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When it comes to sex abuse prevention, trust your instincts

Shortly after publication of a story regarding alleged sex offender James Michael Hill’s arrest for attempting to engage in sex crimes in Multnomah County (see “Warren man arrested for sex crimes in Troutdale,” Oct. 4), we received multiple comments from people who live or have lived in the community and who knew Hill.

Because of the sensitivity of this subject matter, we have opted to keep the names of those who contacted the newspaper anonymous.

In one case, a reader who had known Hill, now 36, as a neighbor in Warren reported seeing him with children considerably younger than his peer group. This person observed Hill and his involvement with Scappoose youth sports programs, behaviors that raised red flags. Something didn’t sit right with the way Hill interacted with the children, the person reported, prompting a call to local law enforcement agencies.

Of course, in the absence of any evidence a crime had been committed, there wasn’t much the law enforcement agencies could do. In fact, the person who reported the concerns to the Spotlight said she did not believe the police agencies had followed up on her concerns.

She did, however, receive a phone call from other parents. In those cases, the parents had children who socialized with Hill and they wanted to know if there was anything they should be concerned about. The response: “get your children away from him.”

Such calls are not always easy to make, however. By all accounts, Hill has not at this point been convicted of any crimes related to the arrest in Troutdale, is a friendly person and the kids genuinely liked him. But something — call it instinct — prompted the parents to raise the question.

In another instance, we received a letter from a person who is currently serving a sentence at the Columbia County Jail, also for the sexual abuse of a minor, who reporting his knowledge of other crimes Hill may have committed. This person, who asked to remain anonymous, cited specific instances related to Hill and past offenses. The person who reported this information to us, too, was familiar with Hill’s involvement in local youth sports.

In a follow-up, we contacted Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, who said following our report that he was unfamiliar with Hill and was unaware of any reports linking him to possible sex crimes.

According to the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force, statistics largely indicate that the majority of rape and sex abusers know their offender. Though some of the information on the task force’s page is dated, it reports that, of child abuse victims, in 60 percent of sexual abuse cases involving boys and 80 percent involving girls, an acquaintance or family member was the abuser.

According to a 2005 crime victimization survey, a non-stranger perpetrated 73 percent of sexual assaults. Thirty-eight percent of those perpetrators were a friend or other acquaintance of the victim, 28 percent were an intimate and 7 percent were another relative.

The best defense parents have against exposing children to sex offenders is, first and foremost, education. Learn about the risk factors that allow sex abuse to thrive and the steps you can take to prevent it. Unsupervised environments, which very much should include online social networks, provide the best opportunity for sex offenders to have uncontrolled access to your kids. Likewise, ensure your children are aware of their own boundaries, and educate them on what to do if someone attempts to violate those boundaries.

And, as the parents who called Hill’s neighbor discovered, trust your instincts. If somebody doesn’t seem right, or if there is an older person in your life who is persistently attempting to establish alone time with your child, take definitive action to ensure that does not happen. Though you might run the risk of appearing rude or impolite, the alternative is to risk exposing your child to sexual abuse.

For more information about sex abuse prevention, visit www.childwelfare.gov or the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force at oregonsatf.org.