Would you be able to recognize if a sexual predator was grooming your child? Recognizing the signs can help parents and caregivers establish firm boundaries that may prevent some types of sexual abuse. Child psychologists call sexual predators one of the "tricky people" for a reason. Sexual predators are highly skilled at earning both parent's and children's trust. It's necessary for sexual predators if they are going to execute their plan to start an intimate relationship with a child.
While sexual predators can have active adult sex lives, they often also have a compulsion for "forbidden" sexual activities. Psychologist Anna Salter, an expert in the field of child sexual maltreatment, explained:
"The establishment (and eventual betrayal) of affection and trust occupies a central role in the child molester's interactions with children... The grooming process often seems similar from offender to offender, largely because it takes little to discover that emotional seduction is the most effective way to manipulate children."
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner outlined the basic six stages of sexual predator behavior.
Parenting.org explains which children appear vulnerable to sexual abuse from the view point of a sexual predator. Children with behavioral and mental disabilities are easily targeted, but sexual predators will also target children who are lonely, insecure, or unpopular. The abuse doesn't usually start until after the sexual predator has developed a relationship with the child and often even their parents.
Many times, a sexual predator takes on a "big brother" role in the child's life. They will offer to give the child a ride to a sporting event or give an overwhelmed parent some free time by babysitting. During these short periods of alone time, a sexual predator will often become "good buddies" with the child. The sexual predator will give the child compliments, attention, and gifts. Often these presents include things that the child otherwise wouldn't be allowed to have, like a sling shot or an extra large ice cream cone.
Stopitnow.org says that sexual predators often seem almost "too good to be true." The sexual predator is so friendly and "loving" that they often present themselves as a good role model for the child or a good or extra "father figure." Children of single mothers are especially good targets for sexual predators.
Former FBI Assistant Director Ronald Hosko said that child predators are skilled at developing trust and find it easy to appear law-abiding and safe. "To think you know by looking at somebody -- chances are you're way off the mark," Hosko explained to the NY Daily News.
Filling A Void
According to MOSAC, signs to look for that a child is being groomed involve a close relationship that was quick in the making. Sexual predators like to wrestle around, play games or have the child sit on their lap early in the relationship. The predator may offer to help with schoolwork or be a good listener. This makes the child feel special, loved and also indebted to the sexual predator. A sexual predator might try to convince a child's parent, in front of the child, that the child is old enough for a bb gun or a video game that is not age appropriate.
Isolating A Victim
After a relationship is built, the sexual predator then begins to extend a relationship of secrecy. This relationship won't start out sexual. It will start with innocent secrets. The predator may say that they care more about the child than the child's family does. The predator may convince a child that there is no one else the child can count on.
Gradually, the sexual predator will erode healthy boundaries with secrets. In the beginning, it will make the child feel important, but before long, the child becomes fearful of getting in trouble. In A Profile Of A Child Molester, the author explains:
"Pedophiles are professional con artists and are experts at getting children and families to trust them. Pedophiles will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy."
Jeremy Biloff was just sentenced to 15 years in prison for a repeat offense, according to The Journal Times. He said publicly, "I betrayed her trust and the trust of those around me. I make no excuses for the things I've done. I take full responsibility for my actions." Rehabilitation is especially difficult for predatory sex offenders, even if they desire it.
Family Watchdog has a searchable database of sex offenders, because sexual predators are often repeat offenders, but it's important to note that most sexual predators are never caught.
StopItNow.org has an online safety plan that parents or caregivers can use to help children escape or prevent victimization by a sexual predator.