Ignite 2017 will welcome child sexual abuse professionals and experts, researchers, and individuals from across the country who share a commitment to the prevention of child sexual abuse. The conference will engage attendees on a national level to enhance their knowledge of child sexual abuse prevention as well as provide advanced training, connect successful community initiatives together, and help individuals bring the best ideas back to their communities.
Darkness to Light is honored to welcome Jim Clemente this October as keynote speaker in Atlanta. We asked Jim to share some insights on how adults can best prevent children from being sexually abused, and he offered these great insights.
Most children are victimized by someone they know.
Although most parents speak to their children about “Stranger Danger” and we all hear news reports about “Monster Predators,” most children know nothing about the greatest real risk when it comes to child sexual victimization – “nice guy/gal” acquaintance offenders. These are people we know, trust and even love, who take advantage of relationships and trust in order to violate children sexually. The vast majority of these offenders do not look, act, or speak like we would expect child sex offenders to. They look like you and me, and they act like good, kind, caring, loving people to whom we entrust the care of our children.
They could be teachers, coaches, leaders, priests, rabbis, cops, babysitters, athletes, doctors, nurses, soldiers, clowns, mechanics, or anyone else. The hard truth is that any school, club, team, center or youth serving organization is a target rich environment that will attract child sex offenders. Some will have a history of victimizing children, others will have whispered rumors about them, and others still, will be offenders who have never been caught or even suspected of having a sexual interest in children. Some of these offenders are the best, most beloved and accomplished teachers, coaches, and/or family friends – they are “pillars of the community,” and yet, they are sexually attracted to children.
These offenders are effective at promoting themselves as people who love and care for children, because they actually do love children. However, they also rationalize to themselves that it is okay to love children in a sexual way.
It is important to note that current research indicates that boys are sexually victimized at or near the same rate as girls are. Also, although most offenders are male, a significant portion of offenders are female.
Most children are sexually victimized through grooming.
Grooming is a set of seemingly innocent behaviors used by an adult to gain ongoing access, authority and control over a child for the purpose of sexually victimizing that child. Grooming can also help prevent disclosure by child victims. Grooming can be done simply by an adult paying attention, showing affection, or giving gifts to a child. It is a dynamic process that depends on the skill of the offender and the reaction of the victim. It may last a number of years or just a matter of minutes with similar results. It is important to know that grooming can be aimed at targeted children, their friends, parents, guardians and/or the community as a whole.
Many offenders will groom a number of children at the same time. This is known as a “grooming pipeline.” This allows offenders to victimize multiple children at or around the same time or sequentially.
Grooming results in “compliant victimization.”
The vast majority of child sex victims do not report that they have been victimized. This is because grooming and sexually victimizing children causes confusion, shame, guilt and embarrassment in the victims. However, it can also create trust, a debt of gratitude, and sometimes love between the victim and the offender. This reinforces the “conspiracy of silence” that exists around all things sexual and helps to insure that the victims will return to the offender and not tell their parents or authorities about their victimization. We call this “compliant victimization.”
As adults we censor what children see and hear regarding sex and in a number of non-verbal ways. We whisper when we talk to each other about it. We turn the channel on the TV or radio when the subject arises. We block sexually related web sites from their on-line devices. All of these actions send a strong message to children that sex is not something we want to talk about. So, if something sexual happens to them, they feel they have done something wrong and therefore do not speak up about it.
So how do you protect your children from grooming and sexual victimization by these insidious offenders? The single most effective way to do this is to have an open dialog, back-and-forth, with your children about sex and “nice guy/gal” offenders.
You must have two-way conversations about sex, grooming, and sexual victimization with your children to protect them.
Can you imagine a world in which we “protect” children from the dangers of crossing a busy street by not telling them about it? Would we ever think that they would be safer if we keep them “innocent” and not warning them that they could get hurt if they don’t look both ways? Of course not. We recognize the risks associated with crossing streets, so we warn our kids about them. We hold their hands while crossing when they are young and we discuss the reasons and the dangers associated with this activity. This is how we empower our kids to go out into a world and how we enable them to participate in their own protection.
Unfortunately we don’t employ the same logic when dealing with sex and sexual victimization. Instead we try to keep our children sheltered from sexual information. The problem is, if they don’t even know a threat exists, they will not be prepared for it and won’t know how do deal with it. Children need to know that they can talk to their parents about sexual things. Parents should have a calm, supportive, loving discussion with them about the fact that even people who seem “good” and who they and their parents trust and love, could try to do something sexual with them.
If children feel comfortable having this discussion with their parents, then they will be much more likely to tell if something has or is about to happen to them. Children also need to know that no matter what has happened or what they feel they may have done wrong, their parents still love them and want to protect them.
Jim Clemente is a retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent/Profiler and former Prosecutor for the New York City Law Department. For over a decade he was an FBI Profiler investigating serial violent and sexual crimes. He is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of child sexual victimization, sexual homicide, and child abduction. Today he teaches and consults on criminal and civil cases and provides commentary for multiple news and entertainment shows.
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