Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner explains the six stages that can lead up to sexual molestation.The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by instilling in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs. He describes 6 stages of the grooming process in an article for Oprah (Source).
1. Targeting the victim
This process with my abuser began for me in 6th grade, the same age my son is now. I am from a small town where constant parental oversight wasn't necessary. Artesia prided itself around it's dedication to children. While my abuse didn't start in 6th grade, the grooming did. My parents recently moved in with my family and brought with them a few boxes of old photos and items from my childhood. I found my 6th grade yearbook and found my abusers name signed in the book. That signature brought back the memories of the inappropriate conversations he would have with me. Conversations about his physical relationship with his wife or the strip clubs he visited in Vegas that year. The kid in that yearbook. The kid who labeled himself "cool" had been targeted and didn't even know it yet.
Stage 2: Gaining the victim's trust
The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. My abuser was a teacher and a coach. My grooming was able to take place over years as I matured and moved toward high school. I know now that he didn't act sooner because he was abusing someone older than me. It was like he was creating a line up of victims to account for kids growing up and leaving town.
Stage 3: Filling a need
Once the sex offender begins to fill the child's needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child's life and may become idealized. In the time my grooming intensified, I was in the shadow of my brother. My brother was a huge star in our town. He was one of the best wide receivers the town had seen at that point. He was on his way to a Division 1 full ride scholarship at the state college and was a really big deal. While I was successfully working myself through the junior high and junior varsity football programs, everyone, including myself, wondered if I would ever live up to the expectations having a star athlete brother brings. I know it sounds so silly and very much an adolescent right of passage to feel this insecure as an early adolescent. The only difference for me is that I had been targeted. My abuser seized this insecurity and used it to deepen the "relationship" and "connection" we had. He was going to be my position coach after all. He could guide me to meet these expectations.
Stage 4: Isolating the child
The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. I still remember all these moments. His car pulling into our driveway when my parents were away or occupied, just stopping by to chat or play video games. He would take me on long drives in country roads. He would bring me little gifts from his trips with his wife. He cultivated a special relationship creating a sense in me that he loved and appreciated me in a way that others, not even my parents, provided. Looking back it all makes sense to me. He was using these tactics to lay a foundation of trust to isolate me from others.
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship.At that point, the adult exploits a child's natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. He escalated his talk of his sexual history. At that point, I had never had any sexual encounters at all in my life. Then it was another visit to play another round of video games. It was a bet that the loser would give the loser a hand job. He lost of course. It just escalated after that. I still remember how he approached intercourse. Telling me he had read in a book at a bookstore that there was no danger in two men having sex. I was 14 at this point. Of course I went along with this. The emotional connection was locked down and he led me right where he wanted me.
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. In a fiercely conservative and religious town, secrecy was completely necessary. He assured me secrecy made our "relationship" even more special. So as my high school years went on so did the country drives, visits to his classroom on weekend afternoons when he was planning, and night time visits to the garage behind his home. The longer it went on, the deeper the "connection" grew as did the need for secrecy. If people saw us getting closer and closer, then they might suspect something. Every time a community member, friend, or family member would comment on how close we were or raised questions about the time we spent together, the deeper the need for secrecy grew as did the need to turn to my abuser to help me keep the secret. It was a sad and vicious cycle.
This was not an easy post to write, but it is a necessary one. I am writing it to answer the questions people might have about "how does this happen" and/or "how are abusers able to coax children into abusive situations". Abusers have a plan. They fine tune it through the years as the leave more and more victims in their wake. If you have your own kids or children in your life you love and adore, keep an eye out for adults who exhibit these behaviors. It just takes one person to break through and stop it. Abusers are skilled, very skilled. But it takes just one vigilant person in a child's life that tears down the wall of the emotional manipulation and stops the abuse.
Thank you for reading. I pulled a lot of information from the following article.