Manitoba

Criminal record checks aren't enough to spot predators, expert says

Julie Schreyer couldn't believe this man she shared a coffee twice a week, who prayed with her, who asked about her family, could be accused of a crime this exploitative.

'Most people who are problematic, they will not come with a criminal record'

Nathan George Rieger, 53, is accused of arranging to meet with a minor for a sexual act and meeting with a minor for a sexual act. (School of Mercy and Justice/Facebook)

Julie Schreyer was in disbelief.

She couldn't believe this man with whom she shared a coffee twice a week, who prayed with her, who asked about her family, could be accused of a crime so exploitative. 

Nathan George Rieger was arrested Aug. 10 by California police who accuse him of trying to set up a meeting to have sex with a 15-year-old girl. He's charged with arranging to meet with a minor for a sexual act and meeting with a minor for a sexual act.

Rieger served as a pastor at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church, a place of worship in the inner city, until his recent resignation. The church's congregation was informed of the criminal charges at their Sunday service.

"He's not like that. I've known him since I was 18 years old. He knows my baby's dad," Schreyer said.

"He's not like that," she repeated.

The accusations against Rieger, which have not been proven in court, come shortly after Pope Francis wrote a letter vowing to stop coverups of sexual abuse committed by clergy, and after news broke that a Winnipeg oncologist lost his medical licence for six months for professional misconduct involving inappropriate sexual contact with two of his University of Manitoba students.

While many are startled by such accusations, members of law enforcement and other advocates say education is paramount to expose predatory behaviour.

Noni Classen, director of education for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, says criminal record and child abuse registry checks alone are ineffective ways to weed out predators.

"Most people who are problematic, they will not come with a criminal record," she said.

Organizations need policies to ensure people who work with children are trained to be mindful of the hallmark behaviours of predators, like securing one-on-one time with a young person. 

Predators also take advantage of technology to extend their access with children and build trust, she said.

Online network

The California police involved in the investigation that led to Rieger's arrest create fictitious online children to communicate with possible offenders.

"There's a whole network of people that are looking to have sex with minors and we have a detective bureau that is designated to have conversations with these people," said Cmdr. Shawn Cosgrove with the California-based police force.

The Internet Crimes Against Children task force has a duty in all 50 American states to respond to child sexual exploitation and online crimes against children.

The organization receives thousands of tips a year, including 50 to 75 tips within the last day alone, Lt. Brian Spears, commander of the Silicon Valley task force, said on Tuesday.

The proliferation of social media platforms gives offenders seemingly countless ways to reach youth using an anonymous persona, he said.

"We don't see it slowing down at all." 

Andrea Grossman, who leads the Los Angeles Internet Crimes Against Children task force, likens the Internet to an unsupervised playground where inquisitive children explore uncharted territory without appropriate regard for their safety.

Predators are renowned for pretending they are someone they aren't, she said. Predators try to befriend children whose inhibitions are lowered, leaving them vulnerable.

"The child has, unfortunately, become attached to you, and they're OK with whatever changes that you've now revealed."

'Trust gets really rattled'

A statement from Vineyard Church says Rieger has posted bail. He has a court date set for Aug. 23.

Church leadership is working with congregation members who are struggling with news of Rieger's arrest. 

The church offered a quiet gathering to the congregation on Tuesday and a prayer night will be held on Thursday.

Staff, elders and the board of directors are also offering care to worshippers, and inviting people to seek professional counselling.

"We understand that trust gets really rattled in a scenario like this," said David Ruis, who founded the church in 1995 and worked with Rieger for 19 years, and who said he's experiencing "gut-wrenching grief, really, and deep sorrow." 

With files from Samantha Samson, Austin Grabish and Meaghan Ketcheson

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