Advice offered to parents in wake of paedophile’s conviction
Experts have issued advice to parents after the case of a paedophile who was jailed for sexually abusing a young boy and hoarding child pornography.
Dennis Eldridge was sentenced to ten years after confessing to the crime, and ordered to undergo a sex offender treatment programme. He was caught after his young victim, who became physically sick with stress, told his parents of the abuse.
The victim said Eldridge, an information technology worker who previously worked as a guitar teacher, had been inappropriately touching him for several years.
When police raided Eldridge’s Pembroke home they found almost 3,500 pictures and videos of child pornography. Some were at the most extreme end of the scale used by prosecutors to assess such materials.
Child welfare campaigners expressed hopes that publicity surrounding the case would encourage other victims to speak up.
Sheelagh Cooper, executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said: “The likelihood with these types of offenders is that few victims ever come forward, and of those who do so, few are ever taken seriously.”
However, she said she hoped the case would make them feel “empowered to come forward”.
Prosecutor Cindy Clarke said during the Eldridge case that he breached the trust of the victim and his family by molesting him during moments alone when the victim visited his house and he visited the victim’s house.
Offering advice to other families, Mrs Cooper said: “We as parents need to be so careful who we allow our children to spend time with without our supervision, and we need to make sure our children know the difference between ‘good touches’ and ‘bad touches’ and are empowered to speak up for themselves if they feel violated. [They need to] then feel OK about telling someone, no matter what the offender threatens to do.
“That is crucial, as threats are so often part of the reason that children will not tell anyone what happened to them.”
Psychologist Carol Shuman, who is certified in the assessment of child and adult abuse and victim protection, said: “There’s a general assumption in the psychology field that if there is one victim, there are at least 100 more.”
She cited data from Emory University in Atlanta.
“Statistics show that male offenders who abused girls had an average of 52 victims. Each man who molested boys had an average of 150 victims each,” she said, adding that only around three percent of all crimes ever come to light because of the reluctance to report them.
“When the perpetrator is in a position of trust, he or she uses that power to intimidate and try to make the victim blame him or herself. One out of three sexual abuse victims are male, and of course males are less likely to report owing to stereotypical macho expectations,” she said.
Offering advice, she said: “Parents need to be vigilant and do their best to provide an environment of open trust in which the child feels safe speaking up. However, that may be easier said than done. Parents usually feel responsible for raising obedient children, but they must teach their young children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority. For example, parents never should tell children to ‘always do everything the teacher or babysitter tells you to do’.”
She added: “In fact, often there are no obvious external signs of child sexual abuse, and many parents feel a sense of shame that they didn’t recognise what was going on. Some signs can only be detected only on examination by a physician. Warning signs, though, include sleep problems, nightmares, refusal to go to school, a change in behaviour or conduct, unusual aggressiveness, sadness and withdrawal from friends or family, secretiveness, or even seductiveness. More obvious signs include statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or fear that there is something wrong with them in the genital area, change in toilet habits, and even suicidal behaviour.”
She advised: “Encouraging kids to draw pictures or tell stories or make up songs may help communication. Child sexual abusers can make one’s child extremely fearful of telling, and only when a special effort has helped the child to feel safe can the child talk freely.”
This newspaper contacted the Bermuda School of Music regarding the fact that Eldridge used to work there, teaching children how to play the guitar.
Executive director Lloyd Matthew said he did not wish to discuss the topic beyond saying: “He worked for Conyers Dill and Pearman for the last three years. When the school parted company [with him] there were no complaints made of this nature.”
He could not say how long Eldridge worked there for, explaining that it was before his time.
A Bermuda Police Service spokesman said: “The Bermuda Police Service takes all matters regarding the protection of vulnerable persons, especially children, extremely seriously and will investigate all reported matters with thoroughness, while giving victims the support, care and attention they require.”