Grooming and and sexual offenders

The grooming process

Studies of sexual offenders have found that deliberate tactics are often used to select victims and engage them in sexual abuse. This is described as the grooming process. Sexual offenders have often claimed to identify vulnerable children – for example, those who are less able to tell about the abuse, or who are unhappy or needy. They are usually people in a place of power over the child. In my case my parents.

There are a number of specific techniques that offenders use to mask their behaviour prior to the assault, as well as during and after the assault. Many deliberately establish themselves as the kind of person you wouldn’t suspect to be a sex offender because they are “too nice” or an upstanding person in the community who helps a lot of people out. This is a powerful tactic as it allows offenders to become embedded in a community and be involved in a number of socially responsible activities such as youth groups, churches and schools, which can give the offender access to a number of potential victims without ever being suspected. This double life causes parents and others to drop their guards and to allow access to their children without suspecting anything. It is important to also note, that the majority of offenders are known to the family, and too often are family members.

The second tactic is the ability to charm, to be likeable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness. The first man Uncle Padraig won my affection through fairy tales and repeated this process as I witnessed with other children brought to the room. This is crucial in gaining access to children, and the power of this tactic should not be underestimated.

How they start

Sexual offenders recruit children by establishing a trusting relationship, for example spending time with them and listening to them. They may treat the child as ‘special’; giving them presents and compliments. Offenders also use gifts and trickery to manipulate and silence the child into keeping the sexual assault a secret. This treatment can isolate the child from siblings, friends or parents. The offender may also establish a trusting relationship with the family and friends of a child, in order to have access to the child alone. When they have obtained the truth of the child and family it makes it much easier for the offender to sexually abuse the child. It is also important to remember that the offender often grooms the family in similar ways by buying gifts or helping out around the house as a way to gain trust from the family.

Sexual offenders typically plan their sexual abuse of children with care. They may gradually desensitise the child and violate their boundaries. For example, they may spend a lot of time with the child when he or she is bathing, dressing, or going to bed. They may kiss and hug the child a lot. There may be ‘accidental’ sexual touching, or sexual touching as a game. There may be talk about sex and sexual jokes as well as tickling, wrestling, or being rough towards the child as a sign of affection. If the abuse isn’t stopped, the behaviour progresses to increasingly intimate acts.

Some obtain access to children through paedophile groups such as happened to me.  Protection is offered by the group/cult and training in grooming methods is readily provided.  An easy, accessible supply of children is offered varying in ages and a place for abuse too. Perpetrators following this route are happy to pay for these services. It is a lucrative business that requires often many levels of a community to be involved.

Keeping the abuse secret

The child is taught – by threats, manipulation, blackmail, bribes and punishments (I was beaten if I did not comply with the men’s wishes or was kept locked in the room for days on end with food or seeing anyone until ‘broken in’, promises of good things to come – to keep the abuse a secret. The offender assures the child that what is happening I ‘right’, that I was a ‘good girl’ for example if I did as they wanted and convinces them that if they tell about the sexual abuse, something terrible will happen – for example, the family will fall apart,(I was told my family would fall apart if I told)  threaten to hurt the child’s family or pets, tell the child that their parents won’t believe them, or that the offender may go to prison. At the same time, the offender gives the child the impression that they have consented and that they are in a ‘relationship’ with the offender, or even that they initiated the relationship. In this way offenders shift the blame from themselves and onto the child. The child may then feel responsible for the abuse, and feel too ashamed or scared to tell anyone.

Written with the help of Laurel House. North and North-West Tasmania Sexual Assault Support Services Phone: (03) 6334 2740 (North) or (03) 6431 9711 (North-West) or 1800 MY SUPPORT for the After Hours crisis service.

Carrie Mahoney in her website youroutervoice.com has tools to help survivors heal and learn to speak up and not keep it a secret any longer.

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