Ex-Oregon prosecutor builds case to help stop child abuse

Eric Hsu doesn't have any secrets, and he warns that those who do are potential child predators.

"Telling children to beware of strangers isn't good enough," said Hsu, an attorney who has years of experience in dealing with internet crimes against children.

A former prosecutor from Linn County, Ore., who now oversees the Office of Public Defense for Benton and Franklin counties, Hsu divides his off-hours between being a husband and father to running Safe Kids Consulting.

It's his homegrown effort to educate parents, educators and professionals about how to foil a would-be predator.

After years of seeing criminal justice resources poured into catching child predators, Hsu said, he realized prevention was just as -- if not more -- important.

"All the resources are great but it's too late. The kids who are abused never get their childhood back. Some call it stealing a child's childhood," he said.

After getting married and having children of his own, Hsu decided to form Safe Kids Consulting.

"We do fire drill training, why not sex abuse prevention training to foil predators?" he said.

Hsu takes that message to whoever will listen, such as service clubs and organizations involved in helping kids.

But what he has to say can make many people uncomfortable.

"Stranger danger isn't the problem -- it's the people who are close," Hsu said.

By that he means friends and relatives.

"No one wants to talk about this. It's a subject that can open wounds. I've seen the discomfort (in the audiences)," he said.

Hsu has distilled his talk to five key points:

-- Facts, not myths: The vast majority of perpetrators are not strangers.

-- Perpetrators groom their victims. They set up and arrange circumstances so they won't be caught.

-- Watch for patterns, especially opportunities to have secrets or a preoccupation with children.

-- Create a safe landscape for children. Do a background investigation, not just a background check, and include Facebook.

-- Collaborate with all the players -- teachers, parents and professionals.

"As a society, we are so reactive. We do training on how to recognize the signs of child molestation and about mandatory reporting, but so much more can be done on the front end," Hsu said. "Right now, too many efforts are in silos. We need to collaborate."

Hsu's organization website, www.safekidsconsulting.com, provides tips on how to foil a predator.

He also offers information about how to talk to children about avoiding sexual abuse in a way that empowers rather than scares them. Hsu also talks about how to create a child-friendly environment that is unfriendly to potential abusers.

Not only do the wounds from predator abuse last a lifetime, but they also can lead to more abuse and more victims, Hsu said. He said trying to address the problem early, before abuse occurs, is the only way to effectively stop it.

Hsu practices what he teaches.

"I tell my kids, 'If any grownup says this is a secret, you come tell me,'" he said.

Hsu can be contacted through the Safe Kids Consulting website for public speaking or to sign up for the free "Prevention Insights" newsletter.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com