1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18. When these children are exposed to sexual assault, nearly 90% of the time it is from someone they know. That means sexual assault almost never occurs from the stranger lurking in the bushes at the park.
We are willingly giving predators access to our children. These predators can be our family members, friends, parents of your child’s friends, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone else who has access to your child. Never assume that a person is trustworthy based solely on their profession. Far too often we hear stories of sexual abuse occurring in the news by people in a variety of professions. Most recently, there is an Amber Alert issued for a 15 year old girl who is with a former teacher of hers.
However, there are things we can do to recognize the signs of predatory behavior. By knowing grooming techniques, we can be more vigilant about who we are allowing to spend time with our children.
- A child will be made to feel special through extra attention. A predator will know a child’s likes and dislikes very well. A predator will try to win over the child by having similar likes. “That’s your favorite restaurant? Mine too. We should go there and grab a bite to eat.”
- A child will be isolated in fun activities that require only the child and the predator. Once the predator knows what a child likes, they can offer to do activities with that child. A skilled predator will be able to manipulate the child into situations where they must change clothes or stay overnight. “You wanted to see that movie? Me too. We should go Saturday night, but when it’s over it will be late. You should just spend the night at my house.”
- The first touch is often nonsexual. This is to desensitize the child and begin to breakdown his/her inhibitions. It may begin as “accidental” bumping or rubbing, and arm around the shoulder, or brushing of the child’s hair.
- A sexual predator will touch a child with others around. The types of touching in this case could be hugs to say hello or goodbye or an arm draped around the child’s shoulders. The predator will do this to make the child feel that other adults are comfortable with the touching. Watch how the child reacts to these types of touches. Does the child look uncomfortable or stiffen their body? Also, never force your child to show affection to another person if they do not feel comfortable in doing so.
- A predator will offer to play games or buy items that the child wants. For younger children this can be special treats like candy or dessert, but for older children this may be drugs or alcohol. After a while, the predator will want something in return. This may be sexual acts or making the child watch pornography. Make sure if your child is old enough to have internet access, that you are monitoring your child’s email and social networking correspondence.
- A sexual predator will be there for your child when they feel no one else is. Predators will look for children who feel isolated or alone from their friends and family. They will lend an ear and let the child know they are there for them. These children seem to be vulnerable, and the sexual predator will be there to fill the void.
Sexual predators typically target children who are vulnerable. These vulnerabilities may include a child who is unpopular, lacks self esteem, spends time alone, or is experiencing family problems. The predators will present themselves positively to the child by giving compliments and pretending to share interests and experiences.
Pay attention to the people in your child’s life. Make a habit of unannounced visits when your child is alone with others. Last, it is critical that you have conversations with your child. Make sure they understand the difference between safe and unsafe touches, secrets and surprises, and the qualities of safe people.
Call the Education Department at the Sexual Assault Center for more information about training for parents, coaches, or other adults that work with youth. We can be reached at http://www.sacenter.org or by calling 615.259.9055. Let’s work together to end sexual violence in our community.