Sometimes a news story turns the stomach of any and every ordinary person who reads it.

Such is the case with a pair of local news stories in the JG-TC this week: a report on an Oakland man who now faces life in prison due to accusations that he committed criminal sexual assault of a child, a 7-year-old girl; and a separate report that a Mattoon man arrested for child abduction and attempted aggravated kidnapping admitted, according to police, that he planned to molest a 12-year-old boy that he allegedly stalked and then attempted to get into his vehicle.

The boy ran away from the scene in Peterson Park, went home and told his parents what happened, and the suspect was later arrested and confessed to authorities what he planned to do, court records show.

The accused in both cases have histories of sexual acts against children.

While it's important to note that neither man has been convicted of the recent crimes alleged against them, the major point that these alleged incidents bring up remains.

These things can, and do, happen in our small rural area.

Coles County residents may think that "big city crimes" don't occur here. And it's true: Our communities are relatively free of crime associated with places like Chicago. Shootings, and certainly murders, are infrequent here. Serious crimes are minimal.

But they do happen here. And everyone has a role in stopping them, particularly when it comes to child sexual assault.

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Parents must teach their children, from a very young age, about "stranger danger," and also about appropriate versus inappropriate physical contact with other youth and adults. Guardians of small children must be aware of adults who are spending time with their little ones, and use common sense as to the proper age for children to be able to, for example, walk in the park alone.

Schools help in this regard, too, by re-enforcing cautions about not getting into a vehicle with a stranger, and reminding youth to report to a trusted adult any inappropriate behavior toward them by other adults.

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But everyone has a role to play here.

The police need the public's help. If you see suspicious behavior, such as someone on foot or in a vehicle appearing to frequent playgrounds or other places where young people gather, with no legitimate reason for being there, call the police.

Our law enforcement officers can't be everywhere, and they rely on the public's assistance in spotting many possible crimes. Certainly, a potential child sexual assault or abduction is one of the first crimes that police want to stop. You can help by remaining vigilant when you observe your neighborhood, or when you walk the dog in the park, or drive through a public playground area yourself.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that "it can't happen here." Unfortunately, it can, and it does. Let us all be proactive in helping prevent incidents like those alleged above.

It's up to all of us to keep our children safe.

-- JG-TC Editorial Board

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