Sexual Grooming & Child Abuse
Media Push To Normalize Sexual Relations Between Adults And Children
As a personal injury attorney, we more commonly hear about cases of Catholic, gay priests targeting young boys than members of the public at large raping kids. The state has seemingly become a willing partner in targeting young boys for sexual assault, particularly for assaults by adult males. With the passage of SB 145 doing away with the law requiring a convict's name on the registered sex offender's list (Megan's Law), parents must be more cautious than before.
But the priest, pre-school, or elementary school teacher example is the model, serial child sexual predators desire. The physical and mental disabilities that can result from predator/prey relationship problems faced by young boys, in particular, become sexual identity problems and mental disorders following children into their adult lives. Little girls face similar issues.
Sexual grooming is often the precursor to most of the cases where children are abused by adults. Recent cases like Harvey Weinstein and Epstein show that the rich and powerful seem to prefer raping children and other lewd acts. Sexual grooming is the process in which the perpetrator follows a certain method or ritualized pattern before committing a sexual crime in order to win the trust of his or her victim, and other people around the victim.
In most cases, children become the victims but victims can also be adult people who are vulnerable. This preparatory process that most child abusers will follow needs to be understood in detail for parents and children to be prepared for any bad event coming in their way.
Introduction To Sexual Grooming
For parents and professionals to be able to prevent such crimes from taking place, the process of sexual grooming must be understood in detail. Such deep knowledge and analysis of the whole process can help prove intentions of future sexual activity and the crime of sexual grooming (in jurisdictions where it is considered a crime) where the testimony given by the victim is not very clear. Let us have a look at the common aspects of sexual grooming that most perpetrators will reflect on during the process.
- They will always target their victim.
- Making it possible to have access to their victim and creating opportunities to be alone with them
- Winning the trust of the victim and the people around the victim
- Keeping the relationship secret
Sexual grooming can take place in the following settings:
- On a personal level, i.e., when the offender meets the victim in person
- Through phone calls or cyber relations
- Institutional setups
Defining the sexual grooming process depends on who you ask. The definition created by SMART – the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking – is basically:
A grooming process where the offender makes efforts to win a child’s trust and the trust of people around that child, giving the criminal access to the lonely child. Some cases involving sexual grooming see the offender use threats and intimidation to scare the child into silence. In most cases, the sexual offender will build a trusting relationship with the child's family.
The process begins when the offender makes their instruction to the family by pretending to be very caring and useful. During this bonding process, the offender gets closer with your child, building more trust with supervising adults. By winning the adults' confidence around the child, the offenders position themselves around the child without doubting the offender’s ill intentions.
The reason why the offender goes through the grooming process is because of the offender:
- Wants to take advantage of the trust of the adults
- Wins trust of the child (so the child would not resist the offender’s obscene moves and instead become a participant in the act)
- It prevents the child from disclosing the facts
- It makes it difficult for adults to believe the child if they take the step of informing the family about the offender’s acts
- It makes it nearly impossible for people to know about his intent and acts
There are some common aspects associated with the behavior of a child abuser. Most of these common factors can be detected in the offender's behavior when he/she is preparing the child for sexual activity and abuse.
The common behavioral factors to detect and identify the ill intents of a child abuser are as follows:
- Too much interest in the child
- Finds ways to be alone with the child
- He won't remove his eyes from the child
- Special treatment
- Have a relationship with the family to talk to their child
- Buy the child gifts
- Extra favors
- Preferences on gender and age
These are the general behaviors that most child abusers will possess and are quite un-doubtable. However, these offenders might also take a different route wherein they do activities directly explicit and arousing for the children.
Such activities can include but are not limited to:
- Bathing the child
- Entering the room where the child is changing clothes
- Entering the toilet when the child is inside
- Compelling the child to see the offender using the toilet
- Playing tickling games and "accidentally" touching genitalia
- Taking part in clothing removal activities
- Playing “doctor” or other games where there are excuses for feeling the genitalia
- Playing games while wearing only underwear.
- Talking about genitals in front of the child
- Telling jokes related to sex
- Bringing up sexually arousing topics pretending it's for education purposes
- Showing nude and sexually arousing pictures to the child
- Asking the child to pose for pictures while wearing very little or no clothes
These are some of the many things that such offenders will do to stimulate the sexual organs so that children won’t be able to notice the ill intent.
Protection Of Children From Such Abusers
People need to understand what sexual grooming means. It is their responsibility to bring it to authorities' notice when they notice such acts in their surroundings. Keeping the law enforcement departments informed is the only way to put an end to such a practice. Furthermore, many people might think that such preparatory methods adopted by sex offenders are only preliminary acts before committing the crime. The truth is that in many jurisdictions, in certain circumstances, such as sexual grooming is a crime per se.
