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Sexual predators of children do not simply select their prey at random. The intended victim is carefully chosen and then methodically prepared. These processes are never by accident or circumstantial. The predator has from the very beginning the intent and motivation to sexually exploit the child.

The intended victim that is selected is usually a child that has obvious vulnerabilities. Predators look for children that are;

-Isolated from peers
-Have low self esteem and a lack of confidence
-Spends a lot of time alone and is often unsupervised
-Is obviously overly seeking attention and friendship
-Feels unloved
-Is experiencing family problems

Once the intended prey is selected, the predator begins a process of turning the child into a victim. This process is referred to as "grooming". Grooming usually involves an imbalance of power accompanied by coercion and manipulation.  

The purpose of the grooming is to make a victim by gaining increasing access to the child and decreasing the likelihood of being discovered by others. Again, this is never "accidental" – it is done deliberately with the intent to sexually exploit the child.

Grooming usually involves the following steps;

Building trust and breaking down the child's defenses.  This is done by pretending to share common interests, giving gifts, giving rides, playing games, using flattery to make the child feel special, and always being sympathetic and understanding of the child's problems.  

Reassuring the family . Predators may try to build relationships with the family, behave in exemplary ways to divert suspicion, and take taking avantage of the parental trust.

Gradual erosion of boundaries.  This involves a gradual escalation of body contact, such as; hugging a lot, hand holding, neck rubbing, and pretending to accidentally touch or rub up against the child. Eventually these behaviors lead to inappropriate touching and fondling of the child's body

Build Secrecy with the child.  This done by telling the child that their relationship is "special" and that touching is good – telling the child that there will be bad consequences if other people know (You won't be able to see me again!) – and/or outright threats that the child will be in serious trouble if the activities are discovered.

Escalating compliance.  This is usually done by threatening the child physically and escalating the activities into the preferred sex acts.

If you become suspicious of possible grooming, the key is to look for patterns of behavior in both the suspected perpetrator and the child. Also look for obvious power differences. Always be wary of individuals that go out of their way to gain your trust and reassure you of their good intentions.  

If you suspect that your child is being groomed, immediately limit your child's contact with the individual in question. Using the discussion techniques that I have presented in earlier articles, discuss the child's activities and interactions with the individual. If you should discover that your child has been victimized, contact the legal authorities immediately.

Closing thoughts:  To the best of my knowledge, there are no effective treatments available for sexual predators. They are usually imprisoned – released – and then they commit these vile crimes again. These patterns repeat over and over and over again. The next time a child predator is being discussed on the news, watch, and you will always hear that they have done this many times before.  

Knowing this, why are they back out on the street? We all need to promote tougher "one strike and you are out!" laws for sexual predation against children. It turns my stomach listening to some of the defenses for these people. I don't care that they didn't get a bike when they were young – or that daddy slapped them around a lot! A lot of kids grow up in those situations and turn out to be normal adults.  

Since they cannot be rehabilitated, child predators need to be treated like any other beast that preys on our children. They need to be permanently removed from our society – by whatever means necessary – period.    

**James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mz. Queen wrote Sep 20, 2009
    • Great information for parents of young children. My children are grown now, but I am responsible, by heart, for the little people entrusted to me. I will pay attention.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      James Beverly wrote Sep 21, 2009
    • You are welcome to quote from my articles.
      Good luck with your course - I have been a promoter of such training for a very long time.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Sep 21, 2009
    • I am wondering if teachers are trained to talk with children about this? I realize that sometimes it is the teacher with this behaviour but in most cases it isn’t (I hope). Also shouldn’t information like this be sent home regularly with the children or discussed at parent teacher conferences?
      Other than word of mouth what else can a community do to help
      educate and safeguard our children?

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      James Beverly wrote Sep 21, 2009
    • Parents and other family will probably have to do most of the heavy lifting on this education. Most teachers are poorly trained in this area at best and may be reluctant to have these discussions in any real depth. Besides, I would rather have these discussions with my child myself - I know my child and his/her tolerance and ability to understand such things much better than any outsider.

      Remember that the parents also really need this information - they are the primary guardians for the children.  

      A discussion with family - your child - and perhaps at a Parents meeting would be good.

      This would also be an excellent question to put to the entire membership.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cristina Corral wrote Mar 25, 2010
    • I know I am entering really late into this discussion but I have to say that I would do ANYTHING to prevent and protect my child from sexual predators.  I will even go to jail if it meant protecting my innocent child or anyone elses child.  I think we as adults/parents are the best advocates for our children and we have to do whatever it takes to get these disgusting predators off the streets for good!

      1 strike law is so needed!!!


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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Karyn Olson wrote Mar 25, 2010
    • I definitely agree with Cristina...I too would go to any lengths to protect my children and grandson...there is no doubt about that.

      I too was a victim as a child and because of that I have been over protective of my children and grandchild...some might say overly protective...but that is the mother bear instinct coming out...back off and stay away from my babies or beware!

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