Feature Article - January 2005
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Potentially Dangerous When Wet

Aquatic risk management red flags

By Stacy St. Clair


SEXUAL ABUSE

Every pool seems to have one.

A creepy loner that hangs out near the changing rooms. A childless man who sits near the kiddie pool. A goggle-wearer who constantly swims around children he doesn't know.

Melissa Carrier hears these same stories at every aquatic facility she visits. She goes to the pools and waterparks to teach employees about identifying potential child abusers. Without fail, she listens to the lifeguards and gate monitors describe suspicious patrons and, occasionally, employees.

"Inevitably, when we ask the questions, they all have stories," Carrier says. "One group says, 'We even have a name for him. We call him Chester the Molester because he comes by himself in the middle of the day and plays with children.'"

Carrier works for Praesidium Inc., a Texas-based organization that helps recreation facilities and other kid-centered groups prevent abuse. The effort, which is supported by insurance companies, helps keep patrons safe. The training also serves to protect pools and waterparks from the lawsuits and liability claims that often accompany incidents of abuse.

"Sometimes they don't know what they don't know," Carrier says.

The first step toward preventing abuse at local aquatic centers is acknowledging it exists. In fact, pools and waterparks are havens for pedophiles because they are filled children in various stages of dress.

"It's easy to gain access to kids and gain access without losing anonymity," Carrier says. "They can touch children in the pool and easily explain it away if someone challenges them on it."

Aquatic centers also are susceptible because parents of proficient swimmers often pay little attention to their children. Moms and dads often chat with friends or sunbathe while their kids splash in the pool.

"It shouldn't happen, but a lot of parents use the lifeguards as babysitters," Carrier says. "Children who want attention are more vulnerable. It's easier for [a pedophile] to engage them."

Carrier encourages pool employees to look out for abnormal behavior. Some molesters like to go underwater near the slide, which allows them an unrestricted view of the children as they plunge into their pools and their bathing suits move. Others enjoy bumping and diving into kids at the wave pool.

There are also reports of pedophiles using camera phones in dressing rooms and returning day after day to play with toddlers in the kiddie pool.

Carrier also advises lifeguards to look for childless patrons who bring toys to attract young swimmers. She knows of one pool where a man brought dozens of inflatable toys and passed them out to children.

"They [pool employees] need to recognize that these behaviors have to be addressed," Carrier says.

Confronting suspicious patrons, however, is a delicate subject. Carrier advises facility employees to take a friendly, but pointed, stance. She suggests they approach questionable customers, introduce themselves and ask their names.

"Just going up and introducing yourself is going to make a big difference," Carrier says. "You've taken away their anonymity. If they're there for the right reason, all you've done is made a personal connection without making any accusations."


CD FOR SAFETY
   

Despite the relative safety of pools and spas, injuries can be catastrophic. To continue improving the knowledge surrounding swimming pool and spa safety, the National Swimming Pool Foundation is offering its newly published Aquatic Safety Compendium CD.

Designed to be an important tool that helps professionals clarify the merits of litigation based on scientific information, the CD contains comprehensive information on safety and legal issues that will assist attorneys, aquatic directors, property managers, pool builders, risk-prevention professionals and law-school faculty.

For more information, call 719-540-9119 or visit www.nspf.org.