In our last post, we wrote about ways you can take precautions to protect your child from sexual predators who are related to the child – either by blood or marriage. In the second article of this three part series, we will discuss protecting your children from sexual predators that are acquaintances.
What is an Acquaintance?
In the terms of predators, this is one that is often hardest for people to accept. Acquaintance offenders are people who typically put themselves in a position of trust. He or she may be very visible in the community or even in the public at large, such as a politician or elected official. This person may place themselves in such as a situation to be close to potential victims. Some examples of these that have been brought to public attention in the media by arrests of Boy Scouts, clergy, teachers, daycare workers or volunteers. This is a person who is not related by blood or marriage but the child knows them and trusts them. This creates an avenue for the sexual abuse to take place.
According to the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,
” Acquaintance molesters often gain access to children through youth-serving organizations. The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. He is not simply an anonymous, external threat. He cannot be identified by physical description and,often, not even by “bad” character traits. Without specialized training or experience and an objective perspective, he cannot easily be distinguished from others.”
How Do They Locate Victims?
Acquaintance offenders typically abuse their victims by using the “nice guy” routine. This is a person who may be well known in the community – elected official, coach, “teacher of the year”. They are typically child magnets – children love them because they are fun to be around. This poses a couple of problems.
First, because of the molester’s popularity, it may be difficult for anyone to believe that he could be guilty of abuse on children. Second, because everyone knows and loves this person, the victim often feels “special” for the extra attention. Finally, when the offender has crossed the line into a sexual activity, the child may be hesitant to speak out against this “pillar” in society. After all, who will believe such a thing?
An acquaintance offender may also seek out the child by using the internet. Children are trusting by nature and think nothing about sharing information online with someone they meet on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or the latest mobile application. While the child is reveling in the attention, the predator is reeling the child in with lies, seductive promises and answers to all of his or her problems.
Most offenders have what the FBI refers to as a “grooming” or “seduction” phase. This is where he or she will spend time gaining the child’s trust. He or she becomes the child’s confidant, friend or ally. This provides a bond between the two and it can happen quickly. By knowing who is present in your child’s life, you can stop this as soon as it begins by removing your child from the situation, educating your child, and alerting officials of a potential issue.
Regardless of how the offender locates a child, here are some tips that are recommended by the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Ask your child for information about the people in their life when you are not there. Meet your childrens’ teachers, daycare workers, coaches, medical staff or anyone else who has regular access to your child.
- Make note of someone who wants to spend excessive amounts of time with your child and looks for ways to do this when you are not available. This could be a neighbor who frequently offers to watch the kids while you are gone, a coach who wants to work one-on-one with your child without the rest of the team, etc.
- Always monitor your child’s internet and phone activity. Know the child’s passwords and use them. While some parents believe this is an invasion of the child’s privacy, this is the only way you truly know who your child is communicating with online. There are a number of great software solutions to help in this task. (Best Parental Control Software of 2017)
- If your child begins to speak of a new adult that you have never met, probe for details. Is this person an online friend? Is it a new teacher? Learn what you can about the person from your child so that you can meet him or her or report them if you need to do so.
- Always keep lines of communication between you and your child open. Let your child know that he or she can tell you anything and that if an adult has made them feel uncomfortable, it is safe for them to share it with you.
- If your “gut” is telling you that something is wrong, listen to it. You can take measures to monitor the situation. Never assume your child is telling you everything. Children and especially teens, can fall prey to someone who is a master at manipulation, regardless of how honest your child may be. This isn’t the child’s fault; this is how this type of offender works.
- Watch for changes in your child’s behavior. Teens go through a range of emotions but if your daughter, for example, suddenly begins to come home from track practice later than the rest of the kids and then runs up to her room refusing to communicate, ask some questions. Although it’s probably nothing, it’s worth checking.
- Stay in contact and communicate with the other parent. Particularly when a family has been separated, this may prove challenging. Parents don’t always get along and aren’t always the best of friends after a separation. For your child’s sake, make sure that you and the other parent are aware of the adults spending time with the child and are talking about suspicions, issues and changes in your child’s behavior.
Remember, just because someone wants to spend time with your child, it does not automatically make them a sexual predator. We have all had teachers, coaches, or other adults that took an interest in our lives as children and it made us better as a result. While we do not want to alienate our children, we want to be aware. This article is not to instill paranoia but to point out that with some diligence, we can hopefully prevent our children from becoming victims.
If you have a child who visits another parent regularly, and you believe your child is at risk, please contact our office. Depending on the situation and the court order, it may be possible to revisit the parenting schedule to assure the child’s safety.