Few sexual abuse assaults against children are spontaneous acts. In fact, preparation occurs gradually over a period of time. In an effort to gain a child’s trust (and that of any immediate adults) many molesters will groom a child in preparation for the inappropriate contact. The most common stages of grooming are:
Engagement – Trust is established early, initially through appropriate and ingratiating behavior towards both the child and close adults.
Sexual Interaction – Once trust is established, an erosion of boundaries begins. If the child does not vigorously resist the advances or appear overly upset or report the violations the touching progresses to more invasive forms of contact over time.
Secrecy Established – If the child does not express alarm, the perpetrator is reassured that he/she can proceed. The child continues to be manipulated into maintaining secrecy.
Offenders often tell a child that touching of this kind is good and pure and indicates just how special their relationship is. Offenders also work to convince the child that they are their advocate and understand and support them more than anyone else in their life.
Finally, it is not uncommon for a child to be given alcohol or drugs to decrease his or her boundaries. This introduction serves to further manipulate the child into silence as the molester suggests that the child will be in trouble if he or she “tells.” This process of grooming a child is documented, classic, sex offender behavior.
Child molesters most often select their victims carefully, typically targeting a child who is in need of attention, perhaps living in a single parent home and/or experiencing difficulty at school or in social settings. In short, the molester targets the child who might need the attention of an adult and be more willing to keep a secret in exchange for that valued attention.
When a question of abuse is raised, responsible adults often report that they have felt uneasy while witnessing interactions between a certain adult and child. They say they’ve witnessed “odd” or inappropriate behavior that left them feeling concerned. But they didn’t take action because, “this was a really nice person who seemed to genuinely care for children.”
Protecting children can occur in a variety of ways. A subtle conversation with a child can go a long way in protecting him or her against abuse. Adults can ensure that a questionable individual is not given access to children. In fact, offenders will often back off if they sense adults are being watchful. Then, if concerns remain, making a hotline call is always an appropriate action.