Sad and Scary News [Editorial]

I am tasked with delivering news here that leaves me with a heavy heart. A man who has been a member of the Lego fan community both online and in person, and who works teaching Lego at a school has been arrested and charged with molesting children. Many of us know this man, and I’m sure many readers have opinions on his guilt, but I am not going to name him, because a media trial is not my objective.

I write here not to weigh the guilt of the accused, who in our justice system is presumed innocent, unless, and until, proven guilty. I think it is important for Lego hobbyists to address this news head on, as there are lessons to be learned by us all, regardless of the truth of the allegations. Regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused, we are left with a great deal to think carefully about.

Choosing a child’s toy as the basis of one’s hobby leads to a great deal of interactions with children. As members of Lego fan clubs, as well as organizers and attendees of Lego fan events, we need to be aware that children are not the only people our events may attract. When dealing with large crowds at our events, we should watch for more than just small hands grabbing for Lego creations.

I am not advocating that we live in paranoia, or engage in witch hunts, but we should also not ignore warning signs that we see around us. We should also be careful about scheduling activities that would leave children isolated with only one or a handful of adults, even if that adult is someone we know in our community of fans.

In addition to being aware of the risks that children may face from unscrupulous attendees of our conventions or immoral members of our groups, we must consider that any one of us may be ripe for false accusation. Just as we are careful not to leave children alone with other adults, we must avoid those same situations ourselves. This is a lesson that has been learned by the teaching community over and over again.

We must all be vigilant to protect the children around us, as well as ourselves. We must also speak out and make it plain that the sort of conduct alleged to have been committed in this bit of news, or any other harm to children, will NOT be condoned in this community. We will not look the other way, we will not ignore accusations of impropriety or possible warning signs that we may see.

I hope that our readers can join me in a rational discussion of lessons we can take away from this situation. As well as joining me in offering condolences to the children involved, they may have suffered a grave assault, and are definitely caught up in a situation that will follow them the rest of their lives.

28 comments on “Sad and Scary News [Editorial]

  1. bruce n h

    I was highly involved with the Boy Scouts as a kid, volunteered as an adult leader when I was in college, and hope to be involved again when my kids are old enough to join. Sadly, predators are attracted to an organization where they might be involved with children, and I remember how horrified I was when a man was arrested on a similar charge who I had met several times at Scout events. Reading this story yesterday made me think of that. The Boy Scouts have come up with a number of training programs and regulations to combat this problem (I’m sure other youth-oriented organizations have done the same). Here’s a link to the Boy Scouts of America webpage on youth protection:
    One of the key things is two-deep leadership. When we were planning any event, we were not allowed to ever be alone with a youth. Even now as I teach college, I always leave my office door open if a student is present. This not only protects the youth (or adult, even, in my current setting) from any abuse, it also protects the adult from any accusation. While we can’t do background checks or require extensive training programs, this two-deep rule would be a good guideline for LUGs or other groups to keep in mind in any situation where adults and kids interact.
    It’s also good for us AFOLs to keep in mind that some of the members of the forums we visit are going to be TFOLs or even KFOLs. So even if it is only online interaction, it’s good to be prudent about how we interact.

  2. hamlettdobbins

    I’m in total agreement with your post, this is a very important subject but it’s odd that you at one point say “Many of us know this man, and I’m sure many readers have opinions on his guilt, but I am not going to name him, because a media trial is not my objective.” and in the preceding sentence you have a hyperlink to the article that names him. How does that mesh?

  3. Memsochet

    This was something that as an LDS Missionary & serving in other capacities within my church we are cautioned highly about trying to avoid. We were always taught to work with our missionary companion. And even then there were times when that was not sufficient to avoid both doing something inappropriate or being accused of such. In those times the rule was, “The more the merrier”.

    The 2 deep rule *should* be sufficient for most cases. But we must make sure that we don’t use any rule to lull us into a false sense of security. For a good example of how much care must be given, look at Lego Universe. They went WAY beyond what is required, but it is completely necessary.

  4. Shiningblade

    While it is hard to separate opinion from fact, these charges are among the most heinous of offences.

    Simply put, we have a responsibility to both our community and those that we interact with (especially children) to be vigilant. If something looks or feels wrong, say something, talk to someone that you trust, and do not leave someone alone in a bad situation.

    If you know for a fact that something has or will happen, talk to the authorities. They are much better equipped to deal with the situation.

    As Bruce pointed out, there are simple things to do to protect everyone involved.

    An open and honest discussion can go a long way to preventing this type of headline from happening again. I think that every LUG should discuss this at their next meeting and what they can do.


