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National child-safety expert Kenneth Wooden speaks to teachers, childcare workers and other professionals who work with children at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
National child-safety expert Kenneth Wooden speaks to teachers, childcare workers and other professionals who work with children at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan

Of all the tricks pedophiles use to lure their victims, most common is seducing a child — over a period of weeks, months or years — with love and affection, according to national child-safety expert Kenneth Wooden.

“From hugging to taking them out to the circus to rewarding them for sex, they target a child starved for affection,” Wooden said.

Wooden knows this, he said, because he’s interviewed thousands of convicted child molesters and other sex offenders. He wasn’t so much interested in “why” they did it.

“Why was always the same answer,” he said. “It’s not power. It’s instant sexual gratification. They want it, and they want it right away.”

Wooden wanted to know “how,” so he could educate community members, parents and children about how criminals think.

“My whole thing is prevention,” he said during an interview Friday at Misawa.

Wooden offered two workshops Friday afternoon at Misawa — one for security forces, child-care workers, teachers and other professionals who work with children, and another for parents and children 8 and older.

“I want them to get educated on how to keep their children safe, regardless of what base they’re stationed at in the military,” said Rochelle Phelps of Family Advocacy, which sponsored Wooden’s visit along with the 35th Medical Group.

Wooden was to give similar presentations this week at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Wooden, 71, who as a teenager was a U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea, spent 25 years as an investigative reporter. A pivotal moment in his career came in the 1970s, while working on an expose on child pornography for the television newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”

While researching the story, he discovered a newsletter called “PIE,” for pedophile information exchange.

“In that newsletter, they have a lure of the month, and that truly changed my life,” he said.

The lure was soap crayons.

“They’re cheap, kids will undress themselves, and there they are for the pickings,” Wooden said, recalling the newsletter’s words. “I had three little daughters, and guess who just bought them soap crayons to play with in the bathtub?”

So Wooden set out to learn the tactics pedophiles and other sex criminals employ to entrap their victims. He eventually devised a list of the 17 most common lures, which became a key component of his national Child Lures Prevention safety program.

During his research, Wooden would befriend convicts, asking them about their interests. Once they opened up, he’d ask for the information he wanted, such as: “How do you target a kid?”

“We go to playgrounds,” was a common response.

“What type of kid do you think they look for?” Wooden said. “A loner. Remember, these guys average 144 victims in their lifetime. They know if the kid’s a loner on the playground, there’s something going on (at home).”

A pedophile then makes inroads with attention and affection, Wooden said.

Another common lure is assistance, which appeals to the helpful nature of children, he said.

“Asking a child for help — ‘Hey, I’m lost; can you give me directions? I can’t hear; come by the car.’ Boom. They pull the victim into the car window.”

The pet lure is another favorite, according to Wooden. In 1994 in Hamilton Township, N.J., convicted sex offender Jesse Timmendequas lured 7-year-old Megan Kanka into his home by telling her she could see his puppy.

He raped and murdered her, a crime that eventually led to the federal “Megan’s Law,” requiring registration of convicted sex offenders and some form of notification to the public when an offender is present in the community.

Wooden urges parents to teach their children about the “lures” starting at age 5.

Telling children not to talk to strangers doesn’t work, he said.

“A stranger can be anybody,” he said. “It isn’t the stranger you have to worry about. It’s the lures.”

Quoting William Shakespeare, Wooden said: “Bait the hook well, and the fish will bite.”

How to protect your child

Here are some tips from child-safety expert Kenneth Wooden on keeping children safe from sexual predators:

Avoid scare tactics when discussing personal safety. Reassure your child that most people are kind and safe. Those who are not are the exception.

Instill within your child a sense of self-worth at every opportunity.

Teach your child basic sex education; for example, the areas of the body covered by a bathing suit are private, and nobody should touch those areas.

Establish that sexual abuse is a crime. That gives children the confidence to assert themselves with those who try to abuse them.

Allow children to express affection on their own terms. Do not instruct them to “Give Uncle Jimmy a kiss,” or “Give Aunt Susan a hug.”

Stress that there should be no secrets from you, especially those involving an adult.

Develop strong communication skills with your children. Explain the importance of reporting abuse to you or another trusted adult.

Make a commitment to spend quality time with your child. Lonely and attention-starved youngsters are most vulnerable to abuse.

Make it a priority to get to know your child’s friends and their families.

Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities. Youngsters with many interests are less likely to become involved with drugs or other negative influences.

Volunteer to chaperone activities such as Boy Scouts and sporting events, especially those involving overnight trips.

Do not rely on “The Buddy System.” While it may make children (and parents) feel safer, its effectiveness is questionable. In many instances, sisters, brothers and playmates have been victims of terrible crimes when together.

Instruct children never to go with or get into a car with anyone, unless you have given him or her direct permission.

Above all, encourage children to recognize, trust and follow their instincts — and listen to your own instincts. If a situation or person makes you or your child uneasy, believe in your feelings and act on them.

Source: Kenneth Wooden, founder of the Child Lures Prevention safety program.

For more information, go to: www.childluresprevention.com or www.avoidthecon.us.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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