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What's Up Magazine

Protecting Children from the Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Sep 05, 2018 12:00AM
By Janice F. Booth

Everybody knows they will face tough times when they need to call on friends for support and comfort. I was no different. I thought I knew who I could call on for help and who was toxic for me. But my call for help was like the bleating of a lamb tethered to a stake. I was about to tumble into a dark place, a place where my children would become prey, my friend become our predator. - Marilyn Hawes’s description of her experience as the mother of three sons preyed upon by a pedophile.

How do we protect those we love from danger? When we learn about the danger, we warn those at risk, and we try to keep them safe. In this case it is our children who are vulnerable; pedophiles prey upon their vulnerability. 

What is pedophilia? The International Classification of Diseases classifies it as a mental illness involving a recurring sexual preference for prepubescent or pubescent children. Sadly, pedophilia frequently leads to child sexual abuse (CSA). Twenty percent of American children have been sexually molested, according to a 2017 study published
in Psychology Today.

How can we prevent our children from becoming the victim of a pedophile who may be disguised as a teacher, coach, or religious minister? 

We must educate ourselves and inoculate our children, just as we would against any other virulent disease. 

While there are programs in place to help victims of child sexual abuse through the law enforcement, social services, and mental health communities, it is far better if we avoid the terror of a pedophiles victimization. We must educate ourselves and our children to recognize danger signs of predatory behavior. We must expose and stop pedophiles before they prey on our children.

So far, we have been only modestly successful at protecting our children from sexual abuse. While there was a decline in cases of child sexual abuse in the 1990s, the number of reported cases of sexual abuse of children has been rising, according to the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report. In 2012, nearly 63,000 cases were reported. These sexually abused children come from all socioeconomic, educational, religious, ethnic, and cultural groups, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  No child is immune to the pedophile’s entrapment.

Over 90 percent of pedophiles are men. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 82 percent of the victims of child sexual abuse are female. And this is important: 90 percent of these victims know their assailants, the pedophiles. But don’t jump to conclusions; only 40 percent of these known assailants are family members—a designation that includes babysitters, neighbors, family friends, or childcare providers, according to the Department of Justice. The remaining 60 percent are adults to whom our children are exposed in common, everyday situations beyond their families’ protection.

So, we know the problem is pervasive and urgent. The question is how do we prevent the sexual abuse of children? What can we do to protect our children and change those statistics? 

A renowned crusader in the United Kingdom, Marilyn Hawes, learned from personal experience how a pedophile works. The headmaster of the school where Marilyn taught molested her three sons who were students at the school. She uncovered her children’s terrible experiences and brought the pedophile to justice.  

After she won her own battle, Hawes created a nonprofit organization, Enough Abuse, which trains parents and caregivers around the world to recognize pedophiles and fight to stop sexual abuse toward children.  Hawes leads workshops and addresses conferences on methods we can all employ to protect our children and help them protect themselves. 

Hawes points out that we can use two important methods for protecting children, and with a bit of training, we can implement these defensive tactics on behalf of all children—our own and those children we know beyond our own families. (Those two defensive tactics are θ) Hawes explains, “Grooming is where expected and normal behavior [on the part of the adult] becomes overly familiar, exaggerated, intrusive, and controlling to both victim and caregivers. The groomer will slowly entwine contact deeper into the family, making themselves almost indispensable and readily on call to help. Nothing is ever too much trouble.”

A few of these behaviors should not cause undue alarm.  However, observing a cluster of these activities, five or six, by an adult who is involved with children is noteworthy, and needs to be discussed with responsible adults. If you feel uncomfortable about an adult’s interactions with children, trust your gut feelings; look more closely at the behaviors that are making you uncomfortable. 

As adults, if we observe behaviors that seem somehow not right just make a mental or physical note. Continue to observe the subject and write down with more detail what you observe, when and where. If you see what you suspect to be grooming, take notes and report what you have observed to those in authority, such as top-level supervisors or law enforcement personnel.

The pedophile grooms both the caregiver (parent or teacher) and the child. The predator will make it increasingly difficult for the prey, the child, to separate from him and from his support.  Grooming eventually breaks the bond between the child and the parent, and in doing so, the pedophile-groomer becomes the child’s authority figure. The trial and testimony from young gymnasts against the U.S. Olympic team physician exemplifies this pattern of grooming.

Over time, the pedophile usurps the authority of parents or teachers. The child shifts allegiance out of fear or a desire for approval. The pedophile may go so far as to tell the child to accuse a parent or other caregiver of sexual abuse, diverting attention from the real pedophile. The exploited child may lie and defend the sexual predator against parent or other caregiver. One victim of a predator describes the manipulation, “It wasn’t so much what they did to my body as what they did to my head.”

