The next time you see a news story about an individual who was arrested for child sexual abuse or on child pornography charges, listen carefully to the words of neighbors and colleagues who are asked by the media for their reaction. You will often hear words like, “We are shocked. He was so nice.” or “All the kids liked him.”
Get rid of the notion that people who sexually abuse children look and act differently than you do!
Individuals who sexually abuse children can be socially adept and even charming. Most are considered by those around them to be loyal friends, good employees and responsible members of the community. But remember, public appearance does not always reflect private behavior.
In a process called “grooming,” those who sexually abuse children often go to great lengths to appear trustworthy and kind, not only to the children they target and eventually victimize, but also to their parents and other adults around them. Grooming a child and family gradually over time allows them to build trust and gain access to their target while appearing to be above reproach or suspicion.
Because of their skills at manipulation and deception, there is no foolproof checklist of behaviors that will definitely spot a potential child sexual abuser. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one profile, which fits all abusers, making it very difficult to immediately separate them from others who interact with your kids.
Remember that these behaviors, when taken alone or together, don’t predict sexual abuse. However, according to research conducted by Stop It Now!, the behaviors described below were identified as warning signs or an indication that you may need to begin asking some questions.
Have you seen these behavior signs in adults who interact with your children?
•Prefers to spend free time interacting with children and teenagers who are not his own instead of with their own adult friends.
•Finds ways to be alone with a child or teen when adults are not likely to interrupt, e.g. taking the child for a car ride, arranging a special trip, frequently offering to baby sit, etc.
•Ignores a child’s verbal or physical cues that he or she does not want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, etc.
•Seems to have a different special child or teen friend of a particular age or appearance from year to year.
•Doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in the bathroom or bedroom.
•Gives a child or teen money or gifts for no particular occasion.
•Discusses or asks a child or teen to discuss sexual experiences or feelings.
•Views child pornography through tapes, photographs, magazines or the Internet.
•In addition to being an important behavioral sign, possessing, viewing and/or selling child pornography is a criminal offense and should be reported.
Remember that people who sexually abuse children are experts at gaining our confidence. They look for situations where they can have easy access to children. Sometimes, they do this by choosing work that will give them “cover” at schools, youth groups, sports teams, music classes, and other places where children live and play.
Sometimes, they work to establish relationships with adults first so they will eventually gain access to their children. Some abusers become involved with women just so they can gain access to their girlfriend’s children.
Listen to your gut feelings and be careful and slow in choosing the people you allow into your family’s circle of trust. Be ready to exclude someone from that circle at the first indication they might be unsafe.