What should I do about man staring at children as they leave school?

Dear Stop It Now!

Every day when I go pick up my sister from school, there is a guy always looking over the brick wall and staring at every kid that passes by but he doesn't say anything. I sometimes see him with a beer and he stares at the children until they are out of his sight. I don't know if I should call police and report him. Elementary, middle, and high school students all pass by there.

Updated Response

Dear Concerned Sister and Community Member,

It is very admirable that you are paying attention to warning signs that an adult may be at risk to harm a child, and that you are interested in what steps you can take to protect children.

Contacting the police

Contacting the police is absolutely an option. While I can't guarantee that the police will respond with any type of investigation, I imagine that if by chance this man is already a person of concern for the authorities, they will be more apt to follow up on your concerns. If he has a legal and criminal history, then again the police may be more concerned and ready to act on a community member's concern. The way you described it in your letter is absolutely the way to describe your concern to the police.  Stick to your observations, avoid any theories. Stay away from any exaggerations or inflammatory descriptions. If  you say that he is there every day of the week, then make sure that is accurate. Be as specific as  you can regarding the behavior.

Contacting the school

I couldn't tell from your email but is this man staring at children as they come out of school? If so, have you brought it to the school's attention? If the school becomes aware of this man's actions, they may also become concerned. Then as an institution, if they contact the police with a concern about children's safety and a particular adult's behavior, the police may be even more likely to investigate.

You could try talking to your sister's teacher or even, ask to speak with the vice principal or principal. Ask them if anyone has ever noticed this man and perhaps, this may also lead to a discussion about safety for the children as they leave school at the end of the day. Perhaps there are there adults available from the school that could be available outside to help supervise the children as they leave school.

Are there any other adults who have shared concerns regarding this man's behavior? Have other adults observed this man's consistent presence and demeanor during school transition times? If so, connecting with these folks can be really helpful. When others also are willing to share concerns and speak up, children's safety is furthered strengthened. Perhaps if the school isn’t able to provide extra supervision after school, you can form a group with other concerned adults who are able to design a rotating supervision schedule.

Talking to the individual with concerning behavior

And finally - perhaps this man can be approached and spoken with regarding the concern. I realize this may sound very scary. This action step is one that should only be considered if one feels safe, and really should be not be carried out alone. If there are adults who share your observation and concerns, together you could approach this man in a non-threatening manner to inquire about his behavior.

To open this conversation, this man could be told that folks are there to talk to him because they care about the safety of children, and he's been noticed watching children in a way that feels uncomfortable. This will inform him that the children in the neighborhood have caring adults who are paying attention to children's safety. The conversation could then progress to asking him to support the community in making sure children are safe and asking him to change the behavior that is causing concern.

Any indication that he is violent, unstable or just plain unreceptive should not encourage anyone talking to him to "try harder" or be more insistent. Rather, end the conversation as politely and peacefully as you can, knowing that you took a very strong step in speaking out for children's safety.  Then consider again notifying the local police about this man and his behavior.

Indeed, children can be kept safe when adults like yourself are willing to take the extra steps to build a safe environment. Thank you so much for your question and please do not hesitate to contact us with any further questions or concerns.

Take care,
Stop It Now!
February, 2012

Update, September 24, 2012

We received this comment from a user: "This is feedback specifically regarding the man watching children as they come out of school. Part of the advice given was to approach this complete stranger and discuss his behavior with him. This advice is dangerous in more than one way - not only to the person confronting him, but in the real possibility that once he is made aware of being observed, he will become more covert and it will be harder to catch him in wrongdoing. Tell the school and the police NOW!” 

We decided to check in with Michael O'Connell, a treatment provider  in the Seattle area, co-author of the book, “Working With Sex Offenders” and author of Michael's Story of Neighborhood Action, a story of hope on this website.  Here's his response: "I think the advice provided by Stop It Now was right on.  You were very careful to talk about safety considerations, to avoid a confrontation, etc.  But having someone address their concerns to this man COULD be an opening for him to look at his behavior BEFORE it progressed to a point of harming children. "  

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Last edited on: September 24th, 2012