Teaching your kids the dangers of talking to strangers or “Stranger Danger” isn’t enough in today’s society. Sometimes, [or most of the time] it’s not strangers, yet someone who knows the child very well. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that over 90% of children were abducted by family, friends or other known acquaintances.
Child predators are not always some stranger in a dark alley or with a creepy white van. Most of the time, they are people we all know and trust. They could be our friends, our relatives, our kid’s teachers or even their coaches. The best way to keep your kids safe is to learn the tactics that child predators use. Ignorance and being naïve are dangerous in this situation. Learn how to spot when someone is grooming your child for sexual abuse or human trafficking.
Let’s take a look at the steps predators use to groom their victims.
STEP 1: THEY GAIN TRUST
The first step child predators take in grooming a child is gaining the trust of those around them. Predators are immensely skilled at taking on the attributes and appearances of a “good guy”. Before they even meet their victim(s) — Predators will often place themselves in a position of trust. They often seek out roles that place them directly around children. They insert themselves into your life and into your daily routine. Predators are often extremely patient and might wait months or even years to build up the trust of those around them before making their next move. For example, just last year, A lieutenant with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Unit (SWAT) and his wife, a Livingston Parish school teacher were both arrested and charged with 60 counts of pornography production involving a juvenile under the age of 13 as well two counts of first degree rape amongst other numerous charges. These were both well respected and trusted individuals who turned out to be monsters.
STEP 2: THEY GIVE GIFTS AND FAVORS
Once the predator has established a role in yours and your children’s lives and has significantly gained your trust — they take things one step further. They might offer to do you favors (picking up dry cleaning or running errands) or they might bring gifts and treats for your children. They appear to be extremely helpful and friendly. They may be playful and silly with your children, but they are very careful not to be overly attentive to your children — at least not in your presence.
STEP 3: THEY ISOLATE THE CHILD
By now the predator has gained your complete trust and approval. Your child knows you trust them, so they trust them as well. It is at this point the predator’s goal is to isolate your child. They might offer to babysit, give your child a ride to or from practice, tutor them or give them extra one-on-one coaching lessons. The predator continues to work on the child’s trust and tries to develop a “special” bond with them.
STEP 4: THEY DESENSITIZE THE CHILD TO TOUCH
You may get comfortable leaving your child alone with this “good guy.” After all, your child is always eager to go with them and they always seem happy upon returning. It may be at this point that the predator starts to touch your child. At first it may be a tickle fight — where the predator “accidentally” touches the child’s private area. The sexual contact progresses swiftly from there.
STEP 5: THEY SECURE SECRECY
Young children may not understand what the predator is doing. They may not even know they are being abused. The predator might convince them that they are playing a secret game or have a secret special bond. Older kids may think they are “special” or have a relationship with the predator that no one else would understand. Some kids are even told that no one would believe them if they told someone or even worse — that their family will be hurt or killed if they tell anyone.
- Look for the warning signs listed above.
- Understand that no role or position exempts a person from being a predator.
- If something feels wrong in your gut, it probably is — trust your parental instincts.
- Keep the communication open between you and your child and let them know they can come to you about anything.
- Talk to your children about their time away from you and find out details about what they did and how they felt.
- Talk to your children about sexual abuse and arm them with the knowledge they need to avoid it.
- Tell your children no one should ever hurt them, make them feel uncomfortable or touch them inappropriately — not even people they know and trust.
IT’S YOUR JOB TO PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN:
Your children are much more likely to be sexually abused than abducted and more often than not, it is by someone you as a parent have deemed safe.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Even scarier — According to the US Department of Justice (nsopw.org) only 10% of perpetrators were strangers to the child and 23% of the perpetrators were other children!
Just like we allow our children to get on a bike, even though they might fall and get hurt — we have to allow our children to go out into the world and interact with those around them. Just like we make them wear a bicycle helmet, we can arm our children with knowledge that might keep them safe. Knowledge might be the one difference that saves them from being a victim.
Parents do not always talk to their children about body safety early enough. I have heard all sorts of reasons why this does not happen. They are too young. I keep an eye on them. They won’t understand. It is a scary topic. It won’t happen to us. We live in a good neighborhood. We are from a good family.
Talk to your children. It is never too soon.
Knowledge is a powerful deterrent to sexual abuse and human trafficking — especially with young children who are targeted due to their innocence and ignorance in this area. Have these discussions often. One discussion is not enough. This is a topic that should be revisited again and again. Find natural times to reiterate these messages — such as bath time or when they are running through the house naked. Quiz them. I ask my 10 year old son questions on a regular basis about different scenarios and how he would handle them if they were to happen to him.
Know where your children are and who they’re with at all times
If your child(ren) have cellphones, install a tracking device on it, so you always know where they are. Life360 is great and has a free version that is adequate enough for tracking family members. Call them often when they are away from you to check in on them and make sure they are safe. You can never be too safe in today’s world.
Monitor your children’s phone time and social media
Monitor what your child(ren) is doing online. If they have social media, make sure you know who they’re friends with and talking to. A lot of children are abducted by people they met through social media. People can pretend to be whoever they choose online, so make sure you know their friends personally and that they are who they say they are. If they have an iPhone, “screen time” under your settings menu will be your best friend. I have my son’s phone set to block any website that isn’t on a list I have approved as well as social media or chat sites. He gets frustrated with me on a daily basis and tells me I’m an overbearing mother, but I remind him I am just looking out for his safety.
Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst
As parents, we all hope and pray we never have to worry about a child predator hurting our kid(s) or our child(ren) being abducted, but we need to have a game plan if the unthinkable happens. The FBI Child ID app is a great tool for keeping up-to-date profiles on your child(ren). You can add pictures and detailed information about your kid(s), so if they ever do turn up missing, you just have to open the app & hit send & the FBI has everything they need to start their search. It also has safety tips to help keep your child(ren) safe as well as checklist of steps to take if the unimaginable was to happen.
Another very resourceful website with a lot of good information for keeping children safe: https://www.kidsmartz.org