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Stranger danger at the park: Sort of

Yesterday after we picked up Truman from preschool, we decided to enjoy the gloriousness of the day at nearby Kenilworth Park. We weren't the only ones: a group from Grout had biked to school and was enjoying a picnic snack at the western playground; numerous young adults were kicking back in the sun in the "bowl" of grass and staging their own impromptu picnics; a few men had taken advantage of the bowling balls ever-present in their friend's trunk and were playing a raucous game of bowling-ball croquet (with a modified sledge hammer as mallet).

The older boys ran ahead to the upper, eastern playground with the intention of giving Truman a (very short-lived) bike-riding lesson, and I followed behind, seeing from the corner of my eye a giddily happy couple disengage from what looked like an inappropriate-for-public embrace. I averted my eyes in discomfort and walked up to Everett, who was waiting for me. "Those people were just having sex," he said matter-of-factly. "They were?" I asked. "Yep. People have sex there all the time," he replied. (A few minutes later, I saw a condom wrapper a few feet away, confirming Everett's assessment of the situation. At least it was safe sex!)

The couple walked by the playground about then, probably not picking up on the context behind the murderous glance I shot at them (they smiled blissfully back), and it occurred to me that kids look at people in the way adults don't. I feel discomfort at some man's near-nakedness as he reads in the sun; I see excessive PDA; I look away. Not so my little ones.

All I had to say to Everett was, "that's not ok." I couldn't think of another response. But then I watched as Truman approached each and every arrangement of strange adults and teenagers, variously begging for snacks from a couple with eye-popping nose piercings; joining in the bowling ball game (the guys let him have his very own ball and roll it through the wickets while they played); going up to the near-naked reading guy and chat with him for a minute; taking a turn at a ball-throwing toy for a little dog, for whom Truman's misfires were entirely too stimulating; and finally, accosting a teenager practicing his tuba. The tuba player turned out to be extraordinarily patient, telling him about the parts of the instrument, showing him how the tubes and bell worked, and even letting him have a turn blowing into it.

My lesson from this was twofold: first, Truman's complete lack of social boundaries means I have to keep very vigilant (and indeed, during all this I was doing my best to be a careful observer without impinging on his child-joy of social discovery); second, I have to look at people the way my children do. See them, see what they're doing, steer clear or confront if necessary.

But: what is there to be done about strangers who choose to have sex in the public-that-includes-your-kids? I thought about this afterward and couldn't come up with a sensibly effective response. Confronting them after the fact would have been, well, pretty confrontative and angry, not something I wanted my kids to have any more exposure to than they already do; calling the police would have broken something in me (not to mention required a very public retelling for Everett, the "witness"); appealing to them quietly and privately would have meant leaving the children, which was at that point an impossibility. Perhaps there's no solution but to ask your child to please, please, never do that himself.


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I consider myself laid back. But having sex in a public park is illegal, with good reason. Deep in the woods of Forest Park? okay, whatever. During the day within eyesight of a playground? No way. The fact that it occurs in that spot frequently is very disturbing.

I would have not confronted the couple, but later I would call the police to let them know that people having sex in this park is not uncommon. Hopefully they could pick up patrols of that park and maybe could provide some tips for what to do if you ever encounter that situation again.

thanks Naomi -- that's great advice. I left out the context of too many police encounters in the past few weeks (among other things, my brother-in-law's ex-wife is bipolar and abusive and has called the cops to visit us in a few highly stressful times recently), why I can't right now face calling the cops on someone unless said person is inflicting immediate direct bodily harm.

I'll definitely call... and I wonder how many other parks have equivalent problems!

I was once angrily told by a mom "I have my children here!" when I was recounting an inappropriate conversation (not sexual, but an abusive work situation). That was 15 years ago, so it obviously made an impression and I actually did become more sensitive to my behavior around others because of it.

I don't usually have the nerve to tell people things when I'm offended/otherwise appalled, especially strangers; and if I do it usually comes out all wrong. If I could work up the nerve, I'd want to say "This is a public place and it's where we bring our children." Or something along those lines. Unfortunately, a lot of us out there weren't brought up to be sensitive in that way, and it's not until we're told that what we're doing is inappropriate that we get it. Part of socialization, I guess.

