Charm: A pedophile's secret weapon
I never met the man, but I’m sure I would have been charmed by him, as everyone else was. Why? Because he would have groomed me, as he groomed everyone around him. Tall and handsome, he was an Ivy League educated blue blood with a successful business. My friend married him, they were raising a family, and life was a Norman Rockwell painting.
Until the “uh-oh” moment.
That moment took the form of inappropriate physical contact with a visiting child— contact late at night that was interrupted when his wife woke up and padded downstairs. That’s when everything changed, when the wife, a friend whom I will call Charlotte, had to reevaluate the previous decade of her marriage, of her life, with the man I will call John.
This incident led to separation, and to Charlotte and John appearing in family court, where she tried to prevent him from having unsupervised custody of their children. The authorities had him undergo psychological testing, and confirmed that he was, according to the psychologist’s evaluation, a pedophile. The family of the visiting child declined to press charges against John for reasons I won’t reveal here, because it could identify the family.
Unfortunately, the family court’s objective was for John and Charlotte’s children to have a “normal parenting relationship” with their pedophile father. Charlotte was advised not to do anything that could hurt his reputation, because that would diminish his ability to earn a living. She was subject to a gag order, and violating it would create “parental alienation” and she would risk losing custody of her children, totally, to her estranged, pedophile husband.
Trying to make sense of this, I turned to a book by Anna Salter, PhD, titled Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, & Other Sex Offenders. I learned that one out of four girls is sexually abused by the age of fourteen, and one out of six boys is sexually abused by the age of sixteen. And an alarming 54 percent of these children are victimized before the tender age of seven— 84 percent before the age of twelve.
Consider that 90 percent of sexual abuse victims know the offender, nearly 50 percent of whom live in their household. These are not strangers in trench coats, hanging out by the playground. They are people you know, like, and trust.
Usually, when children disclose what has happened to them, nobody believes them. Molesters know this. They count on this.
Charlotte’s situation is not unique. Her experience occurred outside Virginia, but I can only wonder how many single mothers, here and elsewhere, are dealing with this.
Knowing her ex is a pedophile, but forbidden by a gag order to warn any of the parents of her children’s friends. Unable to say, “Look, don’t let your child out of your sight when he’s around my ex.” Unable to say to authorities at her child’s school, “Do not allow this man to chaperone any field trips.” Unable to say to scout leaders, “Do not let him participate in campouts and sleepovers.”
Because John’s pedophile status was hidden away in closed family court records, it was not visible to anyone who may have done a background check on him.
So, when he applied to a mentoring program to partner with a preteen boy, John was welcomed with open arms. All he needed was recommendations from people who were charmed by him and didn’t believe, or didn’t know about, his status.
For two years, John sexually abused the boy, his mentee. A vulnerable child whose father had died, the boy was an easy target for the attention, the gifts, and the rapes. When the boy reached adult status, he took his tormentor to criminal court, where John was charged with forcible rape of a child, a charge that carries a sentence of life in prison. John died before a verdict could be issued.
We have no way to know whether this man had other victims, and some molesters will obsess over one child throughout a long period, but consider this: The average serial child molester victimizes nearly 400 children during his lifetime.
How do they get away with it? According to Dr. Salter, a major weapon in their arsenal is charm. These are the guys you would never suspect. Their gaze is steady, they’re not creepy or shifty-eyed.
They’re the guys you would trust, date, marry. The youth minister, coach, pediatrician, lawyer, volunteer. Guys you’ve known for years, shared your life with. Men you would go to the mat for, would testify for in court if a child came forth with an accusation of sexual molestation. Impossible! I know this man. He’s kind and generous. He would never do such a thing. That’s what you’d say in defending him.
And that’s why they get away with it. No one believes the child. Not the judges, not the therapists, not the mothers, no one wants to believe that Mr. Nice Guy can be both nice to them AND a cruel sexual predator. But that’s how it works.
When a pedophile targets a child he would like to sexually molest, he grooms the child. He singles him or her out for attention, for special times together, for gifts and treats. He wants the child to like him, to trust him— to spend time alone with him.
Additionally, a pedophile will groom the community he lives in. If you are in that community, you are being targeted, as surely as the child this man aims to have sex with. Because he needs you, he needs all of us, to like him, to trust him, to protect and enable him to continue his horrific, hidden rampage.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of men who coach, minister, teach, or otherwise come in contact with our children, are genuinely good people who would not dream of harming any child. How are we to discern the good guys from the bad guys?
Dr. Salter advises us to take seriously any disclosure by a child who reports sexual abuse. Do not dismiss it as impossible. Watch for red flags, for those “uh-oh” moments when something doesn’t seem quite right. Like when a man singles out a child for attention and small gifts, attempts to separate the child from others with offers of trips to ball games, or sleepovers.
She recommends that we approach pedophilia the way medical personnel approach AIDS: They don’t think every patient they treat has AIDS, but the doctors and nurses protect themselves with gloves, and when they draw blood, they assume it’s possible that any patient could have AIDS, and could therefore be a danger to staff. So they use the same protective protocol with every patient, whether or not the patient looks like someone with AIDS.
Assume anyone could be a pedophile, and see to it that your child is not his victim.
Pedophiles usually go for the easy target: The fatherless child, the one whose parent drops him off at soccer practice, rather than sticking around and watching over him. The child whose parents can be conned into allowing the molester to spend time alone with him.
She advises us to think like a child molester. What situations are ideal for finding children to target? Schools, churches, scouting, mentoring programs, lessons of any kind such as music, martial arts, swimming. Those settings will attract child molesters.
Just as Willie Sutton is reported to have said, when asked why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is,” child molesters gravitate to these settings because that’s where the children are.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to protect a pedophile. It’s quite possible that a child molester is grooming you, whether you have a child or not.