Up to 95% of child sexual abusers are male (Bagley, 1995). They can be single, married and have families of their own. Up to 1/3 of reported offenses are committed by adolescents (Bagley, 1995). 95% of abusers will be known to the family (Child Protection Council, 1993). They will be a trusted friend and/or family member.
It crucial to note, that child sex offenders ‘groom’ both the child and the family. It is also important to note, that the sexual abuse of children has no social boundaries.
Child sexual offenders are skilled at deception and conniving in all their perverse undertakings. They will:
• Always plan their sexual abuse of a child. In fact, they may plan and ‘groom’ for a number of years before making sexual contact with the child. They will plan in detail how they will spend time with the family and the child, how they will get time alone with the child, and especially what threats they will use on the child in order for the abuse not to be revealed. Ensuring the child ‘keeps the secret’ is of extreme importance to the offender — if the child does tell, the consequences for the offender are catastrophic. Therefore, they will use whatever means they can for the child to keep the secret. This includes subtly discrediting the child by making them out to be a liar — so if they ever do disclose, they won’t be believed.
• Choose a victim very carefully. They will test the child’s reaction to touch. In fact, one male offender stated in an interview that he will firstly stroke a child’s arm and if they cuddle up closely and are receptive to the touch, than that child will be his next victim.
• Work very hard at being liked (even loved) by the child and his or her family. For example, the abuser will often help the family out on short notice, appearing as reliable and trustworthy friend. This is the persona a pedophile will go to great lengths to establish.
• Scheme to get ‘alone time’ with a child (or group of children) and will spend a lot of their out-of-hours recreation time with children.
“Because the offender is often a person well-known and trusted to the child and their family, they usually can easily arrange to be alone with the child — therefore the abuse is commonly repeated. This abuse rarely involves violence because instead of force, these offenders use promises, threats and bribes to take advantage of their trusted relationship with the child’s family and the subsequent powerlessness of the child. In some cases, this can go on for years.”
(NSW Child Protection Council, 2000)
• Target busy parents who are in need of extra help. They will also target vulnerable and disadvantage communities.
“Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.” (Sedlack et al, 2010)
• Change jobs and addresses to avoid detection.
Grooming is about power over the child and using that power to maintain the secret. It is about making sure the child never tells. Grooming can take place over days, weeks or years. A groomer taking time to ‘groom’ enables trust between the abuser and the child (and the family) to build up. This trust, in turn, creates opportunities for regular abuse to occur.
Grooming techniques can include:
• Making the child feel extra special by giving them special presents and treats and/or taking them on outings. The child will be made to feel as if they are the groomer’s ‘confidante’.
“The strategies employed by offenders to gain the compliance of children more often involve giving gifts, lavishing attention and attempting to form emotional bonds than making threats or engaging in physical coercion. Many sexual encounters with children were proceeded by some form of non-sexual physical contact.”
(Smallbone & Wortley, 2000)
• Helping families at the ‘drop of a hat’ so trust is built up over time, enabling the abuser to spend more time alone with the child without suspicion.
• Physical contact such as rubbing the child’s shoulder or an arm, stroking his or her hair and then watching for the child’s reaction. If the child is receptive, the touching will continue. The touching may well begin as an ‘innocent’, ‘fun’ game of tickling that the child enjoys, but later when the abuser deems the child ‘groomed’, the touch will turn to sexualised contact.
• Encouraging the child to keep secrets that at first may not be of a sexual nature. These ‘fun’ secrets are intended to build up a sense that the abuser and the child have a ‘special’ relationship. Note: an abuser will use ‘guilt’ and ‘blaming’ techniques to coerce the child into believing that they are an equal participant in the ‘shameful’ secret and are equally too blame. The abuser may even make the victim feel they encouraged the sexual contact. The child can be so guilt-ridden they may never disclose and this is the perpetrator’s key aim.
• Using threats and blackmail to ensure the child keeps the secret. Threats such as the child will go to jail if they tell and they will never see their family again, that no-one will believe them and that they will be destroy the family, etc. The abuser will work very hard to ensure the child never tells.
The above information only reinforces why we MUST educate our children in body safety before they become victims of the grooming process, ending in them being sexually abused by the perpetrator and in many cases, for a number of years.
Children need to to know these three key and life-changing rules:
1. Their body is their body and no-one has the right to touch it.
2. They must never ever keep secrets that make them feel bad or uncomfortable.
3. If someone touches their body, they must tell, tell, tell; and keeping on telling until they are believed.
Jayneen Sanders (aka Jay Dale) is a teacher, author, mother of three teenage daughters and an active advocate for sexual abuse prevention education both in the home and in schools.
For more information on this topic and Jay’s children's book on safe and unsafe touch 'Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept' go to www.somesecrets.info
'Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept' now available on Amazon in 7 seven languages.
Jayneen's new book 'Body Safety Education — A parents' guide to protecting kids from sexual abuse' is now available at:
To talk to someone about child sexual abuse or any abuse, or for support as a family member or friend to someone who has experienced sexual abuse, please call in Australia:
Victoria: Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) 1800 806 292
Australia wide: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Or contact counselors at SECASA on (03) 9594 2289