“Naah..he cant be a perpetrator, I know him for years”He’s a well-known person in the society; everyone respects him; he would never do something like that” These are common statements we hear when faced with the possibility of CSA by a perpetrator.

Sometimes the biggest offenders are the one’s closest

They may look and act just like anyone else, and are around us in different roles in the society. They can be family members, neighbours or our friends. About 60% of perpetrators are people that the family trust, and not necessarily paedophiles. Perpetrators have a motivation, ability to overcome internal and external inhibitions towards abuse and the ability to overcome the child’s resistance (Finkelhor, 1994). Lack of parental supervision, gaining the trust of the caregiver are often prerequisites to CSA. If the child has a poor relationship with the parents/ caregiver, or if the child has emotional / basic needs that are not often met by parents, it is yet another gateway for perpetrators.

While it is important to educate children about good/bad touch, and be wary of strangers, preventing CSA does not stop there. Very often, CSA does not happen in the first encounter between the child and perpetrator. A process called “grooming” is also part of it – meeting the child’s emotional needs, providing them with special attention/ favors/ gifts, sharing secrets etc are some of the ways in which a child is groomed. One might wonder here- why does the child adhere to this? He /she should just be educated not to take favors from strangers. But consider a household where the parents are constantly fighting with each other, or one where both the parents have extremely hectic jobs with less time to spend with the child.

Sweets and toys, the perfect lure

Children are children- they are drawn towards pleasure and run away from pain. So if a stranger offers them the emotional comfort/ toys/ toffees that he doesn’t see his parents offering when required, it is an easy way for the perpetrator to enter the child’s world, and thus, not the child’s fault in any way. The child’s family can be groomed as well. Gaining the trust of the family, being a reliable neighbour, proving their innocence and trustworthiness, providing proof of professions of good social standing are such examples. By this process, the perpetrator gradually gains more control over the child and can threaten/ bribe the child into maintaining secrecy around CSA.

Now does this mean that we live a life being suspicious of everyone around us?

No.

However, two key takeaways here are: Observe the child and his environment. No matter what, listen- pay heed to and believe what your child is trying to communicate,without judgment. If the child says he/she does not feel comfortable around someone, do not force him/her to go to them. Be aware/mindful of where your child is,who he/she is playing with. Develop and enhance the bond between you and your child; make it a habit to listen to how their day was; communicate to the child that he/she can talk to you regarding anything they want, and it won’t be met with judgment. And in case of any sign of a disturbing relationship between the child and someone, act on it. Let your child know that you are on his/her team, no matter what!

References:

Rudolph J, Zimmer-Gembeck MJ, Shanley DC, Hawkins R. Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Opportunities: Parenting, Programs, and the Reduction of Risk. Child Maltreatment. 2018;23(1):96-106. doi:10.1177/1077559517729479

Author: Dr. Radhika K is a clinical psychologist practicing in Bangalore who has completed her MPhil and PhD in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS. Her focus with respect to research and clinical practice are trauma, sexual and emotional abuse in childhood/adulthood. She can be contacted at radhika3688@gmail.com.