This policy received lots of publicity last year when a 63 year-old cancer patient was refused admission to Legoland in Canada. The marketing director for the facility asserted that Legoland “is a child attraction so we do have this in place to protect the families and children that visit.”
This is craziness masquerading as child protection, and is based upon an ignorance of the real dynamics of sexual abuse. Refusing admission to adults without kids does absolutely nothing to keep kids safe.
These policies are not an anomaly. Some airlines have prevented male passengers from sitting next to unaccompanied minors for years. Some of these practices have been modified in response to lawsuits alleging sex discrimination. Some parks have similar rules restricting adult’s admission without children.
Let’s be clear about the seriousness of child sexual abuse. Although the prevalence rate has decreased over the past 30 years, about 10 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys will be sexually abused during their childhood.
This is an extraordinarily serious problem with lifelong consequences for the child victims, and demands aggressive action to safeguard our youngsters. However, these policies do nothing to protect children and just reaffirm misconceptions about sexual abuse.
Here are the uncomfortable facts about child sexual abuse.
First, kids are most likely to be abused by people they know and trust. “Stranger danger” is a myth. Kids should be warned about their coaches, cousins, uncles, brothers and babysitters.
It’s easy to tell children to stay away from strangers, but how do we educate kids about sexual abuse without making them distrustful of the people they know and love? How can you help kids distinguish between a normal hug, kiss or tickle and a subtle manipulation into sexual abuse?
Second, a high number of sexual offenses against children are committed by older kids, with about one-quarter to one-third of offenses committed by male teenagers. These kids have a history of acting out in all kinds of ways against their family, school, and community. They have poor judgment and use younger children for sexual gratification.
These older kids are not sexually attracted to children and rarely reoffend once they are apprehended. These teens sexually act out against both boys (25 percent of the time) and girls (79 percent of the time) depending upon the availability of the younger child.
Your friendly neighborhood teen who loves playing baseball with your ten-year old is the real threat, not some 63 year-old adult at Legoland!
The dilemma we confront as parents is how to educate our kids early and often without creating mistrust of family and friends. Ridiculous policies at Legoland only misdirect our attention.