What is a Sexual Abuse Survivors Advocate?
Is “Advocate” an Official Title, or Can Any Survivor Advocate for Other Survivors?
Anyone can be an advocate for survivors, even those who are not survivors themselves.
Being an advocate starts in your home when you talk openly about abuse and learn the signs of predatory grooming. From there, you can work with survivor’s organizations, understand the legislation in your state, work with groups who push for child-friendly laws, and encourage your lawmakers to support survivors, not predators. Write your local news organizations and tell them that you support stories that expose child sexual abuse and cover-up.
You can call your local rape crisis center and find out if there are training opportunities for volunteers. Talk to your church, local schools, and community organizations and make sure that they have and enforce robust child safety protocols.
If you see or suspect child sexual abuse, report. If you talk to survivors, use compassion. Listen, believe, and support.
What is grooming? Was I groomed?
Predatory grooming is how a child sexual predator uses lies and tricks to manipulate and victimize children and communities.
It is crucial that survivors understand predatory grooming to identify ALL forms of abuse they suffered. This may support their journey towards healing and justice.
Additionally, grooming is critical for communities to understand so we can identify the behavioral warning signs of potential predators among us to better recognize when our children may be in danger.
Predatory Grooming and Communities
Child sexual predators also use grooming techniques to manipulate the communities around them and create an environment where they can operate.
That is until they are caught. Or until their behaviors become problematic and their crimes are covered up (link to: What are the long-term effects of child sexual abuse) by corrupt practices such as moving perpetrators to another diocese or to another type of church-affiliated organization where they may have even less oversight and scrutiny.
Authority figures such as priests, teachers, doctors, and coaches, are especially effective at grooming victims and communities.
How do Perpetrators Groom People?
Examples of how predators distort reality and take power away from victims include:
- Lying to their victims
Telling the child they have permission to do what they are doing, that the child wanted it, that it is the “will of God,” or that the perpetrator loves them.
- Isolating their victims
Taking them to secretive places, telling them that they are special and so “others can’t know,” because they will be jealous.” Having shared secrets, saying they will be in trouble if they talk about the abuse, or that they should not trust their parents and should instead trust the predator.
- Fear and intimidation:
Telling the victim that they will be punished if others find out, or that the child has sinned for what they have done.
- Flattering their victims with gifts:
Providing cash, technology (cell phones, tablets, computers), prepaid credit cards, sports or concert tickets, toys, jewelry, food, or expensive clothing.
- Flattering their victims with praise:
Telling victims they are special and different from the others, that the molestation is an “extension of God’s love for the child.”
- Sharing ‘special’ secrets:
The perpetrator may share innocuous secrets to ensure children will keep them, secrets to keep others from being jealous for “special treatment,” or secrets to keep the child from facing punishment for “sinful acts.”
- Manipulating family members to trust the predator:
Priests and other authority figures are often automatically trusted by the community. The more predators charm and captivate the community, the more they are able to identify psychological vulnerabilities in parents, or guardians, that the perpetrator can exploit. Furthermore, the more the authority figure is trusted, the less likely victims are to be believed. This is because the foundation of a priest’s authority in righteousness, and higher good is the opposite of sexual predation. Additionally, it’s because children may only communicate what is happening very obliquely. It can be easy to dismiss what the child is saying as it may come across as the child simply not liking the perpetrator. But in reality, the child is terrified of what is happening to them right under the community’s noses.
- Blurring sexual intimacy boundaries:
Whereas otherwise healthy affection such as hand-holding, hugging, or reassuring touches becomes more sexual in nature. The perpetrator may manipulate the child into believing that their sexual acts are simply further expressions of loving-kindness rather than the horrors of sexual abuse.
- Using drugs and alcohol:
Drugs and alcohol may be used to reduce victim’s resistance, create addiction patterns, and create a shared secret that makes their relationship ‘special’ and not to be known by anyone else.
The predator may normalize pornography in their interactions with the child. They may show pornography and may also create pornography with the child. Among child protection advocates, the term “child porn” is otherwise called Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM).
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 (link to internal content – TBD) does two things: it helps us identify and prevent potential child sexual abuse and helps survivors heal from the shame that predatory grooming causes.