Surviving Sexual Assault
Book authored by alumna Samantha Leonard sheds light on how predators “groom” victims.
What do parents and guardians need to know?
Step 1: Selecting the Victim
Sexual predators often target children by first assessing their vulnerabilities, which may include emotional dependencies, social isolation, poor self-esteem or an unstable home life. Children with divorced parents are especially vulnerable.
Step 2: Gaining Trust
To gain trust, sexual predators pose as trustworthy caretakers while getting to know the child’s needs and how to fill them. During this phase, the predator is learning about the child—watching and gathering information—and developing an affectionate relationship. Disciplined predators are unlikely to reveal themselves with overly-affectionate behavior that will arouse the suspicion of other adults.
Step 3: Filling Needs
To create a sense of dependency in their victims, sexual predators will fill needs. Obvious red flags are gifts, money or extra affection, but this step can also take the form of rides, tutoring or even a job so the child can earn extra money. By filling these needs, the predator will become idealized in the eyes of the victim.
Step 4: Isolating the Victim
By this point, predators will have developed a special relationship with their victims and will begin to isolate them from family and friends. This often takes the form of physical isolation, such as creating situations in which they are alone, such as babysitting, tutoring or coaching. However, this also takes the form of emotional isolation: predators begin conditioning their victims to see flaws in everyone else, especially parents, while continuing to fill needs and be idealized by the victim. Once the predator instills a belief that they are the only person who truly loves and cares for the child, the relationship will become sexualized.
Step 5: Sexualizing the Relationship
Having gained trust and established emotional dependence, the predator will begin to sexualize the relationship by taking advantage of a child’s natural curiosity. This phase usually starts out small, perhaps with “accidental” moments of contact that progressively desensitize the victim to sexual feelings and contact. It progresses from there until the predator has created an environment where the child reacts positively to sexual experiences.
Step 6: Maintaining Control
In the final step, everything turns to protecting the predator, who will intimidate, blame and shame the child into silence. Predators will threaten to withhold whatever needs they are fulfilling, such as rides or gifts. By this point, many children will begin to feel trapped and like everything is their fault. The threat of humiliation makes some victims reluctant to come forward.