Stage 4: Isolating the child
The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation.
A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child's natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship.
When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child's sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms.
Stage 6: Maintaining control
Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child's continued participation and silence—particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.
Children in these entangled relationships—and at this point they are entangled—confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the dirt bikes the child gets to ride, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner has worked on some of the most sensitive cases in America in recent years, from Andrea Yates to the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. He is the lead researcher of an evidence-based measure to standardize the worst of crimes at DepravityScale.org. Dr. Welner is an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and is chairman of The Forensic Panel.
More about sexual abuse
How one family's copes with molestation
Oprah explains how molesters groom children
How far would you go to protect your child?