people don’t want to think about child sexual
abuse. Most parents have their hands more than full
with life’s demands, so carving out time to
study the nature and extent of child abuse is probably
not on the top of your daily to do list. The fact
remains, however, that if your kids don’t
learn about what to do in the event of being targeted
by a pedophile, they could wind up learning about
sexual abuse the hard way. Nobody wants that to
happen. But it happens.
IN A SHARK TANK
We are now
facing a troubling reality. Our children are in
great danger. Not from a new threat but rather from
an old one we are only beginning to really grasp.
While understanding “stranger danger”
and knowing what to do about it has always been
a staple of training our children to stay safe,
recent research continues to point to an insidious
and far greater threat of sexual abuse. Namely,
at the hands people we know well, admire and trust.
This is a bitter pill to swallow, but it helps
to explain why one out of four girls and one out
of six boys are molested before their 18th birthday.
It also helps explain why only 3% of offenders are
ever apprehended and convicted. Those who eventually
admit to molesting recount, on average, close to
Tragic cases like that of Polly Klaas point
out the very real risks children face at the hands
of “Grabbers”. It’s hard to think
of a worse case scenario, yet we focus on that threat
at our peril if we ignore the 95% of molesters characterized
as “Groomers”. Whether of the Opportunistic”
sort, taking advantage of the children who come
their way, or the “Predatory” sort who
go out of their way to position themselves advantageously,
these Groomers pose an enormous ongoing threat to
our children. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that their behavior has been exhaustively
studied of late, giving all of us ammunition, in
the form of knowledge, with which to better deal
with them and keep our children safe.
DOES TAKE A VILLAGE
Teaching our children to “Say no! Get away
and tell!” is imperative in dealing with the
stranger danger that Grabbers represent. Unfortunately
Groomers nurture the trust of children over time,
blurring the lines of loving behavior and abusive
violation, making it harder for children to escape
their cunning web. Current research points out that
with Groomers the first victim is actually the family,
school or organization wherein they position themselves
in order to establish trusting relationships.
As a result, the responsibility to prevent sexual
abuse at the hands of Groomers starts with the adult
caregivers. Accomplished con artists, the Groomers
seek out opportunity, driven by their sexual compulsion.
They are helpful and charming. Unlike other helpful
and charming people Groomers have a one-track mind.
If thwarted by adults with firm boundaries and cut
off from access to the children they covet, they
will quickly disappear and find easier targets.
Groomers are accomplished liars as well as very
slippery characters. That’s why it’s
imperative for caretaking adults to become familiar
with their methods, defenses and evasions. All too
often it’s easier to avoid conflict and not
challenge behavior that is suspicious, or worse.
Often communication between parents, sharing information
about a particular coach or priest, could have raised
red flags that never got raised. If everyone chooses
to look the other way Groomers will continue to
flourish. That’s why it takes a village, a
village that includes Child Protection workers and
police officers. While it is important to remain
vigilant and communicate with others, when it comes
to investigating a situation always defer to professionals!
CHARM AS A WEAPON
Anyone breaking into a home or pulling a child into
a car is pretty easy to identify as a bad guy. If
someone stuck a gun in your face you’d have
no doubt you were in trouble. But what about someone
who uses charm as a weapon? Groomers are experts
at it. With a compulsive fixation on their prey,
they will take their time, first seeking out vulnerable
Once they have
ingratiated themselves to a parent, or a school,
or a team or a congregation they will position themselves
with access to the children. At all stages of this
process they may exercise great patience, testing
the waters one step at a time as they go, until
they feel safe enough to turn up the heat with the
child, crossing one boundary line after another.
Once a trusting relationship has been established,
it will become all the more difficult for a child
to put a stop to the abuse. Although less than half
of Groomers use force or threats to enforce silence,
fear of damaging the relationship can prove to be
a strong force within the child, prohibiting disclosure.
In the event of being caught in the act or if a
child should make some sort of disclosure the Groomer
will use that same charm to deny it or excuse it
away as an “accident”. If that doesn’t
work he may resort to intimidation, outrage, and/or
threat of lawsuit. This is often enough to cause
adults with weak boundaries to back down. After
all, this is someone you know and trust and respect.
It’s not the bogeyman in the closet, right?
