The majority of parents do a good job teaching their children to beware of strangers. Yet most victims of child sexual abuse know the sex offender.
In a study of twenty adult sex offenders conducted by Jon Conte, Steven Wolf and Tim Smith; two of the key questions asked were:
1. “Was there something about the child’s behavior which attracted you to the child?”
o “The warm and friendly child or the vulnerable child…Friendly, showed me their panties.”
o “The way the child would look at me, trustingly.”
o “The child who was teasing me, smiling at me, asking me to do favors.”
o “Someone who had been a victim before–[spanking or inappropriate touch]–quiet, withdrawn, compliant. Someone, who had not been a victim would be more non-accepting of the sexual language or stepping over the boundaries of modesty… Quieter, easier to manipulate, less likely to object or put up a fight…goes along with things.”
2. “After you had identified a potential victim, what did you do to engage the child into sexual contact?
o “I didn’t say anything. It was at night, and she was asleep.
o “Talking, spending time with them, being around them at bedtime, being around them in my underwear, sitting down on the bed with them… Constantly evaluating the child’s reaction… A lot of touching, hugging, kissing, snuggling.”
o “Playing, talking, giving special attention, trying to get the child to initiate contact with me… From here I would initiate different kinds of contact, such as touching the child’s back, head… Testing the child to see how much she would take before she would pull away.
o “Isolate them from any other people. Once alone, I would make a game of it (red light, green light with touching up their leg until they said stop). Making it fun.”
o “Most of the time I would start by giving them a rub down. When I got them aroused, I would take the chance and place my hand on their penis to masturbate them. If they would not object, I would take this to mean it was Okay… I would isolate them. I might spend the night with them… Physical isolation, closeness, contact are more important than verbal seduction.”
We cannot ignore the sophistication of sex offenders’ efforts to desensitize the child through the gradual development of a relationship with the child and progressing from non-sexual touch (touching a leg, back or head) to sexual touch. Given that 95-99 percent of sex offenders are people their victims know and trust–family members and other trusted adults–even children as young as two can be taught to know what to do to protect him/herself.
For a child who has been taught only to say, “No’ to touching his/her private parts–one of the consequences of this relationship building and desensitization process is self-blame. By the time the child realizes that his/her private parts were touched–the damage is done–and the child may believe he/she has given consent to the abuse. He/she thinks because he/she did not say, “No” when the adult rubbed her/his back or head, he/she is to blame. It only takes one second for a sex offender to stick his tongue into a child’s mouth when he is giving a ‘traditional family’ kiss on the lips. It only takes one second for a sex offender to put his hand up a girl’s leg and touch a child’s labia while she sits on his lap.
Studies reveal that teaching a child to say, “No” has little impact because it is rare a child will affect more than weak resistance against a known sex offender. Furthermore, the sex offender will usually ignore a simple, “No.” The sex offender uses subtle or blatant threats, intimidating the child into compliance and silence.
My book, If I’d Only Known…Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention, emphasizes six important prevention techniques.
o Non-violation of sacred Body boundaries–to thwart the sex offender who counts on–a child who has been violated before–quiet, withdrawn, compliant. Someone, who had not been a victim, would be more non-accepting of the sexual language or stepping over the boundaries of modesty… Quieter, easier to manipulate, less likely to object or put up a fight…goes along with things.”
o Good, Appropriate Touch
o Appropriate Body Boundaries
o Good Body Image
o Tell Mommy and Daddy Everything–No Secrets Rule
o Appropriate Suspicion
Appropriate Suspicion (intuition, a.k.a. sixth sense) alone when acted upon empowers the child to thwart the majority of would-be sex offenders. Coupled with the other five techniques–your child is well prepared to stop every sex offender in their tracks.
Trusting and acting on your intuition or sixth sense and allowing your child to trust his/her intuition is paramount to protecting children from sex offenders, no matter whether they are family members, family friends, doctors, dentists, teachers, etc. Children are naturally intuitive and often sense an adult’s ulterior motives, although you may not suspect anything.
We need to accept the reality that no one can be considered exempt from being a sex offender, including all family members. As a parent, be appropriately suspicious and trust your intuition. If you err in evaluating a situation, make the error on the side of your child. The important factor is not that you have avoided offending someone, but that you have protected your child, until you can investigate further.
The title of my book, If I’d Only Known… is the lament of my friend’s daughter whose three-year-old son was sexually abused by her step-mother’s ten-year-old son. If only I had known that he would potentially abuse other children because he was sexually abused, I would never have let John play in the backyard alone with him.” She was right, if only parents knew the fact that sexual abuse is perpetrated, ‘anywhere, anytime, and by someone you least expect, they could protect children from this heinous crime.