Stranger Danger Myth
Over the decades, Oprah has done countless shows about child abuse and sexual predators…but this is a first. In January 2010, Oprah sat down with four admitted child molesters and their therapist, Dawn Horwitz-Person, for a frank discussion about the cycle of abuse, graphic details of their crimes and how they methodically groomed their victims.
"I was raped at 9 and molested from the ages of 9 through 14, and because of that, I've always wanted to be able to sit down and talk to a group of child molesters and ask them why and how they do what they do," Oprah says. "It's the most honest conversation I've ever had with sex offenders."
After getting a rare insight into the minds of molesters, Oprah says there are four things every person should know.
First, 90 percent of child molesters know their victims. Most are not strangers who lurk in the bushes, waiting to kidnap children. "We're talking about family friends, uncles, fathers, brothers and neighbors," Oprah says. "Less than 10 percent of molesters are the strangers who are abducting kids who you see on the news."
Before Lee was caught molesting a 5-year-old girl, he says he was a close friend of the girl's family. His victim even called him "Grandpa." "She relied on me quite a bit instead of her parents," Lee says.
Both Darren and David were related to their victims. David says he molested and raped a close family member for 12 years, while Darren was once sexually obsessed with his 12-year-old daughter.
At first, Darren says he had sexual fantasies about his daughter. Then, he began to act on these fantasies. He started touching her inappropriately while she slept or pretended to sleep out of fear. Over time, the abuse escalated. "I asked her if I could orally copulate her, and she said no," Darren says. "She actually told me once that, 'I didn't want you to do that because you're my dad.'"
Despite her plea, Darren says the abuse continued.
How They Gain Victims' Trust
The second thing Oprah wants every parent to know is molesters don't choose their victims at random. They seek out vulnerable children, gain their trust and seduce them.
"It's all very calculated, and it's all very deliberate," Oprah says. "Without trust … the sexual abuse is not possible. Trust is the number one factor that they need to succeed."
Robert, a man who has raped four young girls, says he gained the girls' trust by telling them he loved them. He also sought out girls who displayed similar characteristics. "I see anger in her—anger against her parents, retaliation against their parents," he says. "I see trust for them toward me."
Dawn says some molesters don't think they're doing any harm because they don't cause the child physical pain. "I think that's why [the abuse] continues, too, because of that trusting relationship," she says. "They oftentimes don't yell, don't scream, don't tell right away, which reinforces their belief system."
David says he was able to seduce and rape a family member because she was neglected by her parents. "I was the only one there in her world who would listen to her, who would validate her," he says. "That gave me such power over her."
The Grooming Process
The third lesson is that some abusers are so conniving, they are able to manipulate their victims and make the molestation feel good. "That confuses the child into blaming themselves when it's never the victim's fault," Oprah says.
According to these men, the "grooming" process starts early, and at first, it's subtle.
"How I initiated my grooming process is I would listen to her, and then I would listen to her with my hand on her shoulder," David says. "Then we would cuddle on the couch together, and then [I was] priming her for me to be physically intimate with her."
Darren says he gave his daughter back and foot rubs so she'd get used to being physically touched by him before he started touching her sexually. "It kind of creates a bond," he says. "I knew it was wrong, but I justified it in my own mind by saying it was a special thing between us, and I wasn't hurting her."
Even though Lee was in his 60s when he molested a 5-year-old, he says he truly believed he was giving her physical pleasure.
"You didn't think that you were a disgusting old man?" Oprah asks.
"At the time after it got started, yes," Lee says. "After I started it, to me it was just too late to stop."
How Parents Can Protect Their Children
Lastly—and most importantly—these admitted child molesters say there are things parents can do to protect their sons and daughters.
First, Lee says to be on the alert. "You don't have to mistrust everybody," he says. "But at least open your eyes and look around and see what's happening." If you're at a party and you notice someone who spends more time with the children than the adults, Lee says it's a red flag.
When Darren's daughter first reported her abuse, Darren says he lied his way out of it. Now, he urges parents to pay attention to their children's cues and listen to them. "When they tell you someone touched me, you believe them, because kids don't lie about that stuff," he says. "A lot of times, they'll be dismissed because they'll believe the adult instead of the child. Listen to the children."
"Is there anything your daughter could have done to have stopped you?" Oprah asks.
"She did. She turned me in, and I'm very proud of her for that," Darren says. "She had every right to protect herself, and I'm glad she took that initiative."
If you're the victim of abuse, Oprah says the best way to make it stop is to tell someone. "If they don't believe you, you keep telling until somebody does," she says. "Molesters do not want you to talk. Tell somebody today."