Vigilance is best defense against abuse
By Kathianne BonielloPoughkeepsie Journal
At a community forum Tuesday, Curtis St. John, a childhood sex abuse victim, said parents must watch for predators.
Cautious parents who communicate with their kids are the best defense against sex offenders who prey on children.
"You've got to watch out for your kids. Vigilance starts at home," Curtis St. John said Tuesday at a Poughkeepsie High School community forum on sex offenders.
St. John was 10 years old when he was sexually abused in 1979 by Albert Fentress, a Poughkeepsie Middle School teacher. Months later, Fentress killed and cannibalized another young man.
"My offender would come to my house for dinner," St. John told the audience of parents and educators. "He knew my parents for years. He offered to tutor me."
Now working with an advocacy and support group for male survivors of sexual abuse, St. John said spreading the message of vigilance is vital to preventing abuse.
"Anyone that's willing to listen, I'll talk," he said.
St. John was one of nearly a dozen Dutchess County criminal justice experts at the forum. It was the third forum organized under the county's sex offender management project, a collaborative effort by Dutchess criminal justice agencies to research and employ innovative methods of managing sex offenders. The project is funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant.
The forum quickly became a question-and-answer session, with the experts fielding questions on Megan's Law, juvenile sex offenders and how information about sex offenders is distributed to the community.
When one woman asked how sex offenders could be kept out of public schools, Senior Assistant Public Defender Nancy Garo repeated the theme of the night.
"You're much better suited, and your children are much better protected, if you teach your children how to protect themselves, and if you train teachers in your school on how to recognize the signs of abuse," she said as other panel members nodded in agreement. "You're best served with teaching your child how to be safe."
Members of the panel emphasized most offenders are known to their victims, and are either related to their victims or spend time earning the trust of the victim and/or the victim's family.
Sharon Doane, director of forensic services for Family Services Inc, treats sex offenders to prevent them from repeating their crimes.
"Sex offenders are highly organized and motivated offenders," Doane said. She said a parent who is uncomfortable with how some adults relate to the parent's child should trust their instincts.
Detective Sgt. Patrick Whelan, who oversees sex offender management for the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office, said the community needs to help law enforcement tackle the problem.
"We're counting on you to be part of our solution," he said.
Kathianne Boniello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Web
Dutchess County: http://www.co.dutchess.ny.us/soraweb/sora.aspx
Town of Poughkeepsie: http://www.townpolice.net/sexoffenderwatch.htm.
New York state: http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/nsor/index.htm