About Author: JB is the volunteer co-coordinator, and a regular writer, for Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia. She is a stay-at-home mum with 6 children aged between the ages of 7 months and 20 years and is currently working toward a BA Literature / Sociology, and a diploma in counselling.
Child sexual abuse is a topic nobody wants to talk about. Not only is it an uncomfortable subject, but like most crimes, we assume that ‘the system’ is taking care of it, and that it couldn’t possibly be happening to anyone we know. The problem is that the less we talk about it, the easier it is for abusers to offend.
So, is it possible to spot a predator? Gavin De Becker, author of ‘Protecting the gift’, believes that it is, and his techniques are not what you might think.
Have you ever seen a Cone Snail? They sit silently beneath the water in their beautiful, brightly colored shells, so tempting to pick up and examine.
King Snakes, on the other hand, have a menacing appearance as they slither through the undergrowth, bearing a frightening resemblance to the highly venomous coral snake.
Yet while the King Snake is harmless enough to be kept as a pet, the Cone Snail fires a barbed spear capable of injecting you with a potent neurotoxin that can kill you in four minutes!
Does this mean that we can’t, or shouldn’t try to, judge whether or not a person is a potential predator? According to De Becker (2000), it is not only possible, but necessary to try to make such judgements, in order to protect both ourselves, and our loved ones.
So how do we do this if a wolf can masquerade as a sheep, and vice versa? De Becker offers seven ‘Survival Signals’ to help you pull back these disguises sooner.
The first sign is what he calls “Forced Teaming”. When someone is trying to ‘build rapport’ with you (a feel-good term for gaining your trust sooner than is natural), they will often try to make it seem that you share a connection that really isn’t there.
An example of this might be “we’ve missed the bus, what are we going to do now?” or “we’ve really done it this time, now we’re in trouble!” They create the illusion that you are ‘on the same side’, and ‘part of a team’, which implies that you wouldn’t want to let ‘your teammates’ down.
The second sign is ‘Charm and Niceness’. These things are intellectual decisions, and not indicative of character. Anyone can be charming or nice; those things do not equal ‘good’.
The more overt the ‘niceness’, the more likely that it is calculated to ‘charm’ or manipulate you.
The third sign is ‘Too Many Details’. Put simply, when an explanation involves a number of unnecessary details, it’s likely that someone is trying to convince you of something they really don’t believe themselves. It’s “My son is playing over there,” compared to “My son, he’s 5 too, he’s over there playing with a robot, he’s always fiddling with electronics.”
The fourth sign ‘Typecasting’. In an effort to provoke you into proving them wrong, a person might label you in an unflattering way, for example “you seem too prudish to do that,” or “you aren’t that adventurous.”
The fifth sign ’Loan Sharking’ can appear harmless, but in this context it is far more sinister. Someone offering unsolicited help will normally expect you to ‘naturally’ want to do something in return. “Here, let me help you carry that,” then “oh no, I’ve dropped my wallet somewhere, can you help me look for it?”
The sixth sign ‘Unsolicited Promise’. When someone offers you a promise when you appear to be in doubt, they are doing nothing more than trying to convince you, without adding any valid points. A promise is no guarantee. Children are particularly vulnerable to this one, because to a child, a promise is unbreakable!
Finally, the seventh sign is ‘Ignoring the Word No’. While this might seem obvious, it is often cloaked in hospitality, “I insist”, “you simply must”, “I won’t take no for an answer”.
Although it comes across as friendliness, this behaviour shows a lack of respect for your boundaries, and a desire on the part of the other person to control the situation.
Taken individually, these signs are seemingly harmless – much like the Cone Snail – but when viewed as pieces in a puzzle of predatory behaviour, you will find that you can often discover a person’s true intentions long before they drop that seductive veil of congeniality.
Speaking with your children over time about these signs will ensure they are armed enough to know when something is not quite right.
Some facts for you!
- 1 in every 6 boys, and 1 in every 3 girls is a victim of sexual assault before the age of 16
- 93% of abusers are known to the victim
- 80% of abusers are family or close friends
- Between 23% and 40% cases the abuser is another child (this does not include normal childhood curiosity)
- Some sexual abusers are female, but between 86% (male victims) and 94% (female victims) are male.
- Each male abuser of girls has an average of 52 victims
- Each male abuser of boys has a staggering average of 150 victims
- Only 3% of these crimes are ever detected (the researchers guarantee anonymity)
- Statistically, children living with a parent and their live-in partner are at far greater risk of abuse
- NSW data shows that approximately 15% of reported child sexual abuse cases lead to prosecution, of those only 40% result in a guilty verdict.
- The average custodial sentence for those convicted of child sexual abuse in Australia is 6 years • On average, convicted child sexual abusers serve just over half of their custodial sentence