Police use meeting to advise about safety tips

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Craig Police Department officers used Tuesday night's meeting on the presence of a sexually violent predator living in the city to frame a larger point to the general public.

That is, the need for community members to educate themselves on area offenders and to take proactive measures to ensure safety.

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The police presentation was scheduled in response to news that Robert Allen Barnstable -- a disabled, 53-year-old multiple sex offender considered a violent predator -- had been released from prison and moved into the CAPS facility at 445 Ranney St.

But, Barnstable is not the lone registered sex offender living in the area. Police said 34 registered sex offenders live within Craig and Moffat County limits.

Tuesday's presentation covered facts and statistics about sexual offenders and offenses.

For instance, 65 percent of convicted sex offenders in Colorado are placed on probation.

Less than 16 percent of all sexual assaults are reported. Seventy-eight to 90 percent of sex offenders know their victims and can be someone as familiar as a relative, friend or authority figure.

One in 150 women and one in 830 men have been sexual assault victims in the last 12 months.

One in four women and one in 17 men will be sexual assault victims in their lifetime.

In others words, as Police Department lieutenant John Forgay said, "Be suspicious (because) you have to."

Debbie Stjernholm, a technical assistance provider for the Division of Criminal Justice, has worked in the field of sexual offender behavior for more than 18 years. She told the crowd she's worked with past offenders who have gone almost a lifetime abusing people without being caught.

"So it's all about education and awareness of the issue," she said.

Forgay fielded a question about an on-going investigation into an alleged attempted sexual assault of a Craig Middle School student in February. Police continue to investigate leads in the case.

The female student who reported the incident was walking home from school alone when the alleged assault occurred.

Forgay said it is important for parents to discuss safety precautions and Stranger Danger rules with their children.

There is no such thing as perfect protection strategies and no way to predict all possible situations, police said. However, the Police Department recommends the safety tips below, which can reduce, if not eliminate risk.

  • Avoid scary details. You know more than your child needs to know. Talk to them honestly and use age-appropriate language. Include general information and instruct children to avoid contact with offenders. Encourage them to tell a parent or adult when someone has initiated improper contact.
  • Teach your child. Don't take rides from strangers, keep secrets, assist strangers, go places alone, harass or visit an offender's home or yard. Tell an adult if anyone acts inappropriate -- creepy, too friendly, threatening, offering gifts in a secret way or touching them.
  • Make it a habit to listen to children and believe them. A child is more likely to discuss scary incidents if he or she feels believed and listened to about everyday things. Pay attention to the child's feelings and thoughts.
  • Role-play safety with your child. Act out scenarios of various dangerous situations and teach him or her how to respond. Examples include being home alone and someone comes to the door; being separated from a parent in a store and a man comes up to talk to them; chatting on the Internet and the child is asked for a home address.
  • Knowledge is power. Educate yourself about known offenders in your community.
  • Remember: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. If you feel uncomfortable around someone, trust your gut feeling and take steps to keep your distance from that person.
  • Avoid high-risk situations. Be observant and aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not harass offenders. Initiating contact with a sexually violent predator or sex offender can increase the risk of you or your family being victimized or may drive the offender underground, thus placing others at risk.

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