Adults who work to build a friendship or emotional bond with a child in order to exploit them or sexually abuse them are doing what’s called “grooming.”
In San Diego, three adults with jobs that involved interacting with high school students, were arrested within days of each other. Each man is accused of sex crimes involving minors. Each has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A 48-year-old former Navy Junior ROTC instructor who served as a substitute is accused of having a relationship with a female high school student.
An assistant football coach, 27, is accused of committing lewd acts with a 13-year-old freshman female on school property, according to the criminal complaint.
In the third case, a 20-year-old tutor is accused of sex crimes with a minor.
Experts say that, most often, inappropriate relationships between adults and children begin slowly with actions that do not physically harm the victim.
Perpetrators will often use touches that feel good to the child so they will be less likely to tell.
The process, known as "grooming," is done in person or online by 89 percent of sex offenders, according to a training guide developed by the University of San Diego.
Former FBI agent Kenneth Lanning worked with the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) to identify signs of grooming.
He’s identified five steps taken by most perpetrators:
- The predator identifies a possible victim. Lanning said easy targets are children from broken homes or those who have a troubled family life.
- The perpetrator then collects information about the child, often appearing sympathetic or charming when the child has a need to discuss a problem.
- It’s important that the predator fill a need not only for the child but also for the family or parent.
- The perpetrator then works to lower inhibitions, often offering gifts or money to see how well the child can keep secrets.
- By the time the predator initiates abuse, the child may fear losing the relationship if he/she objects to the abuse
Convicted offenders tell researchers they groom targets using social media because it helps them identify common interests or hobbies they can exaggerate to find a connection with a child.
Most children will accept a friend request from someone they don't know. FBI officials say simply accepting that friend request gives a sex offender insight into a child's life.
Here are some of the warning signs you or your child may know someone who is actively grooming:
Read more about the warning signs here.
Parents can help prevent access by educating themselves on the signs of grooming and keeping an open dialogue with their child.
Instead of talking about “good touches” and “bad touches,” model healthy physical and emotional boundaries and talk about what's private and what's not.
The NCAC website lists a number of things parents should watch for when it comes to a someone grooming their child for sexual abuse.
Read more about grooming prevention here