How Child Predators Groom and Prepare Children for Sexual Abuse
From the mouths of abusers
“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.”
“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 above quotes come directly from the mouths of convicted child molesters. It should not be difficult to see that each quote mentions a key point – parents must be aware of the trickery child abusers employ and take an active part in heading off the potential for abuse. Parents should understand how predators “groom” their victims for sexual abuse and know what they can do to educate their children on how to recognize grooming before the predator transitions from groomer to abuser.
The process a child abusers utilizes to gain the trust of his potential victim is called “grooming”. Grooming focuses on a single, very important premise – the predator must break down the child’s natural defenses and gain the trust of the child. Accomplishing this allows them to manipulate the child into accepting their sexual advances.
In some instances, the predator requires a bit of preparation first. In these instances, the abuser may scout for potential victims in areas where children typically hang out and collect information about the child. Most of this information can be obtained from simple observation. For instance, where the child hangs out may let the predator know what sorts of things the child is interested in. From observation, the predator can determine the child’s demeanor, whether they are outgoing, shy, or fearful. If the predator can observe normal interactions between the child and another adult, he can better understand how to approach the child himself. All information gathered from observation will be used in the predators campaign to gain the trust of the child.
The predator may befriend single parents whom they know have children (potential victims) and may even approach the single parent with the premise of starting a romantic relationship in order to secure a trustworthy position within the child’s family (that stepfathers or live-in boyfriends represent such a high percentage of the total child sexual abuse cases is no accident). Or the predator may take jobs that require work around children or volunteer for child related services (again, that we hear and see in the media, so many sexual abuse cases committed by youth coaches and other child volunteers is no accident). In short, the predator will prepare for the abuse by putting themselves in a position that grants easy access to victims.
Predators will look for children who they know will be easier targets – a child with low self esteem or one that is lacking sufficient love, care, and protection from an adult. An unsupervised child makes for a very easy target. They will look for a child with a void or need in their life and begin to work towards fulfilling that need.
Note that in most common scenarios, advanced preparation is not required. Since most instances of sexual child abuse are interfamilial in nature (i.e. take place within the child’s family or extended family), the predator will already be intimately familiar with the child and hence, already trusted by the potential victim – a precarious position for the child to be in.
Befriending the child and fulfilling the child’s needs
Next, the predator will begin befriending the child. “I know you don’t have many friends but that’s ok, I will always be your friend.” The predator’s intent is to make the child like them so that they may eventually exert their control over the child and bend the child’s will their way.
They will always offer an understanding ear to the child. “Yeah, your parents don’t listen to you, do they? Mine didn’t either. That’s okay, you can always talk to me.” This further breaks down the child’s natural defenses and builds trust between the child and the predator. Every child wants a shoulder to lean on and to have someone listen to what they have to say. The predator freely offers an understanding ear to the potential victim.
Predators also have an uncanny ability to relate to the child at their level. They know all the latest fads, popular music , fun websites, and all the “in” things that the kids are into (the Mortal Journey website is an excellent resource for understanding present day youth trends). The homes of many child predators are veritable amusement parks filled with child appropriate activities, toys, videos, and games. Relating to the child at their level allows the predator to build a relationship with the child, a relationship that the child feels comfortable with.
The sexual predator may allow the child to do things a normal, responsible adult would not normally permit. What kid wouldn’t want to be friends with a grownup that let them do whatever they wanted regardless of whether or not it is safe or age appropriate. Allowing the child to do something they normally wouldn’t be allowed to do may be followed by the introduction of secrecy into the relationship. “I’ll let you eat that before supper but don’t let your mom or dad know that I allowed that or we’ll get into trouble.”
Secrecy serves two major purposes. Firstly, it ties the predator and child together on an entirely different level. The child may feel that the predator is now truly special in their lives because they share something with the predator that nobody else does – secrets. Secondly, secrecy acclimates the child to keeping quiet and hiding things from their parents. This becomes very important once the actual abuse begins. Virtually every wily predator works the sharing of secrets into their plan.
Lowering the child’s natural defenses and inhibitions
Innocent physical contact comes next. This desensitizes the child to physical touch and serves to breaks down the child’s inhibitions. They may stroke the child’s hair, give them a loving hug, peck them with a kiss on the cheek, or place a hand on their leg. The touches will gradually work to be more and more sexual in nature but for now, their purpose is simply to acclimate the child to touching. Arms around the neck may evolve into gentle back massages or tighter hugs with bodies pressed together. The child may be invited into the predator’s lap (which should be a dead giveaway to parents that something is up). Innocent touching removes any remaining inhibitions the child may have and since human beings naturally enjoy loving touches. Physical contact cements their relationship and prepares the child for the more sexual touching that is just around the corner.
