Summer should be a time of childhood fun. Yet, for working parents, summer can be a trying time of “Where can my child go when I’m at work?” and “How do I keep them safe but allow them to have fun?”
According to Children’s Advocacy Center executive director Martha Phillips, sexual predators will target vulnerable families and the best way to protect children is through knowledge on the grooming stages used by sexual predators.
“As caring parents, you should be aware and cautious of the adults in your children's lives,” said Phillips, who offered Summer Child Safety Tips geared toward educating parents and protecting children. “Grooming is when an offender gains the trust of the child and/ or family and then establishes a special or secret relationship with the child.”
The following stages were taken from “Child Sexual Abuse: 6 Stages of Grooming” by Dr. Michael Welner:
• Stage one — Targeting the victim: A sexual predator targets a victim by checking out a child and family for vulnerability. They are seeking a child with lower self-esteem, isolation, or neediness.
• Stage two — Gaining Trust: An offender gains trust by watching and researching the child and family. They get to know their patterns, needs, and determine how they (offender) can fill that void. Offenders are not usually scary looking, they can blend in quite effortlessly.
• Stage three — Filling a Need: Once an offender figures out how to fill that child/family’s needs, they may become more important in that child’s life. A child being singled out for special attention, receiving gifts or affection from an adult, should raise parental concern and merit watching.
• Stage four — Isolating the Child: An offender may use the special relationship with the child to create situations where they are alone. Baby-sitting, coaching, tutoring, special outings feed this isolation and help to strengthen an intimate connection. Since many parents appreciate the support, they unintentionally accept and may facilitate this special relationship.
• Stage five — Sexualizing the Relationship: Once the predator has gained everyone's trust and has established sufficient emotional dependence, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship with the child. Desensitization occurs when the offender creates situations where the child’s private parts are “accidentally” touched (swimming, wrestling), talks about sex or shows the child pornography. After the offender has sexualized the relationship with the child, the sexual abuse begins.
• Stage six — Maintaining Control: Predators use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain the child’s participation and silence. The offender may threaten to harm the child, their family, beloved pet or tell the child that no one will believe their report of abuse. The child may be afraid to tell if the offender is someone close to the family. Remember, the offender may be someone the child loves or trusts. The child may like the special attention and/ or not understand their sexual relationship is inappropriate.
Ways to reduce your child’s risk of sexual abuse:
• Teach your child personal body safety. Inform them NO ONE is to touch their private parts (swim suit areas) unless it is to keep them clean or healthy (medical staff). Teach them it is OK to say “no,” run away, and tell an adult if someone tries to touch their private parts.
• Include personal body safety talks with all other safety talks and repeat these conversations multiple times a year.
• Teach your child to be assertive when it comes to personal safety. Remind your child it is OK to say “no” if someone is doing something that makes the child uncomfortable.
• Thoroughly screen any camp, child care centers, or child-based activities your child will attend. Do they conduct background checks on all personnel? What are their child safety policies? Do they participate in regular abuse training and know how/where to report suspicions?
• Recognize potential abusers and be conscious of any adult who seems to be overly interested in your child.
• Establish open communication with your child. Inform them it is not OK to keep secrets and they should always feel free to share anything with you.
• Know the warning signs of abuse.
“Please understand these are typical stages of sexual grooming, but realize that every situation is different and progression may vary,” said Phillips. “If each parent arms themselves with sexual grooming knowledge and is diligent in awareness, their child may not become a victim of child sexual abuse.”
CAC sends out a monthly newsletter by email. The Summer Safety Tips were in June’s newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.