It is of paramount
importance to believe children when they have the
courage to disclose abusive behavior. Don’t
let charm hypnotize your good judgment.
DIRTY OLD MEN IN RAINCOATS?
From research done with known offenders it has come
to light that most pedophiles begin offending around
the age of 13 or 14. When you realize that approximately
half of child sexual molestation takes place at
the hands of babysitters it starts to make more
sense. If only Groomers were as easy to pick out
as a man wearing a raincoat in the sunshine our
task would be simple.
come in all sizes and shapes, male and female, young
and old, rich and poor, from every religion, race
and sexual preference. Whatever image you have in
your mind of what a molester looks like is merely
an impediment to realizing that it could be anyone.
SO IF RAINCOATS AREN’T A CLUE, WHAT IS?
Aside from the obvious, witnessing something inappropriate,
getting first hand information from a child, or
if there is a change in mood or behavior on a child’s
part in relation to any individual, it must be taken
seriously. If the person in question is TOO helpful,
TOO eager to be there for your child, or seems TOO
good to be true perhaps he is. Of course, there
is no shortage of good, helpful, generous people
who love children. The question arises in conjunction
to other suspicions. An awareness of the predatory
methodology of Groomers is a critical factor in
evaluating your gut feelings.
When someone’s helpfulness and charm is coupled
with a preference for the company of children and
they evidence little respect for boundaries, red
flags should start going up. Limiting children’s
contact with people about whom you have suspicions
is a precautionary move. Better safe than sorry.
To understand Groomer methodology in depth we recommend
reading Identifying Child Molesters by Carla Van
Dam, PhD. Nothing will protect your children more
than being surrounded by adults who understand the
scope and the nature of the threat they face at
the hands of socially skilled molesters.
If there really is a bogeyman wearing a raincoat
he is living in your stomach. Pay attention to him
OUR CHILDREN NEED TO KNOW
You don’t touch a hot stove. You don’t
cross the road at a red light. You don’t go
places with strangers. The basics are important.
Underlying the fundamentals of SAY NO, GET AWAY
AND TELL SOMEONE, is the understanding that some
things are not okay, such as having someone touch
your private parts or being asked to touch theirs.
Understanding that it’s your body, and that
abuse in all its manifestations is wrong is critical
to safety. Additionally, in order to facilitate
a child’s disclosure, it is important that
he or she recognize that abuse at the hands of anyone
older or bigger is never their fault and that anyone
who treats them this way is the one who has the
Children need to understand that no one, stranger
or family member, trusted teacher, coach, or beloved
clergyman has the right to abuse them in any way.
They also need
to know that while you might become upset upon hearing
of such things you will not be upset with them.
The distinction between privacy, surprises and secrets
needs to be made clear to children. Secrets, things
that you are never supposed to tell, need to become
a red flag. Ironically, being pressured into keeping
secrets is a trigger to tell.
Secret touching is above all taboo. Children should
be encouraged to tell about inappropriate touching
even if it was supposedly “accidental”.
Groomers are exceedingly clever in their gradual
escalation of boundary violations.
They will often
rough house and tickle in the presence of supervising
adults in order to normalize the behavior and test
the boundaries of those in charge.
Children need to know who to turn to in such a crisis.
Identifying trusted adults as their very own personal
support system will increase their confidence and
sense of wellbeing.
Encouraging children to continue telling trusted
adults until someone believes them is another key
factor in ending abuse.
IS THERE A LIFEGUARD ON DUTY?
The most we can expect from our children is to know
the basic rules and how some people might try to
trick them, and what they should do about it. What
Groomers count on are non-vigilant adults, already
seduced by the Groomer’s charms and helpfulness,
who fail to recognize dangerous patterns. When both
children and adults are aware of the real threats
that Groomers present, then they can be uncovered
and apprehended or at least avoided.
As adults we need to recognize that socially skilled
Groomers are expert con men (and women!). They are
adept at securing the silence of children through
various means of coercion, allegiance or threat.
They may have already driven a wedge between child
and parent to enhance their own position and control.
seek out the vulnerable and exploit them. Compulsively
driven, they scheme and manipulate all the time.
Their first victim will usually be you. Then they
will exploit that trust.
It’s not the most pleasant thing to think
about. But failing to comprehend the danger could
be far more unpleasant. Knowledge is power.