The trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant
football coach found to have abused 10 boys over a 15 year
period, has been in the headlines this week, along with much
discussion about child molesters…who they are, why they
do what they do, how they can go undetected for so long, and
what can be done to prevent children from becoming victims.
This seems to be a good time to help dispel some of the
myths surrounding child molesters, so that parents and
those who genuinely love children can help protect kids.
Myths About Child Molesters
Here are just a few common myths about child molesters:
1. You can easily spot a child molester.
2. If I’ve taught my child not to talk to strangers, then
s/he won’t likely be a victim of a child molester.
3. Child molesters abduct kids, so if my child is with me,
s/he is safe.
4. Child molesters are on the Sex Offender List, so if
no one I know is on that list, my child is safe.
5. Child molesters prefer young children, so if my child
is over the age of 10, s/he is safe.
The Truth About Child Molesters
The truth is that the average child molester is a relatively
young man, heterosexual, not mentally retarded, not
psychotic, does not use drugs, is working with or is around
your child or teen on a frequent basis, has the trust of both
you and the community, and is not on the Sex Offender List.
He (or she) is likely to use psychological control methods
to get your child to engage in sex acts and then not tell
anyone. There is little need to abduct your child once
they have “groomed” him or her to be their victim.
Grooming Children for Sexual Molestation
As a parent, you need to know that the “monster” you need
to be afraid of is probably someone you interact with on a
weekly or monthly basis, has a good reputation within your
family and community, and you feel you can trust him. Gaining
your trust and throwing off any suspicion of wrongdoing is
essential for a child molester to successfully molest children.
In the very same way that a person would go about
conning an elderly person out of a huge sum of money,
child molesters methodically engage in “grooming behaviors”
designed to gain access to your child, get your child to trust
him, break down any defenses s/he has to engaging in sexual
activity, and then manipulate or force your child to do what
they want. Similar psychological control methods will then
be used to guarantee their complicity and silence.
The Grooming Process
Although any child can be victimized, molesters look for kids
who are vulnerable: they lack attention, they don’t have friends,
they aren’t as “connected” or as well supervised, the have low
self-esteem and lack confidence. Then the molester will shower
that child with attention, treats and gifts, and will likely tell the
child to keep some of this a secret from others. The molester will
be a sympathetic ear to your child’s complaints, convince the
child that they understand their problems and they really care
about them. Then there will be some pretense for touching to
begin…it might seem accidental or be non-sexual at first. Hugs, an
arm around the shoulder, or a hand patting their leg during a talk.
Non-sexual touch breaks down the child’s defenses to proceed
to sexual touch….if there is no clear, definitive “STOP!” from the
child, the molester is just about home free. The use of bribes,
pornography, alcohol or drugs, force, threats or blackmail
may all be used to move the child along toward cooperating.
As a Parent, What Can You Do?
We can try to tell kids about “stranger danger,” we can teach
them the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch,”
and encourage them to tell adults if anything that feels bad is
happening to them. The most important thing you can do
is to spend a lot of time with your child, so that you will notice
when there is a marked change in their behavior, and you’ll
know if someone is spending more/different time with your
child. Parents are the child’s first and best line of defense,
because most child molesters have to gain the parents’ trust
before they can convince the child to engage in anything
with them…much less convince the child that it is their fault
that it is happening and no one is going to believe them.
Pay Attention to Your Gut Feelings
But not even having a great relationship with your child
is enough to prevent them from becoming a victim.
Do not become paranoid, but do not turn your back or
ignore any funny “gut feelings” that you have about someone
who interacts with your child. Your intuition is often right
on target, even without having any corroborating evidence
yet. Be suspicious of anyone who continues to give your
child gifts, offers to spend time “babysitting,” or offers to
take your child on trips or excursions. This doesn’t mean
they are child molesters, but you have to be able to answer
the question :”Why is this person so interested in my child?
Why does this person want to spend so much time with my
child?” If the answer you come to doesn’t really make any
sense or there are some (even distant) alarm bells going off,
rethink allowing contact with this person. Remember your
child is unlikely to come out and tell you what’s going on.
S/he is more likely to say “I don’t want to go with him.”
You Can Believe Your Child
Believe your child. Kids very rarely make up stories about
people sexually abusing them. If they say something is
happening, it most likely is. Beyond believing your child,
be your child’s first line of defense. Do your best to pay
attention to those individuals who have access to your
children and teens, and do not just depend on the fact that
they have passed a security check or your sister says
“trust me, he’s a good guy.” It’s the monsters we don’t know
that we know who can do the most harm.
Learn more about How Can We Spot a Child Molester