Taking into consideration the high number of children who are sexually abused, it is highly likely that most people have, unbeknown to them, encountered a sex offender at some stage of their lives. Unfortunately sex offenders cannot be identified by age, background, ethnic origin or indeed gender, although the large majority of offenders are male. They do not come with a warning label and on the surface they appear to be the same as any other person, therefore it is impossible to judge whether the priest, teacher, family friend etc is a risk to children.
Parents who are concerned can consult the sex offenders register which will show convicted offenders, but it is not infallible and offenders can slip through the net. In addition the register in the UK it is not as accessible to the public as it is in America and offenders are not registered for life.
Whilst the formation of the sex offenders register is a positive move forward, children are still at risk not only from those offenders who slip through the net but also those who have not been convicted. So how can parents protect their children?
Work with convicted offenders by Ray Wyre and others has shown some interesting behaviour patterns used by paedophiles and whilst not all offenders will fit this pattern, it is useful to know how some sex offenders work.
Identifying a child
Many abusers will take time to identify their victim and spend time in play areas, outside schools, sports areas and any place where children gather. They may in some instances be seen taking photographs of children playing, which they use as fantasy images. In addition the abusers might befriend families, taking time to be seen as a helping uncle-type figure, seek employment or become a volunteer in child related work.
Paedophiles can spend many months observing children enabling them to identify those who they believe are vulnerable. They also use this time to gain information about the child’s interests which they later use to entrap the child. Although they may be wrong in their assessment and the child or family do not engage with them, they still gain sexual satisfaction purely from their observations, which become part of their fantasies.
Once the child is identified the abuser then spends time grooming the child which can takes months. The abuser will manipulate a situation where they have contact with the child; for example, retrieving a football or assisting them to cross a road. If the abuser lives within the child’s vicinity he may bring about an accidental meeting with the family for example seeking or offering help. Whatever the circumstances the abusers will not rush and at this stage is unlikely to make sexual advances.
Once the initial contact is made the abusers then spends time gaining the child and on occasions the families trust. He will, for example, share the child’s interests, buy small gifts, provide a place to spend time away from parents and share secrets. He will also tentatively make physical contact with the child through tickling, wrestling and comforting. If during this or any other stage the child or parents become suspicious, then the abuser will move on and look for another victim.
However once the abusers feel secure in his relationship with the child, he will slowly introduce sex and this can be in the form of discussing or looking at pornographic material, asking the child to play games for example showing genitals, taking photographs in underwear and so on. He will make sure that the child feels that they are involved in a game which becomes a naughty secret and one that the child is unlikely to disclose for fear of repercussions from parents.
From this stage onwards the abuser is able to advance his plan and will blackmail and threaten the child to achieve his goal. The abuser is skilled at psychological manipulation and when getting to know the child will ensure that he knows their vulnerabilities and fears. More often than not he will manipulate the child into believing that they are responsible for any sexual activity and that they will be blamed and removed from their parents care if they tell. Once the child is psychologically captured, then the abuse is likely to escalate and continue until the child gets to an age where the abuser is no longer interested. The abusers will then move onto other children and in some circumstances may introduce the child to other offenders.
Paedophiles are clearly very dangerous people and their ability to manipulate children gives insight into why children feel unable to tell. Whilst not all sexual abusers use these techniques, knowing how some paedophiles work can only assist parents to protect their children.