How Can I Recognize a Potential Child Abuser?
Child sexual predators are cunning and work for years to trick children and communities into thinking that abuse is “okay,” and the predator is innocent. While all predators’ behavior is different, you can make your community safer by preventing abuse when you safely address and recognize this behavior.
How Do I Recognize Predatory Grooming?
Predatory grooming is how abusers trick and fool a child into thinking that sexual abuse is normal or okay.
Our understanding of predatory grooming, and its horrific effects on victims, has increased dramatically over the past decade. Understanding and identifying the signs of grooming does two things: it helps us identify and prevent potential child sexual abuse and helps survivors heal from the shame that predatory grooming causes.
Here are some signs to watch out for that can provide topics for you to speak with children about.
- The predator may be giving the child gifts:
Teach your children to inform you of gifts they receive from an adult. Gift giving, specifically when a predator uses it secretly, is a common predatory tactic that allows a predator to determine how much they can get away with. When a predator can influence a child by normalizing secrets in their relationship, this is a strong indicator that the child may be in danger.
- The predator(s) is overly eager to be physically affectionate with the child.
Predators may be abnormally physically affectionate. They may be overly eager to engage in normally innocuous physical contact with the child in front of the parents to ‘normalize’ physical contact that will take a more extreme form later when the predator can get the child alone.
- The predator may claim to have the same interests as your child and to be “best friends.”
The predator may exaggerate their affinities with the child to build rapport. For example, they may claim a deep fascination with the child’s interests, such as green dinosaurs, red popsicles, or an online game someone the predator’s age has likely never heard of. Exaggerated intimacy claims such as being “best friends” should also be noted. This can be a challenge, as we may often call religious figures “father,” “sister,” “brother,” etc. When the child is upset, this may be a time when predators swoop in to be or appear to be, the most caring responder. This builds trust and preferential treatment for the abuser over adults as the child may experience real relief from this attention or be indulged in getting what they want from the “good cop” among adults.
- The predator may act overly interested in the child.
Child Predators may pay a disproportionate amount of attention to a child they intend to victimize. This can be expressed as exaggerated interest compared to other children, or an enhanced level of controlling behaviors. Pathological interest may be difficult to differentiate from the kind of healthy interest we see in mentorship dynamics between older and younger people.
- The predator attempts to find ways to be alone with the child.
Isolation, both physical and psychological, is necessary for predators to commit crimes. Since pathological interest may be difficult to differentiate from the kind of healthy interest we see in mentorship dynamics, transparency and organizational policies help a lot here. Institutions devastated by predators have instituted preventative policies such as that no adult can be alone with a child, and at least two adults must be present.
- The predator tries to normalize sexual subject matter.
The predator may do this by gradually introducing sexual topics into the conversation. For example, a predator may start talking to a child about wild parties he used to attend during his time in Hollywood and the fun dances they would do as an oblique way of raising sexual topics. This kind of manipulation can escalate into dirty jokes and showing of pornography. Children can be taught to watch out for this. If you notice your child suddenly showing increased knowledge of sexual subject matter, it may be a sign they are being groomed.
- The predator grooms parents to gain more access to the child.
The predator will try and find more opportunities to be in your child’s life, especially and gradually, alone. Offering to come to your aid, especially in contexts where they will be alone with the child may be signs of grooming.
- The predator has private communications with the child online, by text or phone.
Predators may try and establish a line of communication directly with their child victims. Using parental controls and educating your child about appropriate communication between adults and children online may help mitigate this approach.
Can Women Be Child Predators?
Yes, women can and have sexually abused children. While women account for less than 10% of perpetrators, they can sexually abuse both boys and girls, causing horrible damage to the victims.
We often hear questions like “I was sexually abused as a boy by a nun, was I sexually abused?” or “I was sexually abused as a girl by a nun, was I sexually abused?”
Fortunately, our culture is beginning to understand the pain and long-term negative effects caused by female predators. Despite damaging stereotypes like the “hot teacher” and the “sexy nun,” it is sexual abuse when an adult woman sexually exploits a child.
We support you and we believe you.
How Can I Make Sure My Church and School are Safe?
All churches, schools, and youth-serving organizations should understand and follow the CDC guidelines to prevent child sexual abuse.
Do not be afraid to ask organizational leadership tough questions about abuse prevention, such as:
- What are their screening protocols?
- Are the employees trained to prevent and identify potential abuse?
- Do they employ best practices for child safety?
- What are their reporting procedures?
Reporting child sexual abuse is another way to help keep your children and organizations safe. By removing predators from organizations where they have access to children, and driving for organizational change, we can protect children of the future.
What Do I Do if Someone at My Church or School Has Been Accused of Child Sexual Abuse?
If someone at your church or school has been accused of child sexual abuse, talk openly with leadership and other parents and ask about screening, training, and reporting procedures. Talk openly with your children about child sexual abuse and empower them to report to a trusted adult. Speak out in support of survivors.
If the person accused is a close friend and you are conflicted, SNAP has created a resource to guide people through the process compassionately and in support of survivors.
What Are the Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children?
According to RAINN, some of the signs of sexual abuse in children include:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on the sheets, underwear, or other clothing
- Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
- Keeping secrets Not talking as much as usual
- Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
- Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
- Overly compliant behavior
- Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Spending an unusual amount of time alone
- Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
- Change in eating habits
- Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
- Decrease in confidence or self-image
- Excessive worry or fearfulness
- Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
- Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
- Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Self-harming behaviors