Keeping Kids SAFE: Oprah’s Conversation with Child Predators

January 6, 2014

Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota (MPM) staff recently spent an afternoon watching Oprah Winfrey interview four men who have molested children about their motivations and methods. Following this unique, in-depth interview with four child predators, Oprah stated her primary take-away from the experience was, “trust is the number one factor that they need to succeed… Without trust the sexual abuse is not possible.”

While unsettling, MPM is committed to learning as much as we can about the motivations of child predators so we can best support mentoring programs as they seek to provide safe, quality mentors for young people in our communities. We will continue to share what we learn through blog posts, in our trainings and with additional resources.

During Oprah’s interview, the close-knit relationships between the men and their victims were immediately disconcerting. These were not men lurking in the woods waiting to strike at random, but men who spent years deliberately cultivating relationships with children, families, and institutions. One perpetrator said he was able to seduce and rape a family member, because she did not have any trusting relationships with adults in her life. “I was the only one there in her world who would listen to her, who would validate her,” he said. “That gave me such power over her.”

Trust is one of the most critical components of successful mentoring. A relationship is built on a reciprocal trust between an adult and a young person, which then creates the safe space needed for many youth to have tough conversations, solve problems, and push themselves toward their goals. Many of our recommended program practices for mentors and mentees focus on training and activities that encourage this level of trust to develop with the hope that we will see the outcomes we know are possible for the mentors and mentees in the programs we serve.

In a job whose very nature is to build trust between adults and potentially vulnerable youth, how do we do our best to keep them safe?

The men interviewed discussed that they often got away with what they did because nobody was paying attention. Their advice for adults who want to protect children from sexual abuse? Keep a close eye on what is happening with your children. One said, “You don’t have to mistrust everybody. But at least open your eyes and look around and see what’s happening.” Another’s advice was simply, “listen to the children.”

We must keep our eyes open on what is happening with the mentors and mentees we support.

WE CAN perform comprehensive screening practices that do not rely solely on background checks, but include thorough reference checks, interviews, and attentiveness to our own intuition.

WE CAN provide ongoing support that allows us to stay connected with parents, children, and mentors and watches out for any signs of trouble.

WE CAN talk within our staff about our volunteers and share our knowledge, observations, and intuition with each other.

By challenging ourselves to apply and perfect effective practices, we stand the best chance of keeping kids safe and having a meaningful mentoring experience for everyone involved.

Download the new recommendations from Friends for Youth appearing in their book, Mentor Screening and Youth Safety, in the Handbook on Youth Mentoring, 2nd Edition. Want to go further in depth? Consider attending our full day Screening Applicants for Effectiveness (SAFE) Training on March 13th which will cover the latest in child molestation research, red flags, and screening recommendations.