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Protecting Your Family

1 in 10 children will experience child sexual abuse before age 18. In Oregon, 92% of child abuse victims accessing centers knew their abuser. Abusers do not gain access to children without first manipulating adults into gaining access to their children. Often abusers will carefully craft their relationships and reputations to gain this access. While the stages are only a guide, and it is possible that an adult exhibits these behaviors without being abusive, it is important to be informed and trust your intuition.

6 Stages of Grooming

Stage 1: Targeting the victim

The offender targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability—sometimes emotional neediness, isolation, and lower self-confidence. Offenders will assess families. The following household characteristics are risk factors for being a target: single-parent households, economic hardship, mental health issues, substance abuse in the house, family violence, and lack of supervision and/or perceived uninvolved parenting.

Stage 2: Gaining the victim's trust

The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know their interests and needs. The offender may act childlike when around the child or be more interested in children than adults. The offender may also gather information about the caregiver’s needs to position themselves to be around the family unit and to gain trust so their efforts proceed uninhibited.

Stage 3: Filling a need

The sex offender begins to fill the child’s needs, or the needs of their caregiver in order to maintain access to the child. Gifts, extra attention, affection, and an increased desire to spend time alone may happen in this stage. Offenders are laying the groundwork for stage 4. Children often like the offender in this time period, even idolizing him or her, based on their needs being fulfilled.

Stage 4: Isolating the child

The sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching, and special trips all enable this isolation.

A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he or she is loved or appreciated in a way that others cannot provide – not even parents. Parents should be wary and suspicious of grooming if they notice these patterns. Trust your intuition and limit access to your child.

Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship

At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, sharing pornography, changing in front of the child, even creating situations, like swimming, in which both the offender and the victim have less clothing.

The offender may push boundaries with the child and begin to exploit their curiosity and naivete. Sometimes, young children may not recognize the actions as inappropriate or harmful. As the abuse continues, the offender may continue to define the relationship as special or through sexual terms.

Stage 6: Maintaining control

Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence. The offender may tell children the activities are normal or that their parents know what’s happening. They may say the child would be in trouble or the parents would be sad if anyone found out.

With repeated abuse, the offender continues to take away the child’s power and control.

black and white image of young girl

Protective Actions

Only 1 in 10 children will tell someone about their abuse. Fortunately, there are many actions parents or caregivers can take that will create a safer, more open environment for children in their homes.

Use proper names

Use proper names for body parts and answer questions appropriate to your child’s age – a child comfortable with talking about their body and asking questions may be more confident in speaking up when they feel uncomfortable. They may also be more likely to communicate with their family members when something uncomfortable has happened.

Check your responses

How you respond to stories about sexual abuse, sexual assault, or #metoo can shape how your children feel about telling about abuse. If they hear that you don’t believe someone, they may think you won’t believe them either. This may discourage communication with you or undermine lessons they are likely learning, such as consent.

Be intuitive and curious

Children may disclose to you by saying things like, “I don’t like him” or “she hurt me” or “he helped clean me” or “I don’t like that house” or “I don’t want to go there.” Be aware of these clues and ask the child to “tell you more about that.” Remember, if in their description you have reason to believe they have been abused, do not continue questioning them, reach out to an expert by calling the child welfare hotline or your local police.

Be prepared to act

Your reaction to a child disclosing will have significance in their life. Tell the child you believe them and that they are brave. Listen to what they have to say, and do not question the child or “investigate” further. Contact your local law enforcement or the child welfare hotline. Remember, though you may feel scared, taking these steps show that you are trying to protect the child. Always take deep breaths and try to stay calm, knowing your reaction will elicit feelings within a child, like comfort or panic. You can do this.

Internet Safety, a list of “nevers”

Online child abuse, exploitation of inappropriate pictures, and children meeting up with strangers after online interactions are all on the rise. Predators have unprecedented access to children, and the secrecy of the internet is aiding their actions.

  • Never chat with someone you don’t know or arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone who contacts you through an app or online, even if they say they are another youth or friend of a friend.
  • Never give out identifying information like your name, home address, neighborhood, phone number, school information or extracurricular organizations or activities.
  • Never post public photos of yourself, send photos to someone you do not know, or send inappropriate photos to a friend or significant other.
  • Never download pictures or click on links sent from someone you don’t know.
  • Never respond to messages or posts that are suggestive obscene, bullying, or harassing.

Child Abuse Prevention Collaborative

OCAS is proud to partner with statewide entities invested in improving access to prevention services for all children in Oregon. Our Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Collaborative leverages the strengths of each of our partners with the goal of driving large-scale system improvements. CAP Collaborative members commit to working together to solve what none of us can do alone.

  • Oregon Child Abuse Solutions
  • Prevent Child Abuse Oregon
  • Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force
  • Protect Our Children, a project of The Ford Family Foundation
  • Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service
  • Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries
  • Oregon CASA Network
  • Oregon Head Start Association
  • Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative
  • Our Children Oregon
16,000 Oregonians
are trained in how to prevent child sexual abuse each year
11 Oregon CACs
provide prevention trainings
$830,000
is saved when the abuse of one child is prevented

Continue your training

Adults have an inherent responsibility to look out for the safety of children. We all play a role in stopping abuse before it happens. Schools are held to a high standard within Oregon. In 2015, Erin’s Law was passed requiring schools to provide child sexual abuse prevention curriculum to children in K-12 grades. In addition to the information at OCAS, contact your local school and ask how they are implementing Erin’s Law and if they have resources to share with you. It truly takes a village to raise a child.

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