- Federal Take On Sexual Grooming
The code dealing with this matter in the law is called the federal enticement statute. The contents of the code mentioned under section 2422 bring into account the use of interstate commerce by any individual for enticing, coercing, and persuading an underage child (under 18) to do any activity that can be considered illegal and calls it an offense.
We can see that the state has taken an unequivocal stance on sexual exploitation of the child and the preparatory procedure followed by the child abusers – referred to here as sexual grooming. An important point to note in the federal statement about the act is that it focuses on the effects of such activities on the child's future actions rather than putting all the emphasis on the intentions of the perpetrator.
We can see that section 2422(b) is not focusing on the intentions of the offender while trying to arouse, entice, or persuade a child. It emphasizes that if such arousal and persuasion result in pushing a child towards an activity that is considered illegal by law, the offender will violate the code and be apprehended. There is an excellent example for us in the United States v. Chambers case where Chambers had presented an argument that he cannot be convicted because he never had any intentions of meeting the girl. The girl in this particular case was an FBI agent.
However, The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Chambers asserting he violated the code by taking substantial steps towards abuse that child. The court referred to the definition of grooming and stated that his actions reflected a pure sexual grooming form.
The jury's verdict returned, stating that Chambers had taken the steps that were enough to prove his ill intent. He had failed to materialize his intent, but his actions violated Section 2422(b) enough for the prosecutor to file charges and make their arrest. Moreover, Chambers chat with his 14-year old victim about sexual topics continuously over the internet. He even showed his victim sexually arousing content, urging her to touch her genitalia, preparing her for intercourse by explaining the act of sex.
- Enactment Of Enticement Statues In Several States
Several state statutes follow the federal enticement of minor laws enforced through national offices. We can use the Illinois example as a tool to identify and prove the elements of sexual grooming on the internet, local bulletin board services, etc. Their goal remains arousing or enticing a child or their caretakers, preparing them for an offense covered under section 2 of the Sex Offender Registration Act. Civil liberties advocates and child welfare advocates dislike these anti pedo laws with their strict liability against abusers.
- Importance Of Expert Testimony
We have to admit that many of the behaviors associated with child abusers would seem familiar in other non-abusing people. For example, a child abuser would give a child gifts, but an average person with good intentions might do the same. In this scenario, courts, where preparatory procedures by an abuser are considered a standalone crime, can use expert testimony on the behavior of the child abuser and take help from this testimony in concluding the case. Many pundits believe analysis experts will significantly help people understand the offender’s modus operandi.
The United States v. Hitt is an excellent example of a case where prosecutors use experts against offender Hitt, who allegedly intended to have sexual intercourse with a child he enticed to cross beyond state borders. Hitt was interested too much in the child and went to several places with the child, such as movies, ice skating, etc., and had the intention of involving in illicit sex with the child. Experts provided their testimony to shed light on most child abusers' behaviors as part of the sexual grooming process.
Hitt stated such testimony did not prove his intentions, and the analyses were generic. However, the government did not agree with Hitt in this case, declaring other courts had accepted such testimonies. Hence, there was no issue.
Expert Testimony As Grooming Evidence
Courts allow the state to use expert testimony as child sex grooming evidence, and such cases have already taken place in courts. The government takes this step when the victim unable to narrate their victimization competently. Light v. Martel accepted indirect expert testimony as evidence to help provide full details of grooming behavior, explaining methods used by child sex groomers.
The behavioral aspects mentioned in the testimony were quite similar to what Light had been doing with young victims. Giving gifts to little girls, getting them interested in him by showing them cartoons, etc., were some of the things he did. The court accepted the testimony because it made things easier to solve, making it helpful and entirely relevant to the case.
Training And Advocacy On The Matter
Society must know the details of sexual grooming, taking timely measures when they see such activities. Specialists must train the legal community about sexual grooming by providing lawyers with the right materials to better serve their clients.
What We Conclude
Child abuse cases are not rare. Parents must look out for people with authority over their kids, rejecting notions of blind faith that our government is our protector. CPS is just as likely to remove your children from your custody for not being vigilant as the prosecutor would be in going after the predator you negligently trusted. The stories are on TV almost all the time. If you haven’t seen anything near you, something must have happened in a town a little far away.
Some abusers might be grooming a child while you read these lines. We cannot compete with such evil of the society unless we have the right knowledge, and we are ready to spread this knowledge further and stop such happenings as soon as we come across them. Law enforcement must devise better ways of informing communities about child abuse, sexual grooming, and child abuse prevention.
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