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Who are the Victims?

Abusers and Grooming Tactics

Signs & Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse

Stages of Healthy Sexual Development

Preventing Abuse Starts in the Home

Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

Abusers and Grooming Tactics*

Most people who sexually abuse children look and appear to act just like everyone else. It's hard to face the fact that someone we know-and even like or love-might sexually abuse a child. But the truth is that in 90% of cases, the child knows and trusts the person who commits the abuse.

This means that most abusers are either immediate family members or other close relatives. Others in the child's circle of trust may also be abusers. These include those with easy access to children because of their work in schools, child care centers, youth groups, sports teams, religious organizations and in other settings where children live and play. In most caases, child molesters look no different than the average person, so that they can abuse children undetected.

There are various reasons why people sexually abuse children. A subgroup of child molesters are "pedophiles" that molest children because they are sexually attracted to them. Other moelsters are anti-social or psychopathic who lacks any empathy and feel entitled to meet their own needs for power. Still others use children for the intimacy they are too timid or impaired to obtain from their adult peers. Finally, some molest for reasons we don't understand at all.

Sadly, in 40% or more of cases, children and teens are also involved in sexually offending against their peers or younger children. The encouraging news is that with counseling and support, most children who have sexually offended can resume normal lives and become healthy children and adults.

Grooming Tactics of Sexual Abusers:
  • Abusers are often friendly, socially adept, and likeable. For them, niceness is not a personality trait; it is a calculated decision.
  • They are patient and can build trust slowly over time before they actually abuse.
  • They may select jobs where they have legitimate access to children and can carefully choose their preferred victim targets.
  • They may befriend, date, or move in with single or divorced mothers to gain access to their chidlren.
  • They may befriend children they believe are needier of an adult's special attention, e.g. boys with no father figures, children with low self-esteem, and children with few friends.
  • They may befriend children with physical, mental or emotional disabilities, calculating that these children are more easily manipulated, or less likely to disclose abuse, or to be believed if they tell.
  • They constantly communicate messages to their victims such as:
  • "Nobody will believe you."
    "You'll get in big trouble."
    "Your family will be angry, disgusted, stop loving you."
    "We'll both go to jail."
    "If you tell, I'll hurt you, your family, or your pet."


    While none of the indicators listed below necessarily indicate that a person is grooming your child or family, they are things to watch out for and ask questions about. Pay particular attention when an adult or older youth:

  • Seems overly interested in your child and creates opportunities to spend time alone with him/her.
  • Gives special privileges or gifts to your child.
  • Befriends your family and shows more interest in a relationship with your child than with you.
  • Plays with your child in a way that makes you uncomfortable
  • Seems "too good to be true" (e.g., babysitting for free, taking your child on special outings).
  • Creates opportunities to be around your child outside the context of their given role.
  • Remember: the most loving thing you can do for a person who has a sexual behavior problem is to make sure they get the help they need to stop the behavior.

    *Information gathered from Program Materials.
    **Credit: Vermont Department for Children and Families, 2010. Step Up: Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

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    Amanda Haboush-Deloye: Director of Programs- PCA Nevada

    Tara Phebus: Interim Executive Director, NICRP

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