Predators Pt 2: Grooming-How Pedophiles Get Into Our Kid’s Lives

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two part series on sexual predators written by David Pittman, the founder of Together We Heal – an organization dedicated to helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Today’s focus is on helping parents understand how predators target, approach, groom and eventually insinuate themselves into a child’s (and even a family’s) life. Since 90-95% of CSA occurs at the hands of someone that is known, trusted and often loved, it is essential to be educated on what signs or red flags to be looking for. The once held notion of “stranger danger” is a myth. Education is the key to learning what are the real threats to children. Our hope is that by teaching you how to recognize the signs that someone is targeting your child, together we can keep them from becoming one more CSA statistic. (Click here to read last week’s post on How to Talk With Your Kids About Sexual Abuse).


Together We Heal logoAfter posting my story of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on the Together We Heal website, I was asked an important question by a concerned parent. How did this monster get into your life?

The answer is both simple and complex. The easy part is that they don’t have the appearance of a monster. They don’t look like some James Bond or Cartoon character villain, with beady eyes, horns coming out of their heads, or a big neon sign saying, “STAY AWAY, PEDOPHILE HERE!” Sadly, they almost always look like everyone one else. The gentle minister, the encouraging coach, the neighbor always willing to lend a hand or the family member who seems to be there just when you need them.

And this is where the complexity comes in. How do you distinguish genuine care from pure evil? While there are no set in stone answers, there are some clues to look for and ways to evaluate what is going on. And though nothing is fool-proof, I hope it’s at least a start for you to help figure out friend from foe.

One of the most frightening things about pedophiles/sexual predators is that they seem so “normal”. They are notoriously friendly, nice, kind, engaging and like-able. And they target their victims, often insinuating themselves into that child’s life through their family, school, house of worship, sports, and hobbies. But don’t ever forget, pedophiles are professional con-artists and are experts at getting children and families to trust them. They will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy.

So let’s first define exactly what grooming is and then we will go into the steps involved.

Predator-relationship-with-the-childErika Lyn Smith, of the “Missing And Exploited Children Site”, gives a thorough explanation of what we are talking about.

The act of grooming a child involves spending time, energy, and money to make a child and even the parent or parents feel comfortable with the relationship. Only after a trusting relationship is established will the child predator start to become more intrusive and to test the boundaries of the relationship by pushing limits. These violations may include hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling, and invading a child’s privacy while showering, dressing or toileting.

Initially a pedophile will begin to violate the physical boundaries, by accidentally touching the child through his or her clothes to see what kind of reaction he or she receives. If a child or parent questions the action the predator will likely back off and regain the trust of the child or parents before proceeding.

By befriending the parent or parents, the pedophile gains the trust of everyone in the family. Children are less likely to tell when the relationship turns sexual if the adult is someone he or she knows personally or is a friend of mom or dads. In addition, mom and dad may be less likely to listen to a child when it involves a good friend of the family.

Single parents, especially mother’s will be looking for a positive male role model if there is no father involved. Single mothers are more likely to accept offers from a child’s coach or school for help when offered. All parents needs to be vigilant when it comes to allowing someone access to his or her child, and question friendships or relationships that take up a lot of a child’s free time.

Signs that a pedophile may be grooming your child include:

  • Telling a child, he or she is a “special” friend
  • Bringing a child special mementos or gifts
  • Talking to a child about adult issues like sex or marriage problems
  • Giving a child alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  • Inviting a child to spend the night or go camping

A former F.B.I. agent named Kenneth V. Landing wrote about 5 steps he identified as the general process most sexual predators use in grooming children to be their next victims. Below you will find this listed.

  • Stage 1: Identifying a Possible Victim Although pedophiles differ in their “type” regarding age, appearance and gender, all pedophiles will look for a victim who seems in some way vulnerable.
  • Stage 2: Collecting Information The next step is for the pedophile to collect as much information on the targeted victim as possible. This is most commonly done through casual conversations with both the child and the parents or caretaker.
  • Stage 3: Filling a Need Once the individual has the information he needs, he then becomes part of the child’s life by filling a need. If the victim is poor, for example, the pedophile will provide him/her with expensive toys. If the victim is lonely, the pedophile will act as a friend.
  • Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions The pedophile will then start to lower the child’s inhibitions concerning sexual matters. He may come up with games or activities that involve getting undressed, make sexual comments or show the child pornographic images or pictures.
  • Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse At this final stage, the pedophile begins to sexually abuse the child.

