Youth Groups Fear Specter of Sexual Abuse
Shirley Rudolph relishes her unofficial title as the Lawndale Little League’s mother-in-residence.
Often a crestfallen youngster will crawl up on her lap for consolation after a difficult game, or an exuberant teen-ager will throw his arms around her to help celebrate a big win.
Rudolph, a Lawndale recreation commissioner, and her husband, Lawndale Councilman Larry Rudolph, have been Little League volunteers since 1969, when the first of their three sons joined. Now, to their delight, they have a 6-year-old grandson in the league.
Rudolph enjoys her maternal role and prides herself in the open communication she maintains with boys and girls in the league.
But in recent years, Rudolph said, she has become more cautious about giving youngsters a reassuring hug or a peck on the cheek.
Because of the McMartin Preschool child molestation case, now in its second year of trial, South Bay parents are well aware of the specter of child sexual abuse, Rudolph said.
Little League Manager Accused
Their fears were reinforced, she said, when a Lawndale Little League team manager was accused in July of molesting four players by pulling down their pants and spanking them on repeated occasions. William Anthony Boguille, 23, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of sexual battery. None of the incidents were so egregious or sustained as to warrant the original felony charges, the prosecutor said. A first-time offender, Boguille was sentenced to perform community service, serve three years’ probation and undergo psychological counseling. The terms of his probation prohibit him from coaching youth sports or contacting children under 15 without another adult present.
In the aftermath of this case, Rudolph said, “My No. 1 priority is the safety of the players. I am going to do everything in my power to ensure the safety of the kids.”
The Lawndale Parks, Recreation and Social Services Commission on Tuesday will discuss whether the city should establish a policy requiring groups like the Little League that use city parks to screen volunteers, she said. The Little League board will also be seeking ways to weed out potential molesters as it prepares for January sign-ups.
Although Rudolph applauds current vigilance against child sexual abuse, she said that sometimes innocent expressions of affection can fall under suspicion.
“I am one of the people most involved with the kids in the league,” said Rudolph, who recently was elected league president. “Even though I have my own kids, and people have known me for years, I can’t completely be myself with the kids. I don’t know whether to give them a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Sometimes I just freeze.”
Rudolph’s discomfiture reflects the uncertainty local youth organizations are confronting as they try to eliminate potential molesters from such All-American organizations as the Little League, Scouts and the YMCA.
Lawndale Little League officials said that although this is the first case of its kind in the organization’s 31-year history, the arrest and sentencing of Boguille prompted a redoubling of efforts to detect potential molesters.
“We screen applicants closely,” said Jim Watson, last year’s league president. “It’s not like we take anybody off the street.”
He said that the league contacted Boguille’s references and they checked out “A-OK. . . . There was nothing in his background to indicate there would be a problem.” Officials from the Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Boguille had no prior police record.
The Lawndale case illustrates one of the most intractable problems youth organizations face in identifying potential molesters: for a number of reasons, including the reluctance of young victims to report abuse, many child molesters and victims do not come to the attention of police or child protection agencies, authorities said.
“Unfortunately, most pedophiles do not have a prior record, so there is no way of detecting and identifying these people until the police become involved after the fact,” said Detective Gary Lyon, a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Sexually Exploited Child Unit.
Molesters go undetected because children often are afraid to report molestation, believing that “somehow it’s their fault. . . . They feel guilty and they just don’t talk about it,” Lyon said.
Lyon’s conclusions are supported by an authoritative nationwide poll on child sexual abuse conducted by the Los Angeles Times in 1985. (See related story, this page.)
“Unfortunately,” said Dr. Roland Summit, a Harbor-UCLA Medical Center psychiatrist and sexual abuse expert, “most of those identified (accused) as molesters are never booked; most of those who are booked are dismissed without charges. And any charges are often negotiated down so that they are not recognizable as a sexual crime. The effective child molester will be active all his life without attracting accusations. Only the inept losers get caught.”
