With the proliferation of social media and ready access to the internet, sexual harassment and exploitation are at an unprecedented rate across the globe. We hear stories about people meeting up with strangers and the aftermath escalates to something heinous. 

The #MeToo tsunami exposed the mind-blowing scope of sexual exploitation and it highlighted that it is imperative we understand that harassment and abuse come in many forms. Harassment and abuse are shapeshifters that are most times masked with ‘friendliness’, to shadow the dark and truest most sinister of intentions. 

We talk a lot about girls and women who succumb to grooming. But, what can we do to prevent our loved ones from becoming a #MeToo statistic? What should we do to prevent our little boys from becoming future predators or victims, themselves?

What Really is Grooming?

Grooming is a premeditated process by which offenders gradually initiate trust and emotional connection with typically a child, young person or otherwise vulnerable person, so that they can manipulate, exploit, and abuse them at a later time. Sometimes, grooming can be done indirectly in front of you and your kid. It may look like an innocent gesture of friendship, but there may be something that you cannot quite specify which doesn’t feel right. Moreover, unlike past in person actions, grooming, in the internet age, is often done on social media; even by people known to you or your family. 

Groomers may interact with your children in inappropriate ways and will often entreat your kid to keep the relationship a secret. This kind of grooming process may continue for months and even years before the offender arranges an actual meeting.

Grooming Behaviors Every Parent Should Recognize

  • Seeks out special attention to your child;
  • Claims to share the same interests with your child;
  • Buys your child gifts or gives unsolicited money;
  • Pretends to be a good friend to the child;
  • Acts as a sympathetic listener when the child is upset;
  • Tries to find ways to be alone with the child;
  • Randomly tells the child dirty jokes or shows nudity;
  • Offers services to the parents to gain more time with the child;
  • Hugs and touches the child to fake comfort;
  • Your child becomes secretive with their online activities;
  • Your child spends more time away from home or goes missing for periods of time.

Anyone is at risk of being groomed. Predators can be anywhere and most of the time, they are hidden from our usual mobile screens — waiting for an opportunity to creep in. And it’s important to remember that both boys and girls can be groomed. Vulnerability is what feeds the groomers. Groomers will exploit this vulnerability to increase the likelihood of preying on your loved one or you. 

The impact of grooming is critical and can last a lifetime. Young people and adults may endure and struggle with anxiety, depression, self-harm, feelings of guilt and shame. They may become withdrawn, timid, and randomly upset — which, in turn, can affect their work and overall lifestyle.

How Can I Prevent My Little Boy From Becoming a Sexual Offender/Groomer

Did you know that sexual crimes against children — that have serious consequences for both the offenders and their victims — can be committed by other kids? Most of these kids are male, acting out against both boys (25% of the time) and girls (75% of the time). Furthermore, the likelihood of your child committing a sexual crime dramatically increases between ages 12 to 14. Now, those are alarming numbers to stomach, right?

According to Dr. Ramey, a child psychologist and vice president of outpatient services at the Dayton Children’s Medical Center, the unruly behavior of these kids is either due to a random opportunity to control or a pattern of delinquency. Per Dr. Ramey, poor upbringing and lack of guidance, can result in these kids developing poor impulse control and resorting to any outrage against their family, school, or community. He says that their mediocre judgment and desire to control their situation becomes apparent when they victimize younger children for sexual gratification — because that is their only way to overpower and control people. Engaging and manipulating younger children provides them with blind validation of power. Alarming and sad, isn’t it?

So, if you are a parent, here are some suggestions for what you can do to maybe help prevent your kids from becoming sexual offenders:

  • Help your kids, both girls and boys, understand the intensity of their sexual feelings during the adolescent years — and its inherent consequences, if unrecognized. 
  • Make them understand the difference between normal sexual feelings and abnormal/harmful sexual actions.
  • Have them read articles and related stories and watch lighthearted but realistic films that tackle the seriousness of sexual crimes.
  • Do not let them supervise a young child, if your teenager has any history of troubled behavior. 
  • Alert them about the legal consequences and aftermath if they were to act on impulses; especially violent impulses.
  • Discuss with them that while we teach that consent is required and important. A minor cannot give consent and sexual engagement with a minor is inappropriate — and will likely lead to future offenses and incarceration.
  • Ensure that they profoundly understand the logic that it is impossible for a child (minor) to voluntarily consent to engage in a sexual act.
  • Seek out help for your child. Living in denial is not going to solve the problem.

Sexual offenses are critical and always viewed seriously, especially in today’s contemporary setting. Even if it’s committed by a minor, exemption is not an option. Some offenders who are minors are placed in directories of sexual predators for many years or sentenced and housed with adult offenders when incarcerated. 

In this era where influences for sexual abuse are rampant, it is imperative as a parent to be extra vigilant. Look for signs of any unusual interest or behavior in your child around younger children — if the red flag is on, proceed with caution. We all want to bring out the best from our kids and develop them into successful and responsible citizens — thus, their fate is in your hands. Continue to effectively supervise, ask questions, and monitor their behavior including seeking out counseling and evaluation by trained and certified behavioral specialists… choosing to pray it away, should not be the only approach!