The sad reality is that there are bad people out in the world who prey on innocent children. With this in mind, what can you do to protect your kids? It’s important to recognize the signs of grooming. Grooming is a series of steps, which to the untrained eye may appear innocent, but are part of a plan by the perpetrator to prepare a child for inappropriate conduct or sexual molestation.
Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist, has identified six stages that can lead up to sexual molestation.
You can find Dr. Welner’s bio here: https://www.forensicpanel.com/Michael_Welner.html
Although these six steps are not exact in every case, grooming is a gradual, calculated process by the perpetrator who preys on the child to make the child believe that they’re a willing participant in the sexual abuse. Knowing what to look out for can help you to be more vigilant in protecting your children from abuse.
The perpetrator targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability—emotional neediness, isolation and lower self-confidence. Children with less parental oversight are more desirable prey. Also, children who are prior victims of sexual abuse are more likely to be targeted.
The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his or her needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders try to intermingle with parents or caretakers and specifically take an interest in the child. Normally, a parent or caretaker sees this as a good thing, that a teacher, coach or mentor is taking a special interest in the child. However, stay aware of appropriate boundaries for the adult and your child and stay in the loop on their interactions, including any text messages they may exchange.
Once the sex offender begins to fill the child’s needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Gifts, extra attention, affection may distinguish one adult in particular and should raise concern and greater vigilance to be accountable for that adult.
The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation.
A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unknowingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship.
When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way.
Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence—particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.
Children in these entangled relationships—and at this point they are entangled—confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the dirt bikes the child gets to ride, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.
You should also talk to your child about sexuality and sexual abuse in an age or developmentally appropriate way. Teach kids the proper names for their body parts so they have the correct language to ask questions or express concerns about their body. You want your child to understand that some parts of their body are private and that no one should be touching them, but if someone does, then they should tell a trusted adult right away. The same goes for if someone else shows them a private part of their body, they should tell a trusted adult. You should also reinforce to your child that there are no secrets in your home and that they will not get in trouble if they tell you or another trusted adult that something happened or that someone did or said something that made them uncomfortable.
Be vigilant, be protective and be involved. There are many amazing mentors, teachers and coaches in the world who are wonderful people, just trying to make a positive impact in a child’s life. However, these relationships, unfortunately, can sometimes also attract perpetrators. Follow your gut and your instinct. If you see behavior in your child that’s different than how they usually act or they begin to withdraw or digress developmentally, these may be signs that something more is going on that you should look into.
Sexual abuse is not something that’s fun to talk about, but the reality is that it happens and you want to be as prepared as possible to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone you love.