Another technique used by these predators is called the 4 “F’s”: Friendship, Fantasy, Fear and Force.

  • Friendship is built through nurturing a relationship through bonding. The adult will usually give the child gifts, take them on special outings and show them a lot of attention.
    Once a child trusts an adult, the adult can influence the child’s attitude regarding sexual behavior. Grooming may include introducing sexual content to the child as an example of what the perpetrator desires and to give the impression that the depicted acts are acceptable. If the child thinks that sex between children and adults is ok, it’s easier for the pedophile to victimize the child.
  • Then they will introduce Fantasy”. They will manipulate the child with a false sense of security. They will pay a lot of attention to the child’s problems and personal matters and offer advice and counseling. They will tell the child how much they love them and that they want to have a long term, loving relationship with them.
  • Once the child has opened up to the pedophile, they will begin to instill “Fear” by threatening to share the child’s secrets with their classmates or their parents. Sometimes they will even threaten the life or safety of the child or of their family and friends It’s all a manipulation tactic to get the child to do what the pedophile wants them to do.
  • Ultimately, the pedophile uses “Force” to sexually exploit the child.

While these are by no means the only ways sexual predators work their way into ours and our children’s lives, they are at least a beginning place for parents to be on the lookout. The more information you have and the better educated you become, the more you will be able to best protect your kids.

Knowledge truly is power and we cannot give over our power to these heinous criminals. They will use every trick in the book so you have to know what they’re doing. Even more frightening, pedophiles and sexual predators work together to help each other figure out ways to gain access to our kids. Don’t believe it, read this article about a 170 page, “How To” publication put together by and for adults who prey on innocent children. They are making a concerted effort to help each other so we have to be more vigilant, more active and tireless in our work to combat these predators.

I hope this is a good start on helping you to protect your children. God knows I wish my family had been told this when I was a child. Maybe they would have been able to stop my abuse before it began. So please take a page from our family history book, educate yourselves and talk with your kids.



  • Kenneth V. Lanning, Special Agent, F.B.I.
  • Erika Lyn Smith
  • America’s Most Wanted
  • WBTV

About the Author

David Pittman is the Executive Director of "Together We Heal", a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide cost-free counseling and guidance for those who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). He works to educate through public speaking, writing, collaborates with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predators and their methods. TWH works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


2 Responses to “Predators Pt 2: Grooming-How Pedophiles Get Into Our Kid’s Lives”

  1. Stefanie Zucker Stefanie says:


    Here at Pediatric Safety were honored to be able to help share your message with our community. This really is something every parent needs to hear and take to heart.

    It happens! It is happening – to 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls – and if we don’t take action, it will continue to happen. And these are wounds that scar. Not always the kind you can see…but the kind that linger just beneath the surface and never completely heal. I know this to be true… I have two sisters…I was 1 in 3

    Interesting enough, my wound resurfaced as I was working on assembling this post for Pediatric Safety. For some reason I found I was having a very difficult time choosing the right image to go with this post. I was torn between 3 pictures. I guess you could say they each could be viewed as equally innocent – and at the same time – equally creepy. For some reason I kept finding myself drawn back to the one you see above. And then I realized why. This was me – in 5th grade – sitting on the lap of everyone’s favorite teacher. The teacher whose lap EVERYONE wanted to sit on. The same teacher who I, and two other students eventually brought up on molestation charges. And it’s not that I had forgotten – or assigned it less value than it was worth. I just don’t think about it every day. I’m glad to say I’ve gotten past that. But every once in a while something will bring it to the forefront of my mind – something like your words about “tickling” and seeing this picture – and the hair will stand up on the back of my neck and my arms…and I will revisit my childhood…and be grateful that someone like you is here warning parents that as we send our kids back to school – SOMEONE LIKE HIM IS THERE. Someone like him is looking at your son or your daughter and wondering if he could be their friend. And we all need to know how to spot him…or at least some of the things to watch for…and our kids need to know that too – because 1 in 3 little girls, and 1 in 6 little boys is too many.

    Forget that, when it’s you…when it’s your child – 1 IS TOO MANY PERIOD!

    Thank you Dave!

  2. Thank you Stefanie for allowing Together We Heal the honor of working with your organization. Together we can do more to protect all children from sexual predators.

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