  5. alldarker

    I think it is a very good call to bring more attention to the topic of interaction between AFOL’s and children, and the possibility of adults abusing these interactions for nefarious reasons. The fact that in this case the arrest of a (talented) AFOL, who is known in the Lego community has to be the trigger is a regretable and sad fact.
    Like you say, cases like this are luckily only rarely seen shadow-sides of a hobby which has a child’s toy as a focus. Still, when this happens, it also has possible negative repercussions for the whole community and the way other adults perceive this hobby and the adults who ‘still’ involve themselves with Lego.
    Like Shiningblade proposes, I too agree that explicitly discussing these kinds of problems within LUG’s is a good idea, especially in those LUG’s or with those AFOL’s who are involved with children. Hiding behind naivety or the idea that ‘the people that I know would never do this’ are just not good enough when it comes to protecting children.

    As a side note: although you do not wish to call the accused out yourself, the link you provide does give full name and nickname of the accused… is that intentional or accidental?

  6. ry

    I’m really glad Bruce mentioned the Boy Scout’s protection training, and Memsochet the LDS missionary guidelines. I just finished a round of training for the BSA myself, so youth protection ins fresh in my mind. It might be a nice idea for LUGs who display publicly to talk about and/or read over this stuff, and maybe even require it for participation.

  7. Dan Post author

    Thanks for all the links and thoughtful comments so far, everyone

    Regarding naming the accused and providing the link, it was a measured decision. Many readers don’t bother to read linked articles as is. Those who want more information can find it at that link (the first news source, and the least sensationalized so far) these curious readers could also have googled around and found the information. I figured that it made sense to offer a link to the information from the primary source, rather than one of the later tv stories playing his nickname into a new scare word. I guess we’ll see if that decision proves to have been wise on my part.

  8. Sebeus

    I’m shokked, one of my favourite builders,
    it’s happening so far away and yet so close,
    I never realized a great legobuilder could do such things,
    wether it’s true or not, this will affect my view on lego events

  9. Catsy

    The part about being careful who you–as an adult–interact with online definitely hits close to home. Shortly before Brickcon I was chatting with someone I know on the Brickarms forums, and I was going to ask if they’d like to hang out and build sometime until I found out they were 16. I’m 36. No matter how mature the kid is, that just doesn’t look good–I have a boy who’s 10, and I know it wouldn’t look good to me.

    Similarly, I had a lot of kids from the BAF and Flickr come up to me at Brickcon to meet me, and it was sometimes astonishing to find out how young they were–I’d never have guessed just from online interactions.

    I guess I’m going to have to watch what t-shirts I wear at Lego events, especially this one.

  10. Fazoom

    #1 Never be alone with a kid. At least 2 adults.
    #2 If your spouse is the second adult you’re not fulfilling rule #1
    #3 Don’t do something around kids that can be reported as being off color
    #4 Think and don’t be stupid.

    I’ve been pastor to teens and kids for 16 years. These rules work well. Whether these accusations are true or not it’s a bad deal. We work here to make sure checks are done, and then work to make sure we’re all in check.

  11. Catsy

    The guidelines from Chris are good ones.

    I think it’s also worth reiterating that this is still only an allegation. It’s not as if it’s particularly uncommon for kids to make stuff up, for parents to (understandably) lose all perspective where the safety of their children is concerned, or for the police to get things wrong.

    I’m not trying to minimize the alleged crime in question, just point out that it’s an allegation, not a conviction. I’d hate to see anyone, particularly a very visible and talented AFOL, have their reputation completely destroyed by someone’s mistake. We really should keep the focus on how to raise awareness of the issues and keep the Lego community a safe environment for everyone, and let the criminal case itself work through the system on its own.

  12. Magnus

    Thanks Dan, for bringing this up in dignified, serious, but not sensationalistic manner.

    I don’t have kids of my own, and don’t have the informed and naturally overprotective/biased perspective of a parent. And perhaps this is an American thing, but these rules you guys are quoting just scare me. Paranoia may seem unavoidable, but is is really necessary?

    I’ve spent time alone with kids in my family, and comforted them when they were upset – is this really not the done thing anymore? What’s a responsible adult to do? What’s next, do I have to worry about giving my nieces hugs when they rush out to greet me? Are we suddenly casting suspicious glances at every adult who spends time alone with kids who aren’t theirs? How does babysitting work these days? I mean, what is the realistic balance here?

    One thing is for sure, this adds a whole new level of complexity to the existing issue of KFOL involvement in Lugs and at Cons.

  13. Catsy

    Paranoia may seem unavoidable, but is is really necessary?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, particularly the concerns of anyone who works with kids professionally. But in my view, these rules aren’t about the kids in your immediate family, but rather for other people’s children. I have no concerns about being alone with my stepson–I have to be able to be–or even with the younger children in my extended blood family. But as I noted above, I would not feel comfortable being left alone with children at a Lego event, or with hanging out socially with minors no matter how mature they might be. I know they wouldn’t have anything to worry about–but their parents don’t.

