Children at play ought to be safe.
But some of society's innocence was lost as the shocking story of Arthur Gary Bishop began to unfold.The Eagle Scout and once-active churchgoer did much more to the Utah community than the hideous crimes - kidnapping, sexual abuse, murder - for which he will die.
Some say he damaged Salt Lake County's image as a safe place to rear children and injected fear into the minds of parents, who consciously began to mistrust strangers, neighbors and almost everyone who even talked to their children.
The daily news reports on Bishop and other serial murderers in Atlanta and Chicago added fear to the innocent, carefree days of childhood. Because of the bizarre killings, children at home and at school are instructed continually about the dangers that could shatter their world.
Today, the caution is much more explicit than "beware of strangers who offer you candy."
"Bishop has had a lasting effect on the way we have reared our children," said "Jason," who was employed at the Smith's Food King at 50 E. 39th South where Bishop abducted 4-year-old Danny Davis, setting off a wave of panic in Salt Lake County.
Jason, who asked that his real name not be used to protect his children, vividly remembers the weighty silence of the typically bustling grocery store the morning after Davis' disappearance, the green army truck turned police command post in the store parking lot, and the subsequent posters of the missing blond-haired, doll-faced child that hung in commercial outlets and parking lot elevators throughout the valley.
Neither has he forgotten the prank call to his own home mere days after the abduction and the breathy voice that told his wife, "You'd better protect your children."
Jason and his young wife, parents of 4-year-old twins, took the heart- wrenching words seriously. They kept their boys always in sight.
Other parents reacted similarly.
For several weeks following the kidnapping of Davis on Oct. 20, 1981, the story topped news pages and led off radio and television news programs. One result was that many people, like Jason, became more cautious and watched their children with added care.
Law enforcement agencies were barraged with calls concerning "suspicious" circumstances that once went unnoticed or were ignored.
Lawmen even had to warn citizens not to overract. "Authorities need people to report suspicious circumstances, but people need to sit and think rationally whether or not this is a suspicious activity," Capt. Dean Carr, then a lieutenant for the Salt Lake County sheriff's office, warned county residents. "We don't want hysteria or paranoia to set in. There is absolutely no reason for parents of small children to panic."
In grocery stores and malls more children were seen in harnesses and wrist straps, preventing them from straying far from their parents. Schools, especially day care centers, began beefing up their security measures. Elementary and secondary schools increased their educational efforts.
Requests for the Division of Family Services' "Trust" program, Salt Lake County's "SAY" (heriffs Assisting Youth), and the Rape Crisis Center's "You're In Charge" program skyrocketed. An increasing number of children became acutely aware of "stranger danger."
During the 1982-83 school year, the year Graeme Cunningham _ Bishop's last murder victim _ was reported missing, some 39,000 children participated in the "I'm In Charge" program. It was a year after Bishop was convicted for the sex killings of five youngsters that the number of students participating in the program increased to 67,500 in 1985-86.
"We never had to sell the program. Schools called because there was a heightened awareness, and parents and health and safety PTA coordinators wanted to ensure that children participated in this health prevention program," said Christine Watters, Rape Crisis Center executive director.
During that same period, requests for adult programs decreased. "They wanted the program focused on child sexual abuse, not adult rape," Watters said. "People had become aware of the potential for their children being sexually assaulted."
Churches also took action.
In 1985, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints distributed a manual for more than 10,000 ecclesiastical leaders in the United States and Canada to help them identify child abuse cases and give counsel to victims. The manual also included instructions on how to report the cases to proper civil authorities.
"The church has always been concerned with the well-being of the family, but has re-emphasized its concern in recent years as evidenced by this publication," said church spokesman Don LeFevre. "This shows a recent re-emphasis on the subject as a result of the publicity around the Bishop and other celebrated cases."
For the first time in its long history, the church's women's organization, the Relief Society, recently has included lessons on child sexual abuse and spouse abuse. "We intend to do more to help parents become knowledgeable in preventing this abuse," a Relief Society spokeswoman stressed.
The combined efforts of the agencies are applauded by lawmen.
"The programs are good in teaching children the danger signals and being able to distinguish between an ordinary, helpful citizen as opposed to an offender," Carr said. "It's obvious they have been very successful; we've had an increase in reporting of child abuse offenses. That's a direct result of the educational programs going on in the schools." But Gary S. Jensen, protective services specialist for the state Division of Family Services, says more needs to be done.
"I don't believe we are over-reacting. There are a lot of sexually abused children who aren't coming to the attention of authorities," he said. "So any program that can tell a child there is somewhere he can go for help is really important."
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