Belegarth fighters on the battlefield. Photo by Flickr user Glenn Loos-Austin.
Once upon a time, a grieving mother went on the warpath. After Patricia Pulling’s RPG-playing son, Irving, shot himself in the chest, she set out to convince the world that such games are dangerous for kids. Her “evidence” included numerous cases in which obviously depraved individuals used role-playing games to “lure” kids into harmful activity. Pulling believed the games were to blame, and she was successful in shutting down many smaller games and game publishers.
Those days are long gone — or are they? Police in Tennessee told reporters this week that a man used live-action role-playing games to get close to families with kids, and then molest the kids. The man, who participated in Belegarth, went by the name Sir Lotek. (To be fair, Belegarth is less a live-action role-playing game and more of a medieval combat society). Police told a NewsChannel5 reporter:
“Mr. Agostinho met families through the medieval social networking group, and that’s how he became involved with the victims. He would befriend the families, take vacations and trips together, and befriend these kids.”
Fortunately, the article doesn’t end there. It also includes this very important comment — suggesting that times have, perhaps, changed after all:
Authorities said it’s important to remember the medieval role playing group had no clue about Agostinho’s alleged actions, and had no involvement in the criminal acts themselves.
Unfortunately, the line is buried at the end of the story. I only hope that concerned parents would read that far.
Still, the whole scenario requires some further unpacking. For example, it doesn’t sound like the kids themselves were playing Belegarth with Sir Lotek. It sounds like he made friends with their parents through a common social hobby, and had access to the kids in other situations. It also follows the pattern of most child sexual abuse, in which the perpetrator is a family member, family friend, or acquaintance.
Parents who are worried that kids might become victims of this kind of abuse, either because of Pulling’s work or because of articles about this Tennessee gamer, will get a lot out of Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift, which helps parents recognize dangerous behavior in both strangers and acquaintances. He also offers these insights:
Hard as it is to accept the idea that some well-liked neighbor or friend of the family might be sexually abusing a child, imagine the idea that it’s someone in your family. The denier doesn’t have to consider this because it’s so easy to replace that unwelcome thought with a warmer one like ‘Not in this family.’ Yet, one in three girls and one in six boys will have sexual contact with an adult, so somebody must be responsible. You can be certain that wherever it is happening, a denier is sitting in a box seat watching the performance that precedes the crime, watching a predator snake his way into a position of advantage, watching an adult persuade a child to trust him. During the beginning of sexual abuse, deniers will volunteer for the job of designing theories to explain the onset of a child’s sleep disturbances or eating problems or sudden fear of that same adult she liked so much just a week ago…
If a discussion requires exploration of some hard reality, the denier will first try to wriggle away … ‘Yes, I know all about that stuff; can we please change to a happier subject?’ Under pressure, he or she will acknowledge a given risk, for as a seasoned veteran in a long battle with reality, the denier has learned that appearing to get it, to really get it, is the best defense against unwanted knowledge. And the denier is not stupid – to the contrary, there is brilliance in the creative ways, that his or her children can be excluded from the discussion. ‘You’re so right,’ denier says, ‘sexual abuse is an enormous problem, particularly for young teens. Thank God mine aren’t there yet.’
No, sorry, says reality, the most common age at which sexual abuse begins is three….
‘Yeah, but that kind of pervert isn’t living in our neighborhood.’
Sorry, says reality, but that kind of pervert is living in your neighborhood. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that on average, there is one child molester per square mile.
‘Well at least the police know who these people are.’
Not likely, says reality, since the average child molester victimizes between thirty and sixty children before he is ever arrested.
Do you know anyone who was molested? If so, who was the perpetrator — and how did s/he get to know the victim, if they weren’t already family? How did adults find out what was happening? Tell your stories in comments.