    The rules aren’t just about protecting the children, although that’s obviously the most important concern (or should be!). It’s also about protecting the adults from misunderstandings, false accusations, or even the perception of impropriety.

  14. Octopunk

    Nothing to add except thanks to Dan and commentors for a properly sober and balanced discussion on an extremely difficult topic. Some good, professional guidelines have been presented here.

  15. Brad

    @ Magnus: I think it is important to point out that stranger molestation is rare in frequency. Most children are molested, unfortunately, by family and by acquaintances. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant, safe, and aware as parents whose children might be involved in the hobby and/or as adults in a hobby where we may interact with children.

    The policies that have been mentioned and listed above not only protect children and adults, they also protect an organization against the stereotype that molesters or pedophiles are common or are drawn to an organization (the BSA is a good example, they still have to fight it).

  16. lego_merc

    Having worked as a theatre technician here in the UK for the past three years, it has been part of my ongoing duty to observe the child protection laws and policies. It is important to remember as stated by Brad, that the laws/policies are not there to be a pain, but to protect everyone.

    I’m not here to make comments on whether or not the allegations are true, because obviously if they are.. there is no worse offense.
    I am concerned as to how we treat the others within our little band of AFOL’s, TFOL’s and the members of the Lego Companies target demographic.

    Now yes fine, we do have to be careful about how we act around children, we do have to be mindful about what we say and how is may be heard/misconstrue by those around us. But lets be honest, is this not just part and parcel of being a responsible adult?

    I agree it is tempting to become paranoid about the people we choose to share this hobby with, and communicate with. It is very easy to begin over analyzing every little thing that may have been said or written.

    I also airsoft, which here in England has got some very tight laws regarding the subject of owning imitation firearms. The airsoft communities response was simply to become self policing. Now I’m not suggesting we grab our pitchforks and start a paranoia fueled man-hunt. But I am suggesting that we just stick together in an attempt to keep our own (whatever age) safe. Because lets face it, the victims of these crimes are the next generation of AFOL’s.

  17. Magnus

    The crucial difference between adults who choose to get involved with say the Boy Scouts, and adults who build LEGO is that the former group in made up of people who I would assume, seek it out in part because they want to interact with kids. Granted, some AFOLs enjoy hanging out with kids more than others, but I don’t think that hanging out with kids is the main motivation for most of us for building. Some of us like interacting with kids within the hobby, some of us don’t particularly, and most of us fall somewhere in between.

    If anything, the recent influx of youngsters into the AFOL world has spawned reactions in the forms of Lugs with strict no-kids rules, conventions with limited access to KFOLs, and things like the LEGO 16 group online.

    I (obviously) don’t mind sharing this wonderful hobby with kids, but I’m also not sure I welcome the idea of internal regulations about AFOLs bending over backwards to accomodate kids either everywhere and all the time.

    There’s a time and place for AFOLs to interact with kids, say at a convention public day. But sometimes grown ups just want to hang out with grown ups and not feel like they are walking on eggshells. And I hope we don’t lose those opportunities.

  18. Brad

    @ Magnus: I don’t think any of these policies involve bending over backward or walking on eggshells. I think you are right to point out that a youth organization is required to have a policy in a way that a LUG that only deals with adults is not. My understanding is that the no-kids rule in LUGs is as much about not wanting to babysit as it is about being concerned with the safety of said kids.

    Moreover, molestation is extremely uncommon. Incidents like this hurt us all because it creates the impression that we should be afraid of all strangers, especially men. This has negative ramifications at all levels. I think you’re right to note that the risk factor is actually extremely low.

    That said, if you are part of an organization that regularly interacts with children, it would behoove you to have a policy. This protects the children, it protects your group, and it helps ensure that adults (especially men) will be able to interact with children without other adults assuming some kind of wrong-doing.

  19. nkapp22

    This one seems to be more of an issue with after-school programs & the broken protocol at this school, not Lego as a hobby, but the background of the accused is going to be on display. I wish they’d focus on the broken process at the school, but the second story linked above tells us otherwise.

    I don’t care that he was a skilled builder, just like I don’t care that he was regarded by many in our community as a difficult person to interact with. Neither is relevant. What matters is, how could this happen at this school? How can this be happened at other schools?

  20. Creative Anarchy

    If the charges are legitimate or not this is a tragedy. I feel badly for the accused and of course the children but what bothers me most personally is that these articles are dragging our community through the mud by focussing on this one aspect of a man’s life. I realize Lego was the connection between him and the children but it wasn’t any more relevant than the school that connected them or any afterschool activity. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation or trial our community can’t be exhonerated of the connection the public is being given between our hobby and child molestation. I think this coverage should be a lesson to us about the importance of coverring our asses, if only because we don’t want a newspaper like this giving our hobby a black eye ever again.

