This post is the second of a two-part series on how child molesters operate. Read part one, “Common Sexual Abuse Myths.”
Once a parent realizes that child sexual abuse is most often perpetrated by a known and trusted adult, the next step is to learn how child molesters typically operate. When you understand the process the molester follows, it becomes easier to spot the subtle signs of sexual abuse.
The most common pattern of child sexual abuse involves the adult using his or her position of authority and influence to first gain the child or teen’s trust, then to slowly ease his or her way further into the child’s life by giving them money, presents and, most importantly, showering them with attention. This process is called grooming and follows a very deliberate pattern.
It may be difficult to understand, but child molesters succeed in large part because they are simply very good at what they do. They spend their lives learning about kids – what they like to do, what they like to hear, etc. Child molesters are the real-life pied pipers because they know exactly how to excite and cater to a vulnerable child. It is also common that child molesters will work their way into a potential child victim’s life by befriending the family.
These molesters are a patient bunch. They know it takes many months – sometimes even a year – to gain a child’s attention (and the parents’ trust). They have no problem showering the child with attention, meaningful pep talks and small gifts, never touching the child even once throughout the process.
After the child becomes very comfortable with the molester, the physical touching commences. And when I use the phrase physical touching, I do not mean touching in any way that most children would recognize or understand as sexual touching or even inappropriate touching, despite the fact that the molester certainly processes the touching as a sexually gratifying event.
This touching includes but is not limited to a tussle of the hair, a brief rubbing of the leg or even a quick hug. All through this phase, the molester continues to keep the child drawn to him by paying compliments, buying small gifts, etc.
This is a critical phase, because it is the time when the molester makes a calculated determination as to whether he can proceed to the next step of the process. This step involves more invasive sexualized touching, such as back rubs or brushing his hand – seemingly innocently – over the child’s genitals or breasts.
Many children will shrink from such touching for a variety of reasons – they intuitively know it is wrong or have been told about good and bad touching by a parent or teacher. Molesters thrive on the compliance and silence of their victims. If a child resists the molester’s touchings, he will probably move on. It is simply not worth it to him to go after non-compliant child.
Because the typical child molester has contact with scores if not hundreds of children in his life, he becomes highly skilled at identifying the subtle signs as to whether he can proceed to increasingly more invasive touching.
Coaches, priests and Boy Scout leaders who molest children all become skilled at identifying vulnerable children, such as those who are starved for affection or lack self-esteem. These children are perfect targets for the molester’s attention.
As the touchings proceed to sexual acts, the adult further exploits the child’s trust by variously saying things like “these are things friends do with each other” or “what we do with each other when we are alone has to be kept as our secret.” Soon the sexual abuse becomes a normal, routine part of the child’s life. The molester now has what he wants.
Only after the molester has woven the child into his web does he begin with the threats. These can be varied, from, “If you tell anyone what I am doing to you, nobody will believe you,” to, “If you tell anyone about this I will kill you,” or perhaps the most frightening threat to a child, “I will hurt your mommy and daddy very badly – or kill them.”
If anyone questions how commonplace these types of threats actually are, all they have to do is read Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s recently released biography Against All Odds, in which he recounts the threats from his abuser:
“He said, ‘If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you. I will make sure that no one believes you.’ ” Better yet, listen to the Senator in his own words.
Knowing who molests children and how to spot inappropriate behavior will go a long way toward protecting your child.
[ photo by: familymwr ]