Officials in Rapid City held a training session on child sexual abuse this week in response to a public outcry last month when a sex offender considered by state corrections officials to be a high risk to repeat his crimes settled a half mile from Rapid Valley Elementary School.
But a child-protection specialist at the training session Monday night said people who worry about sex abuse against children should look closer to home for potential perpetrators.
Only a small percentage of sexual abuse acts against children is committed by strangers, said Hollie Strand, a forensic interviewer with the Child Advocacy Center of the Black Hills. She said people want to believe the threat to children is limited to people they don't know.
"I think there's almost a false sense of security with that, if I think it's some creepy guy out there that looks creepy and acts creepy," Strand said. "We say it's more likely going to be in your home, or somebody that you know, love and trust. It's a little more scary."
Word spread quickly last month that convicted sex-offender Michael Pigney was living not far from Rapid Valley Elementary School after his release from prison following a 15-year term for child sexual abuse. Fear spread with the news and rumors ran wild for a time.
Reports that Pigney was seen lurking around the school spread, with some even going so far as to say he had abducted a child. Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said at the time that those rumors were checked out and determined to be unfounded.
Strand said the training session at Rapid Valley Elementary was designed to educate the public on who is usually the perpetrator of sexual abuse against children, how to detect it and how and where to report it.
"I think people look at it like there's some monster out there, looking, waiting to grab one of their children," Strand said. "And I've interviewed over 980 children and six were touched by strangers."
The list of perpetrators is difficult for most people to imagine. Biological fathers are the number one sex abusers against kids, followed by family friends, boyfriends of the mothers and other family members.
It's hard information to absorb, but important to understand the realities of the problem.
"I don't want people to walk around paranoid and feeling like they need to lock their kids in the basement," Strand said. "I think that if they're going to be motivated to protect their kids, I want to give them the right kind of information. I want them to be able to do it in a healthy way, in a way that's comfortable for them and comfortable for kids."
The meeting Monday night was designed to dispel myths and help those attending understand, recognize and report child sexual abuse.
Sgt. Dustin Morrison of the Pennington County Sheriff's Office said the information is useful for anyone with a role in protecting children.
"Knowledge is power, you know, and anytime we can give parents and counselors and even law enforcement who attend this training the tools that they need, the understanding that they need, then we can all, like I said, it's a coordinated effort amongst all of us, we can't do it by ourselves as law enforcement or social works," Morrison said. " We all need to work together as a community."
That means being vigilant in looking for signs of abuse.
"From a law-enforcement perspective, I mean, you've got to report the suspicious things that you see," he said. "That's the number one key."
Just as important is knowing where to look. And sometimes that can be way too close to home. The training session helped focus that reality.
About 50 people turned out for the training session at Rapid Valley Elementary. For those who couldn't attend, a second training session will be held at 6 p.m. April 14 at Corral Drive Elementary in Rapid City.