New group seeks alternative ways to prevent child abuse

Thursday, October 16, 2008 | 3:21 p.m. CDT; updated 9:43 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 16, 2008

When stories about adults raping and molesting children come out in Columbia, the question isn't how do residents feel about it. The question is, what can they do about it?

That's the question Grandparents and Others on Watch, a new group dedicated to preventing child abuse through education, awareness and civic action, asked at their first meeting Wednesday night.

If you go

Want to find out more about Grandparents and Others on Watch? Join them for their next meeting.

When: 5-7:30 pm on Thursday, October 16

Where: Rendezvous Coffee House

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"I cringe whenever I use the words 'child' and 'rape' in the same sentence," said Dan Peek, president of the organization. "The problem is so huge. It seems so overwhelming. But we're going to empower the community."

The group is the first of its kind, Peek said. Whereas most child rape awareness groups provide information through the Internet, Grandparents and Others on Watch will send representatives into the community to educate groups on child molestation, rape, abuse and pornography. "It's a person to person thing," Peek said. "We have a Web site, but it puts you in touch with a person. We want to put the information in people's hands."

Thirteen people attended the Wednesday night meeting. Peek and fellow board members are already projecting spreading this "guinea pig meeting," as Peek called it, into a state-wide — if not national — organization in five years.

"When that man or that woman is driving around looking for a vulnerable child, we want them to see grandparents and others on watch," Peek said. "We want them to keep driving. And when they get all the way to the Pacific Ocean, guess what we want them to do? Keep driving."

Peek joined with Andy Anderson, a detective and 23-year veteran with the Boone County Sheriff's Department, and Jim Murray, a retired police chief of Diamond whose recent investigations have been responsible for more than 20 arrests of Internet predators. The meeting mostly consisted of introductions by the three men.

Christopher Robinson, 35, said he heard an announcement about the meeting on the radio and hoped his experience as a social worker would help the group accomplish its goals.

"I always take a victim-first approach, and everything else is kind of secondary," Robinson said. But when he learned the group's focus on educating adults rather than advocating directly for children, Robinson said he'd have to research the group further to decide how he'd fit in.

Robinson said he was concerned about the group's portrayal of the perpetrators of child sex crimes. During the meeting, the group used terms like "low lifes" and "we want ‘em hung" to talk about the predators who molest children.

"People who abuse children are not always this sleazy guy who lives in some strange corner of town," Robinson said. In a majority of cases, children are abused by relatives or people they know, Robinson said. "It's much closer to home."

Kurt Schaefer, a lawyer currently running for the state senate, called the meeting "invaluable." When Schaefer served as a prosecutor, he worked several cases involving child abuse. "When people get rightfully concerned about rising crime in Columbia, this is exactly the response we need," Schaefer said.

The group will meet again at 5 p.m. Thursday evening at the Rendezvous Coffee House, 3304 Business Park Court, to discuss future goals with the community. They hope to gather a team of adults — especially grandparents — who are willing to work actively to end child abuse.

"There is nobody who loves a kid more than a grandparent," Murray said. "The parent might love them as much, but nobody loves them more."



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