Men in tough spot with kids
Fear of sexual predators, who are usually male, raises suspicions
Cristina Rouvalis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 12, 2008
In a society where pedophiles are outed and shamed as part of prime-time entertainment, it has come to this: Tony Taylor, a Pittsburgh father, says he wouldn't come to the aid of a crying child lost in the mall.
It can be tough being a man seen around children these days, Mr. Taylor and other men's rights leaders would argue. Gotcha shows such as "To Catch a Predator'' and front-page stories about pedophiles have fueled such a fervor that just being around a child can raise unfounded suspicions. The distrust can surface anywhere, they said, from airplane seats to billboard campaigns to random encounters with a child.
Virginia, for example, launched a sexual abuse prevention campaign that used billboard ads featuring a man's hand intertwined with a child's hand with a tagline, "It doesn't feel right when I see them together." The campaign enraged many men.
Rebecca K. Odor, director of sexual and domestic violence prevention for the Virginia Department of Health, agreed
Ms. Odor said the campaign was designed to tell people to trust their gut instincts about sexual abuse and noted it resonated with adults who had been abused as children.
Some men complain pedophile suspicions are so widespread that it even affects the seating of unaccompanied minors at some airlines such as British Airways, which makes an attempt to put unaccompanied minors in a seat next to a woman.
Mr. Rudov believes it has become difficult for men to innocently be around young children without raising suspicions. But others say that doesn't ring true. They point to all the dads coaching soccer or going on Indian Princess father-daughter campouts.
Day care workers are overwhelmingly female -- so much so that Patrick Webster said that it was a hindrance when he opened a preschool program in Pine in the 1990s.
Back then, some people were thrilled to see a positive male role model in the business, but it made other people nervous, said Mr. Webster, now administrative director of Shady Lane School, an early care and education program in Point Breeze.
Now he believes that people tend to be less uneasy about a male day care worker or preschool teacher.
Male teachers also are a rarity in elementary schools, dropping from an all-time high of 18 percent in 1981 to 9 percent in 2004, according to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher union. The NEA attributes economic reasons and gender stereotypes for the decline -- not social hysteria.
The administrators at Roosevelt Elementary School in Carrick have worked hard to find good male teachers, and the parents often request them, said Principal Vincent Lewandowski. All things equal between two qualified candidates, Mr. Lewandowski tries to hire men to bring diversity to the mostly female teaching staff.
Still, with all the headlines about pedophiles, he said he and his male staff are extra vigilant about not doing anything that could even be construed as inappropriate.
Male youth ministers also have to concern themselves with outside appearances.
Roy Peter Clark, a writing coach, believes that heightened fears over men with small children is a type of profiling, and it's the reason he agonized when he heard a child asking for help in the men's room of his church in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Those 11 words stopped him in his tracks.
Later, he asked his friends what they would do if they were faced with such an excruciating predicament. They recommended getting the parents, making an announcement from the pulpit or -- his favorite -- go get a woman.
As he agonized over what to do, an old man walked into the bathroom. In a loud voice, Mr. Clark asked the little boy what he wanted to do and repeated it back so the old man would hear before helping the boy with his zipper, an act of male solidarity.
Mr. Clark, the father of three grown daughters, thinks there is more suspicion around men today than decades ago.