November 6, 2011 — USA Today reports that parents of three molested girls have filed a $3 million claim, alleging that Peoria city and school officials did not take enough action to protect their children from Mark Johnstone, a child molester who worked at the girls’ school.
Mr. Johnstone, 37, is currently behind bars, serving a 19-year prison sentence for child molestation. He will be in his 50s when he is released. In 2007, he was convicted of molesting three girls between the ages of 7 and 9.
The indictment of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, has brought renewed attention to this serious issue. Sandusky groomed his victims at an organization called The Second Mile, which put him in contact with young boys.
Mr. Johnstone worked at an elementary school and ran the after-school and summer education program. He was not arrested until a parent went directly to the police in August 2007, after he had molested a 7 year-old girl. Although multiple parents and teachers had previously complained to school officials about Mr. Johnstone, the officials took no action against Mr. Johnstone, besides warning him. Even after the complaints, he still had access to young children.
What are the warning signs of child molesters? They often pick “favorite” children to isolate, give them gifts, or other kinds of special treatment. Children are naturally drawn toward this type of attention. Children should be trained to tell their parents and teachers if they are receiving special attention from strangers, because this is one of the first warning signs. Parents and educators must be trained to identify warning signs and address issues before predators have the opportunity to act.
Often, there are plenty of warning signs before molestation actually occurs.
According to court documents, in the case of Mark Johnstone, he had a reputation among male students as a “pervert.” He would single out certain girls, give them necklaces, sit them on his lap, give them candy, and visit their classrooms for hugs. Several incidents occurred on a school bus while other students and staff were present.
Many parents and teachers had already voiced their concerns about his behavior, but school officials only warned him to “keep his distance” and “back off” from children.
Child abuse experts say that warning signs are often ignored or missed. The victims of this failure are the most innocent, vulnerable members of our society: little children. Parents and school officials should be aware that child molesters are calculated predators, and they often spend many years cultivating an image as a person who is trustworthy around children.
Johnstone spent eight years working as a groundskeeper at Cheyenne Elementary School. He also spent five years coordinating the after-school-activity program and summer school. It was during the summer of 2007 that Johnstone molested one of his victims in the copy room of the school.
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