Monday, March 05, 2007

Waving Red Flags

This past Sunday's Seattle Times' front page article on one police officer's pursuit of a foster father accused of sexually molesting the girls in his care can be read as a case study of all those red flags that should be screaming ABUSE, ABUSE, ABUSE!!! The article also can be read as a case study of what happens when people waving those flags do so furtively, briefly, tentatively, fleetingly, as if they want to say something but don't want to be responsible for blowing the whistle. Please read the article for the details of all these red warning flags that signal abuse.

Redmond police Detective Jennifer Baldwin, according to this story, traced all these shadowy flags and pieced together the criminal case against Enrique Fabregas. Her work is also instrumental to the $45 million suit that the adopted and foster daughters are bringing against the state of Washington.

Described as an exceptional investigator into child sexual abuse, Baldwin was initially inclined to believe Fabregas' explanations for the allegations against him. Even though there were red flags flying during Baldwin's initial interview of Fabregas, his funny and likeable persona almost convinced her that he was OK. Until one of his victims came to meet her. Unlike most of us, when holes began emerging in his story, she pursued them and ultimately arrested him.

I take two critical lessons from this article.

  1. As a safety skills instructor, I'm always telling clients to pay attention to their instincts. At the same time, I tell clients that good con artists are skilled at quickly figuring out what YOU want to hear and see, and putting on that front. Most of us, unlike Detective Baldwin, would have created stories to confirm our view of Fabregas as a good guy.
  2. Most often, most of us don't rely on people for justice, we rely on our institutions to negotiate the truth. Our justice institutions are full of people who do really care, but they are overwhelmed with work. I know several people who've left government social service jobs because of their frustration at increasing caseloads and decreasing support. "I was accused of getting too personally involved in this case," Baldwin said. "Maybe that's because I was the only person to take it seriously." Systems on their own don't automatically crank out justice. Only people do.
In summary, (1) you and others around you will be a lot safer if you can look into yourself for what unmet needs are simmering and attracting con artists; and (2) become the change you want to see: if you see abuse, wave that flag!

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