The recent arrest of a school bus driver in Hayfield, MN on sexual misconduct charges had wide reverberations in this town of about 1,300. About 50 people, many of them concerned parents, attended a Child Safety Community Forum at Hayfield High School. The forum was arranged because of the recent arrest of David Gerlach, a 49-year-old bus driver from Brownsdale, who is charged with several counts of sexual misconduct.
Gerlach was a bus driver for the Hayfield public schools. On July 25, Gerlach was charged in Dodge District Court with felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct and third-degree attempted sexual conduct involving a boy, who was at least sixteen at the time.
“On Aug. 1, Mower County prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Gerlach, charging him with 12 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of first-degree burglary. The Mower County complaint alleges that Gerlach committed incidents of sexual abuse approximately between 1993 and 2001 in Brownsdale, involving a boy who was 8 when the misconduct began.”
Tori Miller, a victim advocate for the Crime Victims Resource Center in Austin, told people in the audience to “believe your kids.”
“Children don’t normally make these kinds of things up,” said Miller, one of ten panelists at the forum. “It’s very important that parents are educating their children on good touch and bad touch, what is right and what is wrong.”
Tips to keep your child safe:
o Monitor your children’s activities, including Internet use and cell phone text messages.
o Introduce yourself to your child’s bus driver.
o Be cautious of adults who are overly involved in your child’s life.
o Talk to your kids about “good touch” and “bad touch.”
o Ask questions.
o “Go with your gut.” Talk to school administrators and law enforcement officers if you suspect something is wrong.
While the tips set forth by this forum are effective, they fall short of what children need to know and exercise.
Sex offenders use acceptable touch to condition the child to feel comfortable with their interactions. Thus, when the sex offender has a sense that the child feels comfortable and trusts the interaction, he/she progresses to ‘bad touch,’ without warning. In an instant the child is sexually abused.
Children more often than not have a keener sixth sense, than adults–i.e. their sixth sense tells them–something is not right, their demeanor is slightly off, there is an undercurrent. Allowing your child to exercise their appropriate suspicion will more often than not, be a protective barrier against would-be sex offenders. If your child is uncomfortable being around a person, including, the bus driver, respect and honor your child’s sensibilities. Do what you need to do to protect your child from anyone your child is uncomfortable being around. It is far better to err on the side of caution, than to be sorry later.
Furthermore, know the signs your child is being targeted.
There is no foolproof sexual child abuse prevention, because, sex offenders are cunning predators, who have perfected their skills to get what they want. Therefore, heed and investigate any warning signals.
Warning signals include, but are not limited to:
o An aversion to an adult–even an adult whom your child knows and seemingly has been comfortable with heretofore.
o Sudden outbursts of anger toward a person, event, activity, etc. and there is no apparent reason known for such anger.
o Any unusual or unexplained behavior change.
o Not wanting to go to school on a particular day of the week–the day gym or music class is held for instance.
o Not wanting to ride the bus or be around a particular person.
o The gym teacher says your child is athletically ‘gifted’ and he or she wants to develop your child’s athletic abilities if your child practiced one-on-one after school. Never allow you child to be alone with someone who could have an ulterior motive.