I had a choice. I had just arrived for my first “group” session at the counseling center where I was an eager beaver intern. I had no idea what kind of “group” I was going to observe. The choice ahead of me was whether I was going to sit in the section of the waiting room that was full of screaming children, snotty teenagers and weary mothers, or the other side of the room where well dressed men were quietly sitting & reading newspapers.
Easy enough choice for me. I quickly walked over to the quiet male section, engaged in conversation with these delightful gents, and then was called in to meet my new supervisor. She calmly informed me that I would be observing groups for sexual abuse survivors that evening: groups for children who had been molested, teens who had been molested, non-offending parents AND GROUPS FOR OFFENDERS. Yup, you got that one right. I had been shooting the breeze with all the offenders who were, by law, kept separated from the children.
Boy, what a life lesson! Child molesters look like ordinary guys. Like nice clean-cut guys. Ordinary men (and women) who suck the souls out of children.
I found the following blog which I thought would help explain it really well. Wish I had read it aeons ago before that first internship, but then I wouldn’t have had such a “teachable moment.”
This post is one of several promised subjects for posting during 2008. Most of this information is taken from interviews and writings by molesters themselves (from interviews others have done), and some is taken from research on child sexual predators.
Myths and Facts About Child Molesters
- Myth: Anyone who would molest a child is seedy-looking or looks suspicious. I’d know them by looking at them.
- Fact: Handsome, rich men molest children. Beautiful, talented women molest children. Ordinary people you laugh with every day molest children. You simply cannot tell a child sexual predator by looking. (But do pay attention to your instincts, which see deeper than a person’s surface appearance.)
- Myth: Child molesters are unsociable and isolated. If I knew any, I’m sure I naturally wouldn’t like them.
- Fact: Most child molesters are known and liked by others. Plus, they cultivate certain relationships in order to gain access to children, and many are genial and personable individuals with whom others enjoy socializing.
- Myth: Married men don’t molest children–they have their wives. Besides, a married man would only molest a child if he wasn’t getting sex from his wife.
- Fact: Marital status doesn’t correlate to whether a person is a sexual predator or not. KEY FACT: A man deprived of sex does not morph into a child sexual predator. Molesting children is about preferring the power position and avoiding vulnerability. The taste for sex with children is separate from a normal human adult sex drive oriented to adults.
- Myth: He’s a pastor (or teacher, or elder, or highly respected businessman–fill in the blank with anyone)–he would never do that.
- Fact: Child molesters can be anyone–anyone at all. We must not hesitate to blow the whistle on a child molester regardless of position, fame, or wealth. Our children are worth more than that.
- Myth: He has a Ph.D., she’s president of the company–too smart to be doing something that depraved.
- Fact: Molesting children is not a function of low income or intelligence. Geniuses can be child molesters; millionaires can be child molesters.
- Myth: A real child molester would never talk about the subject.
- Fact: A child molester may say contemptuous things like “Child molesters are the sickest people on the planet” or “Child molesters deserve the death penalty.” The rest of us might say things like that too, so this isn’t an indicator by itself–just a warning that predators know the right line to take.
- Myth: He hugs and cuddles my child in healthy ways right in front of me, and my child doesn’t resist or fuss. So obviously nothing’s happening.
- Fact: Molesters themselves say that they deliberately do this so that your child, the victim, thinks you approve of the way the molester touches them. A child assumes his parents know what’s going on, so when the molester hugs him in front of you and you’re fine with that, the child thinks you’re OK with what happens in private too.
If I Can’t Tell Who They Are, What Can I Do?
Fortunately, many things.
- Listen to your instincts. If you feel a deep disquiet or unease around someone, simply don’t let that person have access to your child–especially not alone time.
- Don’t put your faith in the presence of a group. A child molester can and will single out a child while on group trips such as camping, Scout outings, etc. Child sexual predators go on trips like this because they know they can get alone time with their victim.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of healthy attention, love, and physical affection at home. This prevents your child from having the vulnerability that predators look for in potential victims. A healthy, well-loved child with good self-esteem is less likely to be targeted. In a sense, molesters are looking for victims who are already victims.
- Make yourself a safe person for your child to talk to. If he does something wrong, don’t take out your frustration on him or blame him. I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, and my natural reaction is, “Haven’t I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES not to do that?” or “Why on EARTH would you do a thing like that?” or “Honey, why didn’t you just ASK ME FOR HELP!” It feels good to let the steam blow out my ears, but then my kids clam up and stop trusting me. This is because they’re not stupid children. Instead, try “Okay, that wasn’t good, was it? Why was it not good? What’s your plan for the future?” Say this patiently and supportively, not in anger.
