for overall safety within your own family and community too. Check out our resources on Family Safety Planning – these are preventative rules that clearly discuss consent, appropriate behavior, privacy and how every adult and child should act. This gives youth a clear base of understanding so they’re better able to talk about uncomfortable situations, and it can give parents and adults an easy framework to talk about boundary-crossing behaviors too. These can be updated at birthdays, and reviewed before playdates – they grow and mature with the child. This can also help frame these incidents with this man by saying that what this person was doing was unsafe and encouraging these kids to never get in the car with someone unless they (the child) has spoken to their parents first, and helping them name some safe adults they can talk to if they’re ever faced with a difficult situation.
Last edited on: February 10th, 2020