HOUSTON - The Penn State University scandal has pushed one Houston advocate to list off the specific behavior that could point to a predator, Local 2 Investigates reported Monday.
"Your best friend can be a predator to your child," said Paulette Everett Norman, founder of the McKay Foundation of Conroe.
She has written several books and developed curriculum for schools on how to avoid predators, in response to the 1995 kidnapping and killing of her 12-year-old son McKay Everett at the hands of a family friend known as "Uncle Hilty."
Hilton Crawford was executed for the crime and now Norman has devoted her life to alerting kids and parents to the signs of a predator in action.
She is also a retired elementary school teacher who has studied predators' tricks since the crime.
Norman listed a number of actions and behavior that can be spotted by kids and adults alike:
Wanting to know too much about a child
Norman said that a predator will spend time and energy focusing on what a child likes.
"Favorite foods, what games they like to play....in McKay's case, the predator asked may I take your child for yogurt because he knew McKay liked yogurt," she said. "The reality is, adults need adult friends. Adults don't need children as friends. Something's wrong with that picture."
Too "touchy feely" with a child
"If someone is too touchy feely with your child, gotta have a hand on them....no. That won't work," she said.
Lacking range of emotion
She said 'Uncle Hilty' and other predators she has studied seemed too happy all the time, or seemed to have their normal emotions suppressed.
"Hilton Crawford seemed to always be happy when he was out in public and people like jovial people; that's nice. But you need to know where that person is in life," she said.
Too chummy with adults about their kids
Norman said a predator, "Will present to the parent that they're such a good person, that they have their child's best interest at heart, that they want to help them. They want to present at times as a savior to that family, that I can help your child."
Seeking unusual alone time with child
Dr. Lawrence Thompson, Jr., head of counseling for the Harris County Children's Assessment Center
added, "Whenever you find someone that seems a little too well-meaning, to want to spend too much time alone with your child, it makes sense to really take a look at that person and if that alone time is okay."
He said that is an especially important warning sign for people in positions of authority. He suggested parents watch out for an unusual number of suggested encounters alone, or those that seem unusual from the start.
For Norman, she said it's extremely important for parents to trust instincts.
"If you, as a parent, have a gut feeling that someone or something just isn't right, or that someone is a little weird....Avoid those people, keep away from them, disassociate yourself from them and tell others," she said.
Urging secrets be kept from adults and other kids
Norman and Thompson, along with other experts, agree that anyone who urges a child to keep secrets from a parent or from other kids is up to no good.
"Children need to be taught that it's okay to keep a secret about a surprise birthday party, or what are we getting dad for Christmas, but some secrets we don't keep," Norman said. "If someone's asking you to keep a secret, there's usually a problem."
She also told Local 2 Investigates that the Penn State scandal should have parents watching closely for signs that a child has already been harmed.
Sudden or extreme outbursts
"I had one child who climbed under her desk one day and went into the fetal position," she said of her second grade teaching experience.
Withdraws from life, changes patterns
Norman said a 7-year-old boy in her class had been outgoing and productive until sexual abuse apparently crept into his life.
"He was a very live, vivacious young man and then one, day....it stopped," she said with a snap of her fingers. "He went into a shell and he became very, very quiet," she said, adding that he began obsessing about lifting weights and avoiding other kids.
Kids suddenly become clingy with parents
Experts say kids will often respond to sexual abuse by growing suddenly more dependent or clingy with their parents.
"Most predators will abuse 40 to 50 children before they're ever exposed," Norman said.
She said her most intense hope from the Penn State event is that parents and others will step forward to say something more quickly if they spot these signs of trouble in other kid's life, apart from their own families.
"Contact law enforcement," she said.
She then referred back to her own family's case and the loss of her only child.
"Predators cannot only sexually abuse your child; some predators can take the next step and kill your child."
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