(Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series dealing with the tactic of “grooming” used by sexual predators.)

JACKSON COUNTY - In rendering his sentencing decision in the conclusion of a high profile case in October, retiring Judge Thomas C. Evans, III stated that it is the responsibility of the court to dispense justice fairly, but firstly to protect people. He noted that it seems the world and out communities are falling apart with sex crimes and drug cases overcrowding the courts.

Judge Evans said he believed the crimes  alleged in the case occurred, and were a classic case of grooming and manipulation of a minor by an adult in a trusted role. The perpetrator confessed to the offenses with which he was charged. Judge Evans further stated that the victim in the case suffered permanent emotional damage, and is truly a victim emotionally and psychologically. He ordered prison sentenced on the charges to be served consecutively (back to back) with a lengthy term of extended supervision and sex offender registration for life.

In the aftermath, the victim and her family hope to make other families aware that sexual predators are all too real and that the grooming that victimized them all is just as real in hopes that other youngsters and their families can escape the devastation they suffered through no fault of their own.

In most child sexual abuse cases, the predator “grooms” the victim(s) and their parents so that disclosure of the abuse is less likely and believable.

Studies of sex offenders have found that deliberate tactics  as often used to select victims and sexually abuse them. This is the grooming process. Victims targeted are often those less able top tell about the abuse, or those who are unhappy or needy.

There are number of techniques offenders use to mask their behavior prior to the actual abuse/assault and afterwards. Many estasblish themselves as the kind of person you wouldn’t suspect as possibleing being a sex offender. He or she is just “too nice” or an upstanding community member who helps people. This allows the offender to become embedded in the community and involved in socially responsible activities like youth groups, churches and schools, which can offer access to a number of potential victims without being suspected. This double standard causes parents to drop their guard and allow access to their children. The majority of offenders are known to the family, and too often are family members.

Another tactic is the ability to be charming, likeable and to convey sincerity and truthfulness. It is crucial to gain access to children, and it is a very powerful tactic. Some offenders will seek to establish peer relationships with much younger people and prefer the company of children to adults.

Fear, isolation, power and silence are also major tactics used by molesters, but grooming is the most effective and deceptive of all.

Grooming is the tactic of gradually and methodically building trust with a child and the adults closest to them to gain increased access and alone time with their targeted victim. Assuming a caring role in the child’s life is a prime example including favoritism and special privileges. 

By grooming, the predator gains significant advantages such as reducignj disclosure, redusing the likelihood that of the victim being believed, reducing detection, manipulating adult perception of the victim and convincing the child into being an active participant in the abuse. Always, the predator uses his or her ability to0 charm and be likeable—getting the victm to trust him or her and for adults to be unassuming at first, and possibly even support the molester during allegations.

Grooming is a process with noticeable stages prior to the actual abuse. The stages include:

Targeting the Victim: The predator sizes up his/her prey. The predator is looking for vulnerabilities such as  physical or mental disabilities, broken homes, low self-confidence or emotional need. High concentration areas such as schools, malls and playgrounds are prime hunting grounds.

Gain Trust: After selecting a victim, the predator will gather information and place himself/herself in areas to give attention to their future victim.  

Fill a Need: Once access is gained to the child, the predator will look for gaps in supervision to exploit, amd “be there” for the child when parents are not (example: provide a ride home).

Isolation: Once a routine relationship s established, the predator will seek wasy to spend time alone with the victim.

Make the Relationship Sexual: The predator makes his/her move on the victim when they are able to isolate her/him, preying on the child’s natural curiosity to advance the predator’s sexual agenda. 

Maintain Control: Once the abuse occurs, the predator will do everything possible to keep the victim silent and available for continued abuse—inclduing verbal nd physical threats.

There is no standard description for a sexual predator. They come in all genders. races, occupations and relationships to the child.

It is imperative to understand that sexual abuse/assault is always the offender’s fault, nov er the victim’s.

Every child has the right to be safe, and every adult has the responsibility to protect children.

What can a parent do to prevent their child from becoming the next abuse statistic?

Early Education: Preventing child sexual abuse must start with educating children early about their “private” parts, the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching and what to do is someone attempts to cross the line. Having this conversation will make your child a much harder target for a would-be predator.

Maximize Supervision: Try to personally supervise your child’s time away from school. Volunteer, chaperone or at least have a trusted family member or friend fill in for you.

Identify Sex Offenders Near You: Megan’s Law is in effect in all 50 states. Online databases can help locate sex offenders near your home, child’s school and activities.

Love Your Child: Take time to be there for your child, let him or her know that you love them, spend time with them. It is important not to leave attention gaps that can be filled by a predator. 

Know the Warning Signs: Mood shifts or irregular behaviors are red flags which could signal a possible predator sexualized relationship.

Early and consistent engagement by parents is the best way to prevent 6your child being groomed by a sexual predator.

If your child or a child you know is the victim of sexual abuse or if you suspect grooming, contact your local police department, Sheriff’s Department or State Police detachment and report it.