Child sex offenders are masters of deceit.
They are most often a trusted figure in a child’s life and use that trust to confuse, manipulate, and control a child over time. This process is called sexual grooming, which is a long-term tactic used by abusers to gain trust of a child, isolate and abuse them.
Grooming often looks like normal, caring behavior between an adult and a child. It involves expressing affection towards a child, giving gifts and taking them out on social outings. What distinguishes normal, loving behavior and sexual grooming is isolation, secret keeping, sexual conversations and innuendos.
Grooming is quantified in seven steps:
- Identifying and targeting the victim
- Gaining trust and access
- Playing a role in the child’s life
- Isolating the child
- Creating secrecy around the relationship
- Initiating sexual contact
- Controlling the relationship
Secrecy is vital to sexual predators – it’s how they control their relationship with the victim. Predators will do what they can to make a child scared to reveal the abuse, like telling them no one will believe them or blaming the child by saying the child “made” the predator do this to them.
Sadly, the brave young victims that do eventually disclose their abuse are only beginning the long, painful journey to putting their abuser behind bars. Currently, the court process for such cases requires a child victim witness and an adult victim witness to testify against the accuser. Furthermore, both the child and the adult are expected to provide sufficient evidence AND a testimony to sustain a conviction.
Imagine being a child in that situation. You have survived sexual abuse and overcome the embarrassment, shame and fear of finally telling someone. Now, you have to stand up in court and recount what happened to you in front of a judge, a jury full of strangers, defense attorneys and your abuser, and you must do so in a way that is considered to be “sufficient” evidence. And to top it off, your abuser – an adult who you know is capable of manipulation – has the opportunity to tell their side of the story, too.
The team at Building Hope Today understand this situation because we have been victims in court, too. Today, we are committed to changing this process by teaching prosecution teams how to use grooming as evidence. We believe this will strengthen cases against sexual predators and make the court process less painful for victims.
We have already seen success in using grooming as evidence. Thus far, seven cases in Southeast Idaho have ended with the abuser behind bars. Many, if not all seven cases, were at risk of the abuser walking free due to lack of evidence and understanding.
This month, we officially launched our Legal Track – a training program for law enforcement and legal teams to learn the seven steps of grooming, understand how to quantify grooming as supporting evidence, and better understand why children don’t immediately disclose abuse so they can communicate a victim’s delayed disclosure to a judge and jury in court.
Our Legal Track is a 10-hour training broken into four modules: grooming and expert witness, investigation, prosecution, and disposition. We are looking forward to partnering with more investigators, first responders, attorneys, counselors, schools and faith leaders to teach them the dynamics of sexual grooming and how this knowledge can hold abusers accountable in court and protect potential victims.
If you are interested in conducting a training with your team, please get in touch with Alethea Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.