It bothers me too, as a parent, things that others are using the parks for. We have one park near us at which I've observed drug sales, teenage drinking and smoking, and also found condoms. And dog poop where we don't expect it instead of the off-leash area. Another park near us is an infamous underground park which hipstas have claimed and use it as a partying spot, especially around sunset. They come to drink, and we find drug paraphenalia strewn about. They think it's so cool. I suppose were I 20 years younger I would too, unfortunately. But I wish I would have been more aware at that age, of the emptiness of partying and public rabble rousing, and the importance of being a healthy, productive community member who values family friendly spaces and interactions.

This makes me so sad, this is one of two close neighborhood parks that I can walk too with my son, and I thought it was the "safer" one. Honestly who would think that it is OK to have sex in a park that is literally next door to a grade school. I understand that the public areas usually serve two purposes, one during the day and a different one starting at dusk. It is very irritating to me when the dusk and later activities start to impinge on my son's daylight activities. I don't want him to find condoms or used needles or broken beer bottles in the park, and I certainly don't want him to witness someone using drugs or having sex in a place that he comes to play.

I don't know what I would have done if I had seen this couple. I hate confrontation, so it would've been hard for me to say anything to them, but I do like what Colleen suggested with "This is a public place where we bring our children." I'll have it ready if I ever encounter anything like this...then to call the police or not...for sure if I had seen them expose themselves, just like I would if I had seen anyone expose themselves in a park full of children, but if I didn't actually see skin, just too much inappropriate PDA? I think as much as I hate it me saying something will be more useful than calling the police.

"Stranger Danger" at my nearest park up here in NE is gunshots and stabbings - oh to live in SE again!

Seriously though, while this is highly inappropriate, I don't see how it's a danger to your children.

Totally inappropriate and could be dangerous to your kids which is why there are laws against it. Kenilworth is a stunning park with the towering trees, great playgrounds and a newly painted wading pool all of which is filled during the day with kids and families who aren't looking to encounter a porno set in the park. Have some common sense, the world does not revolve around you alone, your actions can affect others so grow up and help the world to because a little more self aware and less self entitled to do whatever you please where ever. karma.

503-823-3333 = Portland Police Non Emergency Number.

Use it - this is how the PPB monitors activities in all neighborhoods/parks/ etc and sets up extra patrols, bike cops etc based on the amount of calls, etc. Even if it's after the fact - they might have a patrol car in the neighborhood and could do a quick patrol. It is very unlikely that your child would have to be a witness to recount this activity.

We live by Mount Tabor Park and unfortunately the prostitution from 82nd Ave spills over into the park & the adjoining streets. We live on a lovely little street by the park - quiet and I can't tell you how many times - we have chased off johns and prostitutes that park right in front of our house at all hours of the night & day - seriously 3pm on a Sunday? Many of the cars are minivans with kids car seats in the back. Sad indeed - many times we don't catch them but they've left their condom for us to clean up on our streets & parks. Not acceptable.

I ran into some police later yesterday who were walking into the Starbucks near me (natch), and told them my story. They said they *do* patrol the park at night for such things but seemed pretty incredulous that anyone would be doing this during the day. "Well, it's nice weather..." "I wouldn't say we've heard COMPLAINTS..." "They weren't covering up under a blanket, or ANYTHING?" (would that have made it ok?)

I think I'm a lone complainant! I suppose they have other things on their minds (shootings, prostitutes, and drug users probably more of a focus). at one point, some people in my neighborhood were plotting a park patrol team, but no one ever organized. I wonder if anyone has gotten involved in a neighborhood watch/park patrol with regular "beats"? I'd love to but really, can't find a time to leave the kids alone so I can watch out for their safety.

The used condoms is something I see on my street a lot, too, even though it's not such a hotbed for prostitution as 82nd, or so traditionally violent as some north/northeast/outer southeast neighborhoods. we get drug paraphernalia in the bushes, too -- I can't decide if it's worse now than when I was a kid, or if I just notice *that* stuff more.

Ugh. We live near another park in SE that has a lot of this type of behavior...and as I visit my parents in the suburbs this week, with totally clean parks, a safe walking path and the fact that I never even think about locking the doors during the day...it makes me want to move away. Sad, but how I'm starting to feel. Sometimes the trade off of more driving, a bigger house and better schools seems worth not living in SE PDX.