According to an FBI study published by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Washington, pedophiles seek out youth organizations as a place to meet children.
“Pedophiles are frequently ‘nice guys’ in the neighborhood who like to entertain the children after school or take them on day or weekend trips,” said the FBI’s Kenneth V. Lanning in his report, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” Pedophiles often take jobs dealing with children and “may often become a Scout leader, Big Brother, foster parent (or) Little League coach,” he said in his 58-page report.
“Some pedophiles can watch a group of children for a brief period of time and then select a potential target,” Lanning said. “More often than not, the selected child turns out to be from a broken home or the victim of emotional or physical neglect. This skill is developed through practice and experience.”
Only the most disturbed or desperate molesters target children who are strangers, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken Freeman, who specialized for six years in prosecuting child sexual abuse cases.
More typically, he said, molesters present a likable appearance that wins the confidence of the child and parents alike.
Detective Lyon said child molesters are often “the people you’d be least likely to suspect.
‘A Very Nice Person’
“Every pedophile I have come across is ‘a very nice person.’ These individuals are good citizens, all except for their problem with kids. Their stock in trade is being a nice guy. They have to endear themselves to children, and more importantly to parents of the children, so parents will entrust their children to them,” said Lyon.
Rather than forcing their attentions on a child, molesters often engage in a “seduction” period during which they befriend youngsters and shower them with attention and gifts, according to the FBI report. “If you understand the courtship process, it should not be difficult to understand why some child victims develop positive feelings for the offender,” Lanning said in the report.
Dan Sexton, director of a national child abuse hot line sponsored by the nonprofit Childhelp USA, which operates a residential center in Beaumont for sexually abused children, said molesters often do not believe they are hurting children.
“Pedophiles do not go out looking to hurt kids, they go out to make friends,” he said. They frequently target children of a specific sex and age range, he said.
Research shows that most child molesters were sexually abused as children, Lanning said in the FBI report. Other hints that someone could be a pedophile are premature separation from the military, frequent and unexpected moves, being over 25 and never married, living alone or with parents, a lack of peer and dating relationships and an excessive interest in children, the report said.
One of the most reliable indicators that a person is a molester, according to the FBI, is possession of a collection of child pornography or erotica.
“Child pornography . . . is the single most valuable piece of evidence of sexual abuse that any investigator can have,” the report said. “The effects on a jury of viewing seized child pornography is devastating to the defendant’s case.”
While a combination of traits might make investigators suspicious, by no means does that prove a person is a molester, law enforcement officials say. There is no test or method that is 100% reliable in detecting molesters, they say, cautioning that youth organizations might have a false sense of security from testing or screening applicants.
Screening Methods Vary
Approaches among local youth organizations range from minimal screening to an intensive three-month selection process devised by Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles. A spot sampling showed the following approaches:
“We don’t screen anybody as such,” said Dominic Iapello of the Long Beach Council, Boy Scouts of America. The organization is concerned that fingerprinting and criminal checks represent an invasion of the applicant’s privacy, he said.
About 90% of the Boy Scouts’ adult volunteers are parents of boys in the program, he said. The group does, however, check with the national organization to detect possible problems of a newcomer to the area.
The American Youth Soccer Organization screens volunteers informally at the local level, according to Tim Thompson, national executive director of Hawthorne-based organization.
Officials would become concerned “if a coach becomes overly social with the children,” seeking social contact outside the games and practices, he said. “Ninety-nine out of 100 volunteers after the game are going to want to go home and turn on a Lakers game,” Thompson said.
Soccer officials want to avoid jumping to conclusions because child molestation charges are so damaging, he said. A false accusation by a distraught child could ruin a person’s reputation, he said.
Because the Hawthorne YMCA offers day-care programs, which must be licensed by the state Department of Social Services, the Y must submit fingerprints of all employees and volunteers for a criminal records check by the state Department of Justice.
In addition, said executive director Quin Gustason, the Y relies on “a lot of networking and closeness” among workers to detect signs of possible abuse.
