Child sexual abuse remains one of the most insidious and damaging problems in our society. Protecting children from sexual abuse is a top priority for many parents and children’s rights advocates, but that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
Child molesters are experts at masking their behavior, which makes it hard to spot adults who may pose a threat to your child. Following are some things that child abuse attorneys suggest parents and child advocates learn about child molestation.
Common Child Sexual Abuse Myths
One of the first steps in recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse is to overcome common myths about how it happens. Common child sexual abuse myths include:
Stranger Danger. The media tends to over-hype kidnapping and sexual abuse cases perpetrated by strangers, leading the public to fear unknown adults when the real threat may lie closer to home. While it’s true that some children are molested by strangers, the vast majority are abused by familiar adults. Often, these adults hold trusted positions within the community. They might be Boy Scout leaders, clergy or other role models.
Violence and Sexual Abuse. While parents and children’s rights advocates may be on the lookout for bruises and other signs of violence, the truth is that child sexual abuse is only occasionally done in a violent or forceful manner. Most child molesters prefer to fly under the radar, and many lure children with kindness rather than violence.
How Child Molesters Operate
The next step in recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse is to understand the process child molesters tend to use. Here’s how a child molestation attorney describes the process:
Grooming. Many molesters follow a pattern that begins with the adult using his or her authority to gain a vulnerable child’s trust and ease his or her way further into the child’s life, often even befriending the family. This process can take months or years as the adult patiently grooms the child, showering him or her with attention and sometimes money or gifts. Children with low self-esteem or those who are starved for affection are common targets because they tend to respond well to the molester’s grooming process.
Physical Touching. Once the child becomes comfortable with the adult, then the physical touching begins — although it typically seems innocent at first. This could involve hair tussling, a brief rubbing of the leg, or a quick hug.
Sexualized Touching. This critical phase is when the molester commonly determines whether the child will remain compliant during sexual abuse. The touching becomes more invasive and sexualized, such as a back rub or a seemingly accidental brush of the hand over the child’s genitals or breasts to gauge the child’s reaction. If the child resists or shrinks from such touching, the molester will most likely move on to another victim.
Ensuring Silence. As the touching becomes increasingly sexual, the adult may say things such as to make the abuse seem normal to the child, such as, “these are things friends do with each other” or “what we do with each other when we are alone has to be kept as our secret.” Once sexual abuse becomes a routine part of the child’s life, the molester may move on to more aggressive threats, which can include threatening to kill the child or harm the child’s parents if the abuse is revealed.
Unless the child speaks out, recognizing abuse can be difficult. However, by understanding how molesters operate, parents can learn to identify potentially troublesome situations.