In 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, children know their abuser. Offenders build a trusting relationship with their victims in order to create a connection that then allows them to initiate the abuse. Offenders also need the trust of the adults who surround their victims in order to be allowed to be left alone with them and avoid suspicion.
So how do child sexual abuse offenders gain the trust of children and their families? One way is through a process called “grooming.” This is the process typically used by offenders who are not family members, such as neighbors, clergy, teachers, and so on. But it is also a process used by offenders who are family members.
Grooming Tactics: Children
Offenders groom potential victims by:
- Giving them gifts
- Taking them on special outings
- Giving them individual attention
- Allowing them to do things they aren’t usually allowed to do (such as drinking alcohol or watching adult movies)
Grooming Tactics: Family Members
At the same time, offenders groom the adults that surround a child—such as parents and other family members—by:
- Offering to help (giving rides to or from school, for example)
- Offering to babysit
- Being friendly
- Becoming part of the family
Offenders After the Abuse
Offenders are usually well-liked and often considered upstanding members of their communities, and this fact, combined with the trust they have built up by grooming victims and their families, is why child sexual abuse is traumatic for parents as well as children. Such a betrayal of trust can be devastating.
Offenders often take advantage of their victims’ trust by getting them to promise to keep the abuse a secret, or by threatening them if they tell. And if accused, offenders usually strongly deny the assault. They are often very convincing—so much so that you may have serious doubts about whether to believe your child. That’s why it’s so important to talk about sexual abuse prevention with your children, and to let them know that it’s okay to tell you when someone breaks any safety rule.
This is also why it’s so important to report sexual abuse to the authorities once your child tells you about it. Even when offenders claim to be remorseful, they are likely to continue to repeat their behavior unless someone stops them. In fact, most need legal pressure to stop—and that’s where reporting comes in. By reporting child sexual abuse, you are not only protecting your own child from further abuse, you are protecting other children as well.