- Impose appropriate consequences without anger. This can’t be overemphasized. If you get angry whenever your child fails or misbehaves, or you get upset a lot in general, be certain she will learn never to tell you anything. And a child without a parent he trusts is a victim waiting to be victimized. Molesters know this. They watch for this type of relationship between a parent and a child so they can exploit it and gain the victim’s trust with patience and kindness.
- Teach your child early that no one has the right to touch her private parts and that she can say a strong “NO” and you will back her up completely. She can fight or run away or tattle and you will stand by her 100 percent. Molesters make threats about what parents will or won’t do to a child if he tells, so you have to have that trust with your child.
- Consider sending your child to an upbeat, positive, effective program like Impact Personal Safety (see Resources below).
- Don’t consistently let any one adult go on isolated alone activities with your child.
- Study adults, particularly men (sorry, gentlemen–it’s statistics and the “can’t tell by looking” thing again, so you get extra eyeballing even if you’re a genuinely good guy), who work with children and still want to spend more time with them outside of work. They may take children on special outings outside of work, for example. Also study those who seem way more plugged into youth culture than into age-appropriate adult culture. Whether or not a person twangs your intuition, observe the person closely and don’t let him have your child alone until you’re satisfied he’s completely safe. Talk to others about him. Find out all you can.
- If your child spends a lot of individual time with someone, ask your child carefully phrased questions about whether the child has been exposed to any sexual material of any kind. Kids are curious. If it’s presented to them, they’ll probably watch and listen.
- If you suspect your spouse may be molesting your child, watch closely. Do you feel like somehow, subtly, you’re being cast as the bad guy to your child, while your spouse is the good guy? Abusers gradually block communication between their child and the other parent, and damage the trust in that relationship.
- If you’re a parent married to a stepparent, be aware that all the statistics show a significantly higher incidence of child sexual abuse among stepparents than among birth parents. Molesters target a child or children, then marry the mother in order to gain access to the children. The biggest way you can prevent this, if there’s any possibility of it happening (and you have to tell yourself frankly to look for it even if you don’t think it’s ever going to happen in your house), is to keep the lines of trust and communication open between yourself and your children. You may be thrilled with your new spouse’s interest in your children–but watch for signs that he’s giving them treats and rewards while subtly coming between you and them. Is he subtly teaching them that you’re not trustworthy and he is? Is he gaining their trust while undercutting you or your relationship with your children? While you want to back up your new spouse, you also want your children to know you’re still with them in spirit and that you trust them and support them. You can support your spouse while still letting your kids know that you believe what they say on a day-to-day basis.
How Do Child Molesters Control Victims and Keep Them From Telling?
Glad you asked. Keep in mind that these answers come from molesters themselves.
- I’ll do anything to get to your child and to keep your child once I’ve victimized her. I’ll do anything and say anything to keep assaulting your child and to keep your child from telling. I really don’t care if it’s harming your child–I just care about pursuing sexual gratification.
- I threaten your child with the loss of his family. I tell him he’ll be taken away from his family if he tells, or that his parents will be taken away.
- I threaten your child with violence to her or to her family.
- I manipulate your child into thinking it’s his fault. Or I make him think he’s at least partly responsible and that if anybody gets punished, it will be him.
- I tell your child this is normal parental behavior.
- I win your child’s love and trust with treats, attention, and “love.” If she’s not getting love and attention from you, she’ll get it from me. [Note: This includes children with a full-time stay-at-home parent. If they’re not getting love and attention from Dad–or Mom, as the case may be–they’ll be looking for it.]
So How Can I Tell If My Child is Being Molested?
- He becomes extremely modest and protective of showing his body. Or he goes the other direction and sexually acts out.
- She has genital pain, itching, discharge, bleeding, stomachaches, headaches, or other physical complaints. Stomachaches and headaches that stem from sexual assault are very real physical pain.
- He starts sleeping poorly, starts wetting his bed, has new fears, refuses to go to places he’s been before or be with certain people, starts having school problems or difficulties with peers, cries excessively, is depressed, gets clingy or aggressive, or becomes secretive.
- She may try different methods of escapism, such as running away, drugs or alcohol, daydreaming, or isolating herself.
- Be aware that some children being molested may not show any of these symptoms. Some child molesters groom their victims so successfully that the children love their abusers and even try to protect them.
- The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Oregon has put out a terrific brochure called “Protecting Your Children: Advice From Child Molesters.” To get a copy, call 503.644.2772. The organization doesn’t seem to have a website right now.
- Impact Personal Safety is a top personal safety organization nationwide. They have practical, real-world self-defense classes for adult women and men, teenagers, and children. Classes and school programs are available. For a history of the organization, see the Impact site, or read here.
- National Hotline: 1-888-656-4673