by Melanie Davis, MEd, CSE
ABC News recently ran a story about a pedophile who had a frightening way to reach children: he posed as a zoo photographer. The man, who is currently on trial, posed as a photographer taking pictures of kids at the zoo. He would then offer the photos to parents, requesting their home address so he could mail the photos. Some parents complied, and police are seeking others who may have fallen for the trick.
This is scary because it seems innocent. What parents wouldn’t be flattered that a professional photographer took an interest in their child? But this is also a wake-up call. As parents and children get more savvy about protection from predators, child predators find new ways to reach potential victims.
It’s important not to get paranoid because predators are far outnumbered by strangers and friends who would never consider exploiting children. But, common sense should prevail. When families are out in public, there’s no way to control the picture taking, but the parents in the news stories had some options once they were approached by the photographer. A family in a similar situation could do the following…
- Assume the photographer was a professional but but refuse to provide a home address. They could ask for a business card so they could view the photos on the photographer’s website and pay to download photos they wish to purchase.
- Ask to view the photos on the photographer’s digital camera, on the spot. A professional with nothing to hide would be happy to comply because it might lead to a request for additional family photos and income.
- Request that the photographer delete photos of the child on the spot. The photographer has no legal obligation to comply if the photos were taken in a public space, but if there’s no potential sales value, the request might be honored.
- Report the photographer to the police or area security force. This might cause a bit of embarrassment to a legitimate photographer, but it also might help protect potential victims of child predators posing as photographers.
For these scenarios, other types of people could be substituted for the photographer — an ice cream vendor, a person with a lost puppy or bicycle, an adult or teen who insists on being alone with a child. In December, the news came out about a pediatrician, Earl Bradley, who molested approximately 100 young patients. How? He asked parents to allow him to be alone with their children, and the parents complied.
Let me be clear that the predator is always at fault, not the parents, and certainly not the child. But parents can inadvertently make things easier for predators by not taking an active role in monitoring who their child spends time with, where, and why. And by blindly trusting that authority figures like physicians, teachers, coaches and other professionals will always to the right thing.
Parenting is an art, not a skill. It requires us to combine knowledge and gut instinct about what feels right at any given time. So, gather the facts and listen to your gut. If something seems odd to you, ask questions and remember that you have every right to protect your child’s best interests.
Melanie J. Davis, MEd, CSE is the founder of Honest Exchange LLC, a sexuality education consulting firm in Somerville, NJ. Visit her site at HonestExchange.com.She is a blogger and the author of “Sexuality Talking Points: A Guide to Thoughtful Conversation between Parents and Children.” She is the co-founder and Director of Education Services for the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness in Bedminster, NJ., at NJSexualWellness.com.