By Amanda Grossman-Scott
Research indicates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys is sexually abused (The Advocacy Center, 2006) before their 18th birthday. Many of these children are molested by someone they know well. A predator might be a relative or close family friend. The best way for your child to avoid being a victim is to educate them about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior between children and adults.
While there is no “typical sexual predator” listed below are things we as parents can do to recognize predatorial behavior. While filling one of the criteria doesn’t make a person a child molester, filling multiple criteria should raise some flags. It should also be noted that for sexual predators, finding a new victim is the main focus of his or her life. For instance, a sexual predator might by employed or volunteer somewhere where he or she is likely to work closely with children. In a process known as “grooming”, a sexual predator first identifies then gains access to a child by any means necessary. After identifying the victim, the predator then sets out to gain the child’s trust, break down defenses, and convince the child to engage in the desired sex act.
Never assume someone is trustworthy because he or she attends church, has a job, works with children or “seems nice”. When it comes to your children, don’t be afraid to ask questions or dig a little deeper. Kenneth V. Lanning, a retired Special Agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit said, “Pedophiles span the full spectrum from saints to monsters. In spite of this fact, over and over again pedophiles are not recognized, investigated, charged, convicted, or sent to prison simply because they are “nice guys”.”
The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon conducted a study in which child sexual predators in treatment were interviewed. These are actual quotes from convicted child molesters:
“Parents are so naive—they’re worried about strangers and should be worried about their brother-in-law. They just don’t realize how devious we can be. I used to abuse children in the same room with their parents and they couldn’t see it or didn’t seem to know it was happening.”
“I was disabled and spent months grooming the parents, so they would tell their children to take me out and help me. No one thought that disabled people could be abusers.”
“Parents are partly to blame if they don’t tell their children about [sexual matters]—I used it to my advantage by teaching the child myself.”
“Parents shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about things like this—it’s harder to abuse or trick a child who knows what you’re up to.”
The fact is, the best defense is a good offense. If we educate ourselves and our children, we can be aware of some of the ways an adult might be trying to manipulate a child’s trust as well as our own. The following information has been compiled from various sources including child molesters in treatment.
• A predator might pay special attention to a child and make him or her feel special. They will get to know the child’s likes and dislikes very well. A predator is likely to try to win over the affection of his or her intended victim by sharing these likes. “I got us a box of your favorite candy to share.” or to an older child: “You like that band? That’s my favorite band. I could get us tickets to their next concert.”
• A predator might isolate your child by involving him or her in fun activities that require them to be alone together. Part of the manipulation process is lowering the inhibitions of children. A skilled predator who can get children into a situation where they must change clothing or stay overnight will almost always succeed in victimizing them. An adult who invites your child to sleep over at his or her house alone should raise a red-flag warning to you.
• A predator might touch your child in your presence so that he or she thinks that you are comfortable with the touching. This act might be as simple as draping an arm over the child’s shoulder or asking for a hug to say goodbye. Be aware of your child’s reactions to other adult’s touches. Does your child stiffen or seem uncomfortable? Also, never force your child to show affection to anyone when they aren’t comfortable doing so. This leaves the impression that forced physical contact is okay.
• Keep in mind that the first physical contact between a predator and his or her victim is often nonsexual and designed to desensitize the child. It breaks down inhibitions and leads to more overt sexual touching. It may begin as an “accidental” bump or rub, an arm around the shoulder, a brushing of hair. Teach your children that any physical contact between child and adult is something to be wary of and questioned.
• A predator might take advantage of a child’s natural curiosity about sex by telling “dirty” jokes, showing him or her pornography or by playing sexual games. If your child starts to talk (uncharacteristically) about sex and things related to it, never overlook this kind of development because it might be a sign that he or she is being groomed. Be aware of the physical signs as well. If your toddler is masturbating or trying to touch others inappropriately, this may be a sign that there is a problem. If you need help beginning discussions about pornography and its dangers, check out How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography.
• A predator may offer to play games or buy treats for young children. To lure older children or teenagers, they may offer to buy drugs or alcohol. After awhile, the predator starts to ask something in return. This “something” may be a sexual act or forcing the child to watch pornographic material. Pornography is often part of the grooming process in order to lower a child’s inhibitions. If your child is old enough to have internet access, make sure you are monitoring his or her email and social networking correspondence. A predator will send explicit materials this way as part of the grooming process.
• A predator might present him or herself as a sympathetic listener when parents, friends and others disappoint a child. Predators often target adolescents who feel isolated from their peers. “Your parents don’t understand you, but I do,” “I can tell you’re lonely. I was the same way at your age,” he or she may say to a child they are trying to lure. Unfortunately, children of single parent homes are frequently preyed upon because they are seen as vulnerable or having a void that needs to be filled. Male predators have been known to seek out single mothers to gain access to their children.
• A predator might eventually treat the child victim as a co-conspirator in their “relationship”. Saying things like, “Your parents would be angry at both of us if they found out what we did.” In order to abuse the child and minimize the fear of discovery, a sexual predator will often times share secrets with the victim. The victim is made to believe that they are being trusted with something of value, before being asked to share something of value with his or her abuser. This bonds the victim to the predator, setting the tone for more sinister secrets to be shared.
The statistics and signs to be wary of are overwhelming, to be sure. The good news is that we are raising a new generation of children. Many of today’s kids are not afraid to speak up for themselves or to question authority figures. While this can be a frustrating at times, it can serve these children well if they are empowered to use it the right way.
- Begin talking with your child about sex and anatomy at an early age.
- Teach your children that any physical contact between child and adult is something to be wary of and questioned.
- Teach your children to recognize grooming behavior.
- Let your children know that they can always come to you and trust you with concerns.
- Never blindly surrender responsibility for your children without question.
- You as the parent should know your child’s teachers, day care providers, coaches, and any other adults in their lives.
- Be aware of what apps your children are using and monitor all of their online activity.
- Visit schools and practices unannounced. Ask questions.