  21. Herman

    I might be naïve but I never even thought about something like this. This is horrible, guilty or not.

    I don’t really see it as a more obvious connection between child molestation and Lego. There are lot’s of other ways out there to get in contact with children and I wouldn’t imagine someone starting a specific hobby for the sole purpose of getting in contact. Hopefully this news will not trigger some kind of ‘fear’ for the afol community. The only thing that has to happen for that is a bit of media coverage that pulls the story out of context and there you go.

    Child molestation angers me more than anything. This is awful, but thanks for bringing the news so decently.

  22. vexorian

    This is sad news. And although I think the ideas provided are good and will be useful at protecting everyone. I have to point out that the charges are related not to a LEGO convention but to an extra-curricular course. Ultimately, as long as there are situations that allow sick adults to get close to children, there is always a chance theywill use LEGO toys to do it. Just as they could use handicrafts or videogames, and unfortunately, we can’t always prevent it.

    It is notable that schools do not have rules similar to the Boy Scouts’ rules that were described in the comments.

  23. tedward

    @vexorian: your comments on schools is confusing and not really helpful. Schools do indeed have their own set of rules and procedures that reflect the professional nature of their situation and the more onerous path to qualification. Scouting and other volunteer organizations simply require a different approach for a different situation.

  24. Teddy

    After reading all the reactions, I feel compelled to reply.

    -First this is a problem that allegedly occurred at a school. Had it been baseball lessons, would baseball have been perceived as a treat to children? This is a teacher-child interaction problem at a school. No more no less, Period.

    -Second, As I lived in the states for a while, American news and news reporting is of extremely low, close to garbage, and sensationalist quality and tends to mix in all kinds of unrelated facts as important to the case. Or even worse, presents made up facts, or lies, as real facts. Furthermore facts are rarely checked at all. They rarely/ never stick to the relevant actual facts of the case in an impartial and professional way. Most of the time the news is more designed to work the crowds to increase the number of viewers, than actual factual news reporting. Had he been given a playmobil class, they would sensationalize the playmobil link.

    -Thirdly, at a Lego event all primary responsibility rests with the parents. Period. Of course the event should be organized as such that parents feel it is safely organized within the limits of reasonableness and fairness. The roof should not collapse, there is food, no weaponry, look out for pick-pockets etc. Personally, I do not want to babysit other peoples children. If they take their children to an event they should stick to them at all times themselves. You come together, you go together, you stick together. You stay with your kids always. Your kids, your problem.

    -Fourthly, if an irresponsible parent leaves their kids without parental supervision, there should be security at hand to lead those kids away to an enclosed playground at the middle of the event hall and they should broadcast for the parents of those kids. Three strikes and your family is out of the event.

    My two cents.

  25. brickbuilder711

    Hi… I’m a 16 year old TFOL, mature enough to understand news like this but still a prospective victim of the most extreme person to commit something like this.

    I’m incredibly disappointed to read of an AFOL – a part of OUR LEGO community – doing this. I’ve NEVER imagined such acts coming from an AFOL ever possible.

    My understanding is that this is his first offense, bearing the fact that schools (probably) do bkgd checks before hiring employees. However, it is no surprise parents let him be around their children, since he was
    “an innocuous guy, nice guy, etc”.

    The AFOLs I met in person are thankfully very responsible. There’s even a policy that kids are not to be left unsupervised (especially because of the possible “come-here” guy, “I got laygoes in the car” guy, et al) for the local LUG. (I’ve learned at a young age to surpass that and basically say NO I AM NOT COMING TO YOUR CAR)

    The environment at the LUG’s displays is VERY family friendly. I don’t know if the following is relevant but a lot of them have children of their own which come to the shows and have great times, always under their watch. (@Teddy this roughly relates to Paragraph 3 of your comment) They also maintain a safe environment; it’s a goal of the club to do so. Now while the LUG is family friendly, I agree with the notion that this has to be a concern for the next meeting.

    As for ME contacting out there on Flickr, et al, I add a lot of contacts and jive very well with LEGO based communication, but when it gets too far, I stop (never happened but it just could, better safe than sorry). As I said I can still be afflicted by this, but SOME responsibly rests in the children as it’s UP TO THEM to be AROUND REASONABLE ADULTS and STOP THE “COME HERE AND SEE MY LAYGOES” folks from interfering.

    So case in point if you are an adult fan of LEGO or have kids that like LEGO or both, you should also be considering informing them of something like this and the proper precautions.

    $0.02 into the pot

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