It is at this point that photography may be introduced into the relationship. Cameras or video cameras may be brought out to film the child or take “sweet snapshot” pictures of the potential victim. The predator may take pictures of the child playing or ask someone to take a picture of the predator and child as they post as “friends”. Acclimating the child to photography makes the child comfortable with the predator taking pictures of them.
Up to this point, the child may be experiencing nothing more than they would experience with a normally functioning, well intentioned parent or family member. How to differentiate between grooming and natural parental love is key to stopping what comes next because what follows is where the line is truly crossed – the line where the predator becomes an abuser and the child becomes a victim.
The predator becomes an abuser
The predator may further lower the child’s inhibitions about sexual matters by showing them pornography, manufacturing situations where the child must be nude, or discussing things of a sexual nature with the child. They may “accidentally” leave adult pornography out where the curious child may find it. Pornography serves as an icebreaker that opens the door to discussions about sexual matters. They may tell the child dirty jokes or ask the child to tell them how they feel about sexual matters. This further lowers the child’s inhibitions and prepares them for more aggressive sexual conduct. What some adults may not recognize though, is that all of the previous examples are already classified as sexual misconduct and fall into the category of child abuse, regardless of the fact that no physical abuse has been made.
The physical contact, although innocent in outward appearances, may become more sexual in nature. They may cuddle with the child in bed, dry the child off after the get out of the pool, press against them while wrestling, or simply tickle the child in places where they should not normally be touching. Accidental touches to “parts of the body that are normally covered by a bathing suit” may be laughed off or ignored as an “accident”.
The predator may manufacture situations where the child has to remove their clothes or spend the night. For instance, they may invite them to go swimming so they have to change afterward or turn the heat up in the home and suggest that the child remove some of their clothes to cool off. The pedophile abuser may volunteer to watch the child and suggest that the child go ahead and just stay over to avoid a late-night pickup by the parent. FBI research shows that if either of these objectives is reached, the chance of the child becoming a victim of sexual abuse is almost certain.
More aggressive or sexual contact begins. This will most likely be followed by threats. The touches turn sexual in nature and the child is again told to keep this aspect of the predator/child relationship a secret. In many instances, the predator, who has now become an abuser, may warn the child that they may not tell anyone about their encounters and if they do, the abuser will harm the child or someone the child loves. It is at this point that the child begins to suffer psychological damage.
What parents should do
The child must be able to recognize the difference between grooming and natural adult/child love. To do this, parents must teach children what grooming is and how the typical predator operates. It is critically important that we recognize that the taboo surrounding the discussion of sexual abuse must be broken down and eliminated.
Parents must make the child understand that secrets between the child and an adult is not normal and they must clearly point out to the child where the line is crossed (sexual touching). Parents who innocently play the other parent by sharing secrets with their children must understand that this puts the child at risk of being taken advantage of by other adults.
Parents must also recognize and understand that the grooming process requires constant ongoing contact with the child. Anyone who is allowed unfettered access to your child should be suspect of sexual abuse. Parents themselves are responsible for their child’s safety, not some other adult who has volunteered to share the responsibility. Parents should also know that just as the predator may seduce the child in order to gain the child’s trust, the predator often has to seduce the parent too in order to be allowed uninhibited access to his potential victim. The predator must ensure that the parent trusts them too.
Parents must also remember that adolescent children, particularly boys, can become aroused very easily. Combine this with the fact that adolescents are curious and rebellious, and it’s easy to see that they are primed to be sexually abused by an adult. Parents should make sure their children understand this too. In addition, parents should make sure the child understands that even though they may be aroused by almost anything, taking part in a sexual relationship with an adult, even if the child initiates the sexual seduction themselves, is classified as child sexual abuse. When it comes to child sexual abuse, the adult is ALWAYS to blame.
In addition, parents should understand that in some cases, the child abuse victim may recognize the abuser’s need for sexual relations and may use that advantage to gain what they want. The child may attempt to withhold sexual favors in order to manipulate the abuser into giving the child what they want. Although this sounds horrendous on the surface and goes against our notion of “innocent children”, children are natural manipulators from birth. This is simply human nature and survival instincts at work. The parent should know that this may cause the child to experience extreme guilt or embarrassment and hence, they may be very reluctant to disclose. The child should know that any “consensual” sexual conduct between an adult and a child is sexual abuse. The child is never responsible neither morally, nor legally.
Parents should recognize that the bond manufactured by the predator may be hard to break. This is another major reason why children are reluctant to report sexual abuse. The abuser may have treated the child better than anyone else has ever treated them. The child may not want to see an end to the gifts and favors the abuser provides the victim. The child may truly care for the abuser even though the child knows what the abuser is doing is wrong.
Above all, the parent must educate the child in the art of grooming so that the child has a chance to recognize it given the unfortunate instance where a predator attempts to groom them for sexual exploitation.
SOURCE: The Zero, Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis (FBI Report), CNN