Can background checks weed out potential child-sex predators?

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The arrest of a well-known community volunteer and school employee on child-sex charges exposes a key flaw in the safety net that we think we have in place to prevent such things from happening.

It is expected that the tried and true background check will weed out bad actors from being able to have access to kids through volunteer opportunities with organizations like a Big Brothers Big Sisters, a YMCA camp, a job in a school.

The problem: the background check is only as good as the information inputted into it.

The obvious situations – those with past criminal convictions, allegations of misconduct for which there is some sort of public record – don’t pass muster.

How, though, do you catch a potential predator who has nothing in terms of a record of criminality, misconduct, much less weed out a person who, by all outward appearances, is a pillar of the community type?

I’ve discussed this privately with a couple of folks who have been in positions of authority that include hiring people to work with kids.

Their responses boil down to a collective shrug of the shoulders.

The bad actors in these cases don’t jump out at anybody as the boogieman that you’re supposed to protect kids from.

They don’t stand out in terms of appearance, presentation.

I think here, in addition to Kris Losh, the former local radio personality and schools employee arrested last week on child-sex charges, to Jerry Sandusky, the former long-time Penn State football assistant coach.

Sandusky, before being accused, and later convicted, on child-sex charges, was lauded for starting a foundation for at-risk boys, and raising millions of dollars toward the effort.

You don’t want to think he initiated his charity work solely with the goal in mind that it would give him access to at-risk young boys.

You don’t want to think that somebody volunteers as an adult mentor to be able to prey on kids.

You don’t want to think a person goes into teaching for … that.

The vast, vast majority who do good things do good things because they want to do good things.

They go through the same background checks as those who end up using their positions to become child predators.

It’s hard to imagine the system that we have in place being able to winnow out the potential bad actors, which is no solace when you consider the consequences.

Column by Chris Graham


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