Sexual abuse – for any parent a frightening notion to even consider could happen to their children. With well known actor Anthony Edwards sharing his personal trauma with the public, specifically alleging that he was molested by producer Gary Goddard when Anthony was a teenager, Dr. Oz provided a venue in which Anthony’s friends Bret Douglas Nighman and Mark Driscoll came out both in support of their friend, and to share their moving stories. I appeared briefly on this segment which will be airing tomorrow 12/7/17.
Having the opportunity to speak with Dr. Oz, and these brave men pre and post the segment behind the scenes, it was significant to me that I was asked various questions directed to me by Dr. Oz and the producer. As a mental health professional, I am mindful that this is a very important topic, and important that as a people we are talking about it! It was meaningful to me that I had the opportunity to get to know Bret and Mark, hear their stories of pain and triumph and discuss various topics with them. Therefore, following filming, I decided to take some time today to put together in a Q&A format 5 top questions answered – that the public may wish to know about sexual abuse and pedophilia, based upon the topics explored behind the scenes between myself, Dr. Oz, the producer, and Bret and Mark. I hope you find this information helpful. The 5 topics in today’s blog article includes: 1) grooming the child victim, 2) how child molesters are able to get away with it for so long, 3) pedophilia profile, 4) why some victims maintain a relationship with their abuser, 5) what parents need to know to protect their children from child molesters.
How important is grooming the victim for pedophiles?
Grooming is the process the molester undertakes to gain a child’s trust and sometimes the parents trust as well. Over the course of months or even years the child molester increasingly becomes a trusted friend (e.g., takes child shopping or on trips, offers to spend time in other ways). GROOMING is the KEY, it is very important as it is the process in which the thoughts/desires pedophiles have shift from thoughts to actual action. Not all pedophiles are child molesters. Many pedophiles won’t begin abusing a child until trust has been gained- and that is when thoughts shift to actions.
How are child molesters able to get away with it for so long?
- Confused: Often this person has become such an important person in the child’s life, so trusted that the child feels confused about what is happening. It is hard enough to understand it themselves, let alone communicate it to someone else. Especially in cases of grooming – the child has been groomed and thus the connection, the closeness, the bond, the trust is already there that runs so deep, before the molestation begins.
- Fear: Fear that if they share the information they won’t be believed since this person is often so trusted and liked by adults. Fear that if they do say something and they are believed fear of the consequences (e.g., how others will view them, what bad things will happen to this person that was their friend, fear that the benefits of what they have from the relationship will end and thus the child fears: where will that leave them?).
- Shame/blame: Feeling ashamed, that this is only happening to you and blaming yourself for it.
Is there a “profile” of a pedophile or some shared general characteristics?
- There is no one physical characteristic, appearance, profession or personality type that all child molesters have.
- They can be any sex, race or religion.
- Often appears charming and loving.
- They can be and often are – in good standing with the community.
- Most child molesters are known to the children they abuse.
- Many sexual predators have a history of abuse in their own past (physical or sexual).
- Many have mental illness.
- Child molesters tend to talk about and treat children as though they are adults and refer to a child like they would an adult friend or lover.
- They often say they love all children and feel like they are still children. A child molester often does not display as much interest in adults as they do in children.
- They may have jobs that allow them to be around children or contrive other ways to spend time with children (coach, babysitter, neighbor trying to help). They attempt to step in as “parent figure” for the child.
Why do victims maintain relationships with their abusers?
There are several reason why this occurs. The main feature is that since the abuser, the child molester is often an important person in the victim’s life, there is a double side to this person. The side that the victim is close to, in essence the side of the abuser that has been so nice and loving to them, is the side that the victim wishes to keep in their life. Therefore, for some victims they are able to compartmentalize the abusers horrific actions from their positive side. For some victims it is because the abuser helps them (e.g., get a job/boss). For others it is because the victim is able to “make sense” of the abuser’s behavior believing that the abuser is ill, and therefore wants to help their abuser. For most victims there is a desire to heal from the trauma, thus there is a belief (albeit often subconscious) that if you continue to have a connection with the abuser, and he/she stops abusing/changes, then you can heal from the trauma and your own pain is not “for nothing” so to speak.
What should parents know to protect their children from child molesters?
- Parents be aware and alert for signs of grooming.
- The main thing parents can do to protect their children is: be involved in your child’s life – that’s the best way to guard against child molesters. As they will look for a child who is vulnerable and isn’t getting attention from parents. Attend games, practices and rehearsals, chaperone filed trips, spend time getting to know the adults in your child’s life. Make it clear that you are an involved present parent. Express interest in all of their activities.
- Take the time to talk to your child every day to have an open trusting relationship.
- Never dismiss a child’s claims or observations.
- Have regular discussions with your child about who he or she is communicating with online and in person.
- Ensure your children know if someone asks them to keep a secret from you it is not because the child will get into trouble it’s because the person who asked them to keep the secret knows what they are doing is wrong.
- Teach your children the difference between appropriate adult behavior and unacceptable behavior. For example, sex jokes, touching is never okay.
- Make sure your child feels emotionally supported by you.
- Let your child know he or she can tell you anything.