by Lydia Lovric, Special to The Province - Canada

Now, more than ever before, men are hesitant to enter the teaching profession because they fear others will view them as potential pedophiles.

“We get so hysterical about the slightest suggestion of contact between male teachers and their charges . . . that men are reluctant to teach at the elementary school level,” suggests Boris Johnson, a British author and politician.

“The group who are losing out at the moment I think are young boys,” he writes. “It is vital to provide role models for boys by getting more males, in particular in primary schools.”

In a society of broken homes and weekend dads, it is crucial that children have positive, male role models. Yet our schools, especially at the elementary level, are noticeably devoid of masculine educators.

Men are also growing increasingly cautious when it comes to coaching or volunteering time with kids.

And who can blame them?

Admit it or not, many of us are leery, if not downright suspicious, when we hear about a new male teacher or — gasp! — a male babysitter or daycare provider.

And while parents ought to be cautious about anyone who spends time with their child, it must be extremely difficult for these men to deal with the persistent raised eyebrows and quiet whispers.

Try as we might though, there is no easy solution.

While the vast majority of male teachers and coaches are decent, law-abiding citizens, the fact is that pedophiles are often drawn to professions and positions that involve young children.

According to Statistics Canada in 2003, six out of every 10 sexual assaults reported to police involve children and youth, despite the fact that they comprise just 21 per cent of the overall population.

A report from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in 1994 found that when it comes to child sex-abuse cases, 97 per cent of perpetrators are male.

Contrary to popular belief, children are rarely attacked by strangers. In most cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim, usually a family member, friend of the family or acquaintance.

So parents have good reason to be vigilant. Yet one can’t help but feel truly sorry for the many great guys who are lumped under this cloud of suspicion.

The main culprit in all this is an injustice system that refuses to lock up pedophiles for life. Judges give mediocre sentences to offenders who cannot be rehabilitated, thus giving these perverts the opportunity to offend again and again.

It’s not that we live in a society that is awash in pedophiles.

It’s that we give them chance after chance, despite the fact that experts believe they are a lost cause.

If we did the right thing, the noble thing, we would protect our kids from these monsters so that more children could retain their innocence and parents could relax just a little.

And hopefully, in time the good guys wouldn’t have to feel guilty about wanting to work with kids.