When thinking about a child sexual offender, visions of a guy with big glasses who spends most of his time behind a computer or at the playground looking for an opportunity to snatch an unsuspecting child usually pops in mind. What if I told you that most child sex offenders are people that look like everyone else? Most are very skilled at blending into their environment to keep their agendas hidden. Offenders can be found everywhere, and they gain access to children in places like church, school, the playground, on the Internet, in the home, and any location that children frequent. They come from all different backgrounds, races and socioeconomic classes.
If you watch shows like Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Minds, you would think most child sex offenders are strangers, but research shows that sexual abuse in kids are usually committed by someone the child knows. Therefore, it is a likely probability that there could be a sexual predator right in your social circle.
Sexual offenders are master manipulators, and they look for opportunities to take advantage of a vulnerable child in a vulnerable situation. Predators commonly target kids who are from broken homes, are loners, troubled, or who have inadequate adult supervision. They use a tactic called “grooming” to get closer to a child. Grooming can occur over a period of days, weeks, months, or years. It’s an essential process for the abuser to establish, as it makes the transition from stranger—to a friend— to an abuser almost seamless.
The most common and effective form of grooming is affection. Predators use it to attract kids who are desperately seeking love and attention. In addition to affection, they often use treats, money, and compliments to build a relationship with the child. If you’ve been following the stories in the headlines, there are superstars who allegedly used their status of fame and the promise of stardom in order to attract young talented singers, actors, and models. Some of the alleged victims were brought to the superstars by their parents with the hope or promise of stardom. Such as in the case of singer and songwriter R. Kelly. One parent mentioned that he had known about Kelly’s past concerning him having inappropriate relationships with young girls however he figured if his child went with another family member, she would be less likely to be a victim.
There are offenders that target the parent first as a means to get easy access to the child. They manipulate the parents by appearing to be helpful, trustworthy, and dependable creating a false sense of security. They look for an easy way to get involved and fill a need such as offering to be a mentor to a troubled child, repairing things around the home or helping to pay bills for a single parent struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes a romantic relationship ensues between an offender and a single parent with the purpose of gaining access to a child in the home. Other times a child may be abused just because an opportunity presented itself and the adult in the relationship used their position as caregiver to take advantage of a child. Something similar occurred in the case of an Indiana man named Nicholas Deon Thrash, who was found guilty of molesting a 10-year-old girl multiple times and impregnating her. According to news reports, the grandmother of the victim mentioned that this person was a trusted family friend and was actually the boyfriend of the victim’s mother.
Their ultimate goal is to isolate the child in order to gain full control and carry out their agenda. If trust and emotional attachments have been established this becomes a relatively easy task for the abuser. Volunteering to babysit, take the child out for a treat like ice cream or to the desired location requested by the child, are some of the tactics used to get the child in a one-on-one situation.
Once alone the abuser has the opportunity to sexualize the relationship and take advantage of the child’s immaturity and vulnerabilities. They have the opportunity to mold and shape the child’s sexual thoughts and preferences, allowing greater control over the type of sexual acts they want the child to participate in. Pornography is often shown to the child and conversations turn sexual. This desensitizes the child and targets their natural curiosity, which aids in making the child feel they have a part in building the sexual relationship.
Sexual abuse begins, and a child’s life is changed forever.
Unfortunately, 85-95% of kids who are victims of sexual abuse, do not tell anyone about the abuse. Sometimes when they do disclose the abuse, (the mother is usually the first person told), many times they are not believed. This is devastating for the child victim and it allows for the abuse to continue making the child suffer in silence alone and decreasing the chance that the abuser will be caught.
Have you noticed someone paying special attention to your child or seemingly being overly helpful in an attempt to get your child alone? Parents should take a mental account of all those in their circle to be sure none of these things are happening. Talk to your kids to see if there is anyone that makes your child feel uncomfortable. Let your child know that it is ok to talk to you about anything and that they should never be afraid to tell you or anyone they trust if someone touches them inappropriately.
It’s easy to believe that a sexual offender is a stranger, but the truth is that 90% of kids who are sexually abused know their abuser. This means an abuser is usually someone in your social circle, such as a trusted family friend, parent, a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend, coach, teacher, or another family member. It is imperative to pay attention to those in your life and those that have access to your children. Talk to your children concerning any individuals that make them feel uncomfortable and be willing to listen, offer support and act on any allegations that may be reported to you.
To learn more on how to spot a child sexual predator and their behaviors, check out my new e-book,
“ Your Child Safe from Secrets: How to Protect Kids from Sexual Abuse and Manage the Aftermath.”