ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three men recently arrested in attacks in public places in Albuquerque
A rash of alleged sexual assaults on children in public places are likely a coincidence, experts say, but parents should still be alert as children’s routines change when school is out.
Within the last month, authorities have arrested three men in separate incidents where they allegedly sexually assaulted or inappropriately touched children in public places where other adults were present.
In one case, a 5-year-old girl was allegedly molested while playing at a McDonald’s on 1901 Coors Blvd. SW. In another, police say an 8-year-old was inappropriately touched while playing at the iT’Z Family Food & Fun on San Mateo Blvd NE during a school field trip. And in the third, a 6-year-old girl in the children’s play area at the New Mexico Sports and Wellness gym at Prospect NE was allegedly sexually assaulted.
None of the suspects in those cases was a registered sex offender.
“Anytime a child is a victim of a crime there is concern,” said Albuquerque Police spokeswoman Nadine Hamby. She said parents need to “be vigilant about the safety of their children and keep themselves educated on these types of incidents.”
Cases like the ones at iT’Z, McDonald’s and Sports and Wellness are exceptional in that most sexual assaults on children are committed by people they know, said Dr. Renee Ornelas, director of Para Los Niños, an organization that provides pediatric sexual abuse exams and treatment.
Ornelas said 98 percent of child sexual abuse cases involve a caregiver or someone the child knows.
Although the number of sexual assaults on children has remained stable over the years, experts do see a small increase during the summer when kids are on vacation, Ornelas said.
“We might see an increase in child sexual abuse just because kids are in places that they usually are not in,” Ornelas said. She said parents should always pay attention to who is hanging out with their children.
“It’s not appropriate for a teen to hang out with (a) 4- or 5- year old,” she said.
She said the first sign a child was abused is a change in behavior.
“The first thing (parents) should do is ask the child, ‘has anything happened to you?’ without getting upset,” Ornelas said. She said the parent should only show support and not emotion or outrage because it can make the child believe he or she is in trouble and stop talking.
If a child has in fact been abused, parents can get help by calling the New Mexico Child, Youth and Family Department child abuse hot line: 841-6100.