With encouragement from family and friends, I decided to try to help adults protect our children. I had learned the hard way what to look for, listen for, and do when faced with what feels like an unhealthy relationship between an adult and a child. Maybe I could share that knowledge and spare some families and some children the horrible experiences endured by my family. - Marilyn Hawes,

Finally, as responsible adults we must cultivate communication with the children in our care, respectfully communicating with children by listening as well as speaking. Children must be encouraged to talk about their bodies and feelings. 

There are campaigns in place to teach children what is appropriate touching and what is not. But parents and teachers must follow up the training with casual conversations and gentle inquiries. Let the children know that it’s okay to talk about feelings and to question adults. “Is there some reason you didn’t want to go on the nature walk with Mr. Jones?  You seemed a little sad when you came home from the neighbor’s yesterday. Is everything okay?”  

If children feel you are interested in them, not invading their privacy but concerned about them, they may turn to you if they are worried or uncertain. That open communication with a responsible grownup is one of the strongest defenses against the pedophile’s campaign. 

Enough Abuse offers some suggestions: “Talk about body parts in the correct language, not using “cute” words. Give examples of inappropriate behaviors by adults, for example, ‘no one should touch your private parts’…Keep these conversations as regular occurrences, not one-time events. Explain to your child who to tell and what to do if something ‘feels not right,’ if the child is uneasy.” ( 

Just as we learn about symptoms of and defenses against common childhood illnesses, we must educate ourselves about the symptoms of child sexual abuse and how to protect our children. Once we can identify the symptoms, we can remove the child from the danger and administer the necessary treatment to keep all our children healthy and safe.

Recognizing and reporting predatory behavior of grooming can protect children from becoming prey.

Alert those in authority and talk to the child or children involved if you observe five or six of these behaviors by a particular adult:

◙ If he elicits discomfort among children ◙ If children avoid a particular person ◙ If an adult seems more interested in children than in other adults ◙ If children complain about an adult, don’t ignore that, listen ◙ If someone tries to be alone with children ◙ If someone seems unusually self-sacrificing ◙ If someone is unusually friendly and generous, for example, buying expensive gifts or inviting children on exciting trips ◙ If he boasts and is eager to display status, talking about himself and his great reputation ◙ If he speaks about children in idealistic and unrealistic terms ◙ If he is drawn to vulnerable children who seem troubled and isolated ◙ If he prefers younger children ◙ If he befriends families under stress, such as single-parent families and families in financial difficulty ◙ If he photographs children, often in swimwear or shorts ◙ If he is exceptionally physical toward children, lots of touching, hugs, lap sitting, and other physical contact

What about these vulnerable Kids, the prey?

How does the pedophile choose his/her victim? A report by the American Psychological Association identifies risk factors for the child, the parent, the family, and in the environment. The vulnerable child may: 

◙ Find himself/herself in stressful home environments caused by divorce, financial problems, illness or death ◙ Welcome the attention and protection of an adult who offers to take over his/her care ◙ Be disabled or chronically ill and at greater risk because they are less likely to identify inappropriate adult behavior and less capable of defending themselves from such behavior ◙ Exhibit signs of aggression, attention deficit, and other behavior problems that leave him/her vulnerable to a strong, take-control predator 

Pedophiles look for weakness in the parents or caregivers of their potential victims. 

What the pedophile seeks is a distracted or needy parent or caregiver. For example:

◙ Parent or caregiver suffering from depression ◙ Parent or caregiver engaged in substance abuse ◙ Violence within the family ◙ Financial crisis within the family, often due to job loss or divorce ◙ Isolation of the parent or caregiver ◙ The family living in a dangerous neighborhood

How can the community and individuals help protect children from becoming victims of child sexual abuse?

According to the American Psychological Association, we can inoculate our children against pedophilia by:

◙ Exhibiting attitudes and engaging in activities that teach children coping skills, namely optimism, high self-esteem, intelligence, creativity, humor, and independence ◙ Providing a strong social-support network, stable neighborhoods, safe schools, and adequate health care ◙ Loving, accepting, positively guiding and protecting children ◙ Enforcing fair and consistent rules and expectations ◙ Becoming role models, exhibiting the skills needed to cope with stress and overcome adversity ◙ Encouraging a healthy network of friends, families, and neighbors ν Helping to build and defend families that can provide the basic needs of the child, no matter what their financial circumstances