British Columbia

What sexual predators look for: advice from a former RCMP officer to keep children safe

Vancouver police continue to search for witnesses and dashcam footage in the sexual assault of a 6-year-old student from JW Sexsmith Elementary, as questions and concerns ignite about how to protect children from predators.

Teach children to say no, yell, make noise and run away

The conversation shouldn't make children fearful or paranoid, says former RCMP officer Richard Konarski, but rather teach them to be aware and confident. (Lisa Johnson/CBC)

Vancouver police continue to search for witnesses and dashcam footage in the sexual assault of a six-year-old student from J.W. Sexsmith Elementary, as questions and concerns ignite about how to protect children from predators.  

Police say the girl was taken from the south Vancouver school, sexually assaulted and returned to the school yard on Wednesday.  

"Child predators take absolute advantage of children that … are afraid to say no to an adult," said former RCMP officer Richard Konarski.

"A predator is looking for the one perfect victim, the one that might be shy — it's a grooming activity."

Sexsmith Elementary School is a public school in South Vancouver with students from kindergarten to Grade 7. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Konarski conducted major child sex crime investigations during his time with the RCMP and now works as a criminology instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley.

One of the most important things parents can do, he said, is have open conversations with their children to prepare them for the worst-case scenario.

"This is a conversation that has to be repeated, ongoing with scenarios with your kids — not to scare them, not to terrify them but just say listen your body," he told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC's On The Coast.

Teach them they have the right to say no to adults, Konarski emphasized. Teach them to yell, make noise and not be intimidated.

It's not always obvious to children which adults can be trusted but using a password can help them tell, says Konarski. (Getty Images)

Safety password

Another strategy that is "obvious" but has "fallen by the wayside" is to have a password: one that only the child and trusted adults know to indicate to the child it's safe to go with a person.

Part of the problem is the way conversations about predators are framed, he said. Even in children's cartoons, they're portrayed as evil-looking and monsters.

"The surprising thing is they're probably the nicest people if you just met them in the road because they hide in plain sight," Konarski said.

"[The children] never see it coming."

Report suspicious activity

Konarski said predators typically frequent an area before making a move — scoping it out, observing potential victims and waiting for an opportune moment.

He urged anyone who may have seen something suspicious or unusual in the neighbourhood around the school, even in retrospect, to call police.

"If you saw something odd or someone that was just wandering back and forth, that could be the big break for the police to end up finding this guy," he said.

Police say the suspect is around 30 years old with "darker" skin and brown or grey hair.

To report anything suspicious, call the VPD's Sex Crimes Unit at 604-717-0603 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

With files from On The Coast