Years ago, the show To Catch A Predator depicted a deep, dark problem: Countless child predators are preying on kids. There are also often reports of yet another teacher arrested for statutory rape of a student. Former child actor Corey Feldman proclaimed pedophilia to be the biggest problem for child actors. There is Hollywood. Penn State. The systemic child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. It’s no longer a secret. This is not a Catholic problem, a Penn State problem, a Hollywood problem, or a teacher problem. This is an epidemic that pervades every inch of our society.Discuss the tactics of child predators with your children so they are prepared to defend themselves.
Child predators are everywhere, and they often know the child they’re preying on—and the child’s family—well. If we are going to protect our children from them, we need to know child predators’ tactics, how they groom their victims. Discuss the tactics of child predators with your children so they are prepared to defend themselves. They may be in a predator’s grooming process already. Here are 6 tactics child predators use.
Note: This isn’t necessarily a step-by-step process. Some of these tactics happen concurrently and with a number of potential victims. Child predators know they won’t be successful with every kid, so they tend to groom multiple victims at once.
1. Gaining Access
The first thing predators do is try to gain access to children. Perhaps they will seek an occupation or volunteer opportunity that involves children. They may go above and beyond with their time and resources to be around kids. They may offer to babysit, watch your kids when you need to run a quick errand, or take the child to do something fun. You will probably even think to yourself, “What a nice person.” Certainly not everyone who does these things is a predator. There are wonderful people out there, but keep a sharp eye out.
Defense: It’s not safe to assume the best of people when doing so could affect your kids’ safety, so prepare your children for the worst. Carefully watch anyone who goes above and beyond to spend time with your child, especially if he or she seeks one-on-one time.
2. Targeting a Kid in Need
Predators most likely are going to target a particular kid. Some kids make easier victims—the kid on the fringe, the one in need, or, particularly, the one who is craving attention.
Defense: Be a major presence in your kids’ lives and talk with them a lot. Give them your attention and listen. Pay attention to their struggles, empathize, and provide the support they need. If you don’t, someone else will—and that person might have ulterior motives.
3. Gaining the Child’s Trust
Predators will give kids gifts and candy. They’ll have things in their houses that attract children. And they will be there to meet a child’s otherwise unmet needs. When the child needs attention, a predator will be eager to give it.
Defense: Be wary of adults looking to spend extra time with your kids or who have the desire to give them gifts and candy. Talk with your kids routinely about their relationships with others. Explain what is appropriate and what isn’t.
4. Gaining the Family’s Trust
Parents are the gateway to the child. Receiving your blessing gives predators the access and power they are looking for. So while working to earn the child’s trust, predators will be working the family as well. Child predators tend to be patient and work on gaining trust over a long period of time.
Defense: Never let your guard down around people who have access to your child. In most circumstances, the parents couldn’t believe it, often saying, “He’s the last person I thought would hurt my child.” Always assume that anyone is capable of anything. Ask your child questions about his or her interactions with the person.
5. Introducing Touch and Pushing Boundaries
When a predator has gained access and a level of trust, he or she will introduce touch and gradually push the limits. Perhaps the predator will tell a dirty joke or show the child pornography. Seemingly innocent touches move into hugs, kisses, and then, eventually, a hand brushing across the genitals. At this point, a predator may also introduce nudity.
Defense: Talk to your kids about their private areas. There is no reason to be ashamed by them, but they are private and not for others to touch. My wife and I discuss this with our children and have told them that only Mommy or Daddy can touch you there if there is something physically wrong. The only other person can be a doctor in Mommy and Daddy’s presence and with permission. You can leave the discussion here, but it also may be a good idea to discuss consensual touch and when and where that is appropriate. Don’t force your kids to hug or kiss anyone. Give them control there.
6. Gaining Control of the Child
Finally, predators will try to entrap the child to gain control. They’ll ask the child to keep a secret from his or her parents. A predator may catch the child doing something bad and hold it over the child. The child will feel trapped, either for fear of being exposed or for feeling beholden to the predator for not telling on him.
Defense: Tell your children that they are not to keep secrets. Surprises yes, but never secrets. Impress upon them that if any adult asks them to keep something a secret, they are to come tell you immediately, even if they think it is something that will get them in trouble.
Sound off: What other dangers are on your mind lately from which parents need to work hard at protecting their kids?
Gregory Love, Sexual Abuse Trial Attorney
Paul Mones, Lawyer and Child Rights Advocate
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Has anyone ever asked you to keep something a secret from me?”