Just as a small reminder, not all children understand what the word sex really means. If a child says "They were having sex", he could mean "They were doing some pretty heavy petting" or "One of them was laying on top of the other and they were kissing". Not that either of those activities is appropriate, but it's possible they weren't actually doing what you thought they were. Unless you saw them use the condom that was later found, it's tough to be sure.

It's completely inappropriate for people to do such things in a public park where children could be. At the same time, though, I'd much rather have to explain what sex is and why people should do it only in private and only when they're adults than have to explain the gratuitous violence in half of the cartoons on TV! At least the couple wasn't hurting each other (presumably).

I'm with mamanomnom. Yeah, people shouldn't be having sex in the local park. But your son didn't see them having sex. You don't know that they were. You didn't see any exposure of bodies, just an embrace. And yes, kids tend to conflate "having sex" with kissing or hugging (which it sounds like is all your son saw).

It wouldn't have occurred to me to be very upset about this. Not the way I would have been if we'd witnessed a fight or overt drug use in a public park. "They must like each other a lot," I would have said. "But most grownups know to have sex in private."

And I don't see how the activities of two individuals who appear to have been entirely concerned with each other (perhaps too much so!) constitutes "stranger danger."

I agree with zinemama. This is not "stranger danger."

I'm with the last three commenters--thank goodness it wasn't real stranger danger. But I also wonder how we will help our kids feel comfortable with all of the good aspects of sex if we make them feel uncomfortable about it as children. I think the earlier that we acknowledge that sex is normal human behavior and totally appropriate and good with the right person in the right place (at the right age--which is presumably part of our discomfort in helping kids to feel comfortable about sex). I love the Zinemama's suggestion to acknowledge that these people are acting out affection but that its most appropriate to do that in private (just like touching your own genitalia--a concept most children have incorporated by school age).

Let Portland Parks know. The coordinator for that park can have it on their radar and the people who work in the park can cruise by that spot more often, or maybe change something about that spot that makes it so appealing to people who think its funny to have sex near kids.

It may not be stranger danger in that they aren't about to run away with or physically harm the kids, but there is something to be said for wanting to keep your kids sheltered from such influences until it's time and age appropriate to go there.

I don't keep my kids in a bubble, but it does make me very anxious and angry when I see used condoms or needles in the park. What if your two year old picks up that used condom in a stream of "what's this" curiosity? I'd argue there is some danger in that. Sure they won't get an STD, but it could easily be contaminated with blood, etc. And um, just yuck.

I do think it's important to report things like that to the non-emergency police line. We had an instance where needles were found near my child's preschool. The police increased patrols and it hasn't happened again.

It's not about "stranger danger" so much as wanting to be the one who's in control of when it's ok for your children to be exposed to certain things. And being relatively comfortable with confrontation (hey, someone's gotta be :)) I would've said "excuse me, did you two just have sex in a park full of children?" It doesn't matter what their answer is - usually, the awkwardness of being called out in public is effective, and may deter others within earshot.

I think confronting the couple is beside the point. Honestly, having sex in a public park in front of children is outrageously selfish, and a HUGE violation of healthy boundaries. Most people would think it's really sick and twisted, and a clear reason to call child protective services, for parents to have sex right in front of their kids. Why should it be okay for people to have sex right in front of lots of kids they don't know? It's not. As a child that sort of thing always made me feel really unsafe, because my boundaries were being disrespected. So if these people are so incredibly selfish that they get off on having sex in front of a park full of children, why on earth does anyone think it's going to help in the slightest to talk to them? There's a good chance they were high, and if their inhibitions were lowered that much, confronting them might be worse than unproductive. I'd be on the phone to the police in a heartbeat. I don't know how likely it is that the police would request a statement from you. I've called the police before to tip them off to various things (nearby gunshots, watching thieves breaking into a car, etc.) and basically all that happened was that I told the 911 dispatcher what I was calling about and never heard about it again. I think there's little reason to worry about having to give a statement in front of your child. Please, for my sake and yours, call the cops the next time this happens.

Portland Parks and Rec has a website where you can submit observations of problems in parks:


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