Unlike other youth organizations, in which adults and children interact for the most part in public places under the scrutiny of other adults and children, Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles specializes in developing personal, mostly private relationships between boys from single-parent families and men who are to serve as positive male role models.
With at least five Los Angeles-area Big Brothers convicted of molestation-related charges since 1982, the organization has developed a three-month intensive screening process that has won the admiration of law enforcement officials.
“They may screen people out who would be OK, but it’s better to err on the side of caution,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Freeman
Nancy Dufford, spokeswoman for Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles, said: “We are pretty confident that our interview techniques and process can weed out a person who might not be appropriate for any reason,” including possible intent to molest.
The screening process includes fingerprinting and a check of state and federal criminal records, plus a check of military discharge records and references--including the applicant’s employer and wife or girlfriend, Dufford said.
Applicants then undergo a three- to four-hour intensive interview covering their family background, social habits and sexual history, she said. Interviewers are looking for “a series of things that don’t fit,” such as a person who has failed to develop adult relationships or spends most of his time with children, she said.
If there are any doubts about the applicant, he must undergo further scrutiny, Dufford said. Only about 10% of applicants are accepted.
The Big Brothers program also approaches the problem from the youngsters’ perspective, teaching boys how to identify and report molestation. “We want the kids to be knowledgeable about ‘good touch’ versus ‘bad touch,’ ” Dufford said, using phrases coined to help children distinguish an affectionate touch from molestation.
Advice for Parents
A primary responsibility for preventing abuse rests with parents, said Childhelp’s Sexton, who conducts clinical training in sex abuse prevention nationwide. Parents should “not be paranoid, just more careful,” he said, advising parents to regularly set aside time when children know they can discuss their problems and feelings.
Children who may not be able to tell their parents they have been abused provide behavioral clues, such as sleeplessness, loss of appetite, acting up, doing poorly in school or suddenly not wanting to be around a certain person, he said.
Authorities cautioned against going to extremes in response to the problem of child sexual abuse. There are dangers both in denying that the problem exists and, at the other extreme, of overreacting to harmless demonstrations of affection, they said.
Child sexual abuse is such an unthinkable crime that some adults may refuse to heed the behavioral signs, experts said.
Denial gives people the “psychological comfort” of believing that children are rarely victimized, although research findings would show otherwise, said psychiatrist Summit, who participated in a Los Angeles County task force formed in response to the McMartin case.
Summit, in the committee’s voluminous 1984 report to the County Board of Supervisors, said that denial of the problem allows adults to “be more secure in the serene assurance that young children are safe in trusted environments.” Society has engaged in “a vast conspiracy of silence” about child sexual abuse, he said in the report and reiterated in an interview last week.
The psychological defenses of victims themselves may help perpetuate the silence, Summit wrote, adding that victims “commonly grow up with no memory of the experience. The victim often remembers the perpetrator only in an idealized, blameless image. The most persistent, savage abuse may create in the victim the most loyal, slave-like identification with the aggressor.”
Effect on Adults
Other experts said that one of the unfortunate side-effects of recent nationwide publicity on child abuse is that some adults have become hesitant to touch children because they fear being accused of molestation.
“Recent allegations of sexual abuse of preschool and school-aged children have set off a multitude of responses,” said Dr. Michael Durfee, a child psychiatrist who is coordinator of the child abuse prevention program for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
“Many, perhaps most, reactions will ultimately prove useful. The one clear short-term loss is an increased anxiety about touching and intimacy in any form. . . . Not touching a child is more than a hazard for general growth and development. Removing touch, removing intimacy, generates children who are only more susceptible to molestation.”
It is up to parents to provide a loving, supportive, open environment at home so children learn from the earliest age about normal, healthy intimacy, Durfee said.
And one of the most foolproof ideas for preventing child sexual abuse is used by Lawndale Little League parent Daniel Lara. “Parents should get more involved instead of just dropping their kids off and leaving them with the coaches,” he said. “At least that would lower the chances of something happening.”