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

JACKSON COUNTY - Sexual offenders recruit children by establishing a trusting relationship—spending time with them and listening to them.

They may treat the child as special, giving them gifts and compliments. Offenders also use gifts and trickery to manipulate and silence the victim into keeping the sexual assault a secret. This treatment can isolate the child from siblings, friends or parents.

The offender may also establish a trusting with the family and friend of the victim in order to have access to the victim alone. When the offender has obtained the trust of the victim and family, it makes it much easier for the predator to sexually abuse the victim. The offender often “grooms” the family in similar wasy by buying gifts or helping our around the house as a way to gain trust.

Sex offenders typically plan their sexual abuse with care. They may gradually desensitize the child and violate their boundaries leading toward increasingly intimate acts.    

In most child sexual abuse cases, the predator “grooms” his or her victim and the victim’s parents before the abuse occurs so that disclosure of the abuse is less likely and/or less believable.

It’s important to recognize that “grooming” is an incremental process with stages prior to the abuse.

 Targeting the Victim: In this phase, the predator will “size up” their prey. Specifically, the predator is looking for vulnerabilities such as physical or mental disabilities, single-parent families, low self-confidence, or emotional neediness. They will look in places with high concentrations of children – – schools, malls, playgrounds, etc.

Gain Trust: After a predator has selected his or her victim, they will begin to gather information about the intended victim and place themselves in areas where they can give their future victim attention.

Fill a Need: Once a predator gains initial access to a child, they can look for gaps in supervision to exploit, and “be there” for the child when the parent is unable to (example: give the child a ride home).

Isolation: Now that the predator has found a way to maintain a routine relationship with the victim (and parents), they will seek ways to spend alone time with the child (example: babysitting, special trips).

Make the Relationship Sexual: The predator makes their move on their victim when they are able to isolate her or him, and does so by praying on the child’s natural curiosity to advance their sexual agendas.

Maintain Control: Once the abuse occurs, the predator will do all they can to keep the victim silent and available for continued abuse. This control can come in forms of verbal threats (example: Nobody will believe you), or physical threats (example: I will kill you and your family if you tell).

The offender assures the victim that what is happening is “right,” and convinces her or him that if they tell something terrible will happen—family falling apart, threatening to hurt the child’s family or pets, that their parents won’t believe them or that the offender will go to prison.

At the same, time the predator gives the victim the impression that she or he has consented and that they are in a “relationship,” or even that the victim has initiated the relationship.

By shifting the blame to the victim, the predator makes the victim feel responsible for the abuse and too ashamed or frightened to tell anyone. Predator tactics are strong and can fool victims into believeing that such acts are happening to to everyone.

Victims can ago for years before finally understanding that what is happening is not okay. Often sexual abuse is the last thing most people expect would be happening to a family member.

As parents, trust you gut instinct and act on it. Listen for statements or questions from your child that support your suspicions, and encourage them to tell you more about the time spent with the suspected offender. Be willing to stop all contact between your child and the suspected predator--and do it.

The fault in any abuse in on the offender not the victim, and it is not your fault as a parent that you were not aware of it sooner or that it occurred.

And most importantly, report your suspicions of any grooming, victimization, abuse or assault to local law enforcement immediately—city police, sheriff’s deputies and/or State Police Troopers.