MOST parents would answer this question wrong. When we think of sexual molestation, most of us probably picture a weird stranger who exposes himself to children or lures them away into a car or to some wooded area. Publicity has also been given to groups that lure children away to exploit them for pornography or child prostitution. Such things do happen, but these people are far from the usual type of child molester. So who are the usual child molesters?
Sue was molested by a man who was running a church group. He ran a youth club, and everybody agreed that he was very pleasant. But he sexually abused Sue and other girls. Another young girl wrote to an advice column to tell that her favorite uncle had taken to pulling her onto his lap and fondling her improperly. One man remembers that as a boy he was habitually abused by the grown son of a close family friend. An 11-year-old boy was molested by the aunt that he lived with. A New York woman reports being molested by her grandfather when she was seven years old. A 15-year-old boy was molested by his doctor during a medical examination. For Pam, it was even worse. For many years, her own father molested her. And Mary was molested by two older brothers and an older first cousin.
In fact, probably less than a third of sexual assaults on children are committed by strangers. Usually the victim knows the assailant. Often the abuser is a relative. Thus, in most cases children are molested by people they know and trust, which makes the problem of protecting them more difficult.
The Molester at Work
Many parents have another misconception. They envision molestation as being violent, with the child fighting and screaming for mercy. This may not be the case at all, at least not in the beginning. At the outset, sexual abuse may be disguised as playful or affectionate contact, and go on from there. The abuser is likely to persuade and pressure the child, using all the built-in authority of an older person. Do you remember what it was like when you were a child and were trained to obey adults even when they told you to do things you did not like, such as go to bed early or eat all your vegetables? Molesters take advantage of this training. One convicted abuser said: “Show me an obedient child, and I’ll show you an easy victim.”
One child was receiving obscene phone calls. When asked why she had not put the phone down, she said she thought it was rude to do that when someone was still talking! A woman of 30 remembers having been approached at the age of 5 by her grandfather. He said to her: “Good girls do this for Grandpa and never tell their mothers.” How many five-year-olds would be able to see through such a deception?
And do you remember how you loved presents and treats as a child? Abusers often use this childish trait to get an abusive relationship started. For example, what would your child do if the school janitor said: “Stay with me for a while in the office after school, and I will give you some money”? or if the baby-sitter said: “I will let you sit up late and watch television, if you do something for me first”?
She was molested by her minister
Sometimes molesters misuse a child’s natural love of secrets. Wasn’t it exciting, when you were young, to have a secret? One little girl had a secret that she kept from her parents. But one day her parents saw her acting in a precocious, sexual manner. When asked where she had learned such a thing, the little girl said: “It’s a secret.” Her father explained that sometimes we should not keep a secret, so the little girl revealed her secret. A 40-year-old man with a family of his own, who was a close family relative, had pushed her down and sexually assaulted her.
Finally, threats may be involved, subtle threats that strike at a child’s sense of security. A grown woman tells of having been abused by her stepfather when she was a child. She says he abused her for four years, starting when she was six. Why did she not tell her mother? “He said that if I ever told anybody about it, the police would come get him and my mother would lose her job. The family would starve and it would all be my fault.”
Author Gail Sheehy covers many of these points in the following observation: “We forget how grownups seemed omnipotent to us when we ourselves were children.” She adds: “It is very easy for a parent or babysitter to initiate sexual activities under the guise of normal bathing and hygiene inspection. The child gets the message something is wrong only when secrecy is introduced: ‘Don’t tell your mommy that we did that’
The Child’s Best Defense
So you see, molesters can be the most unexpected of people and they can use sophisticated and cunning tactics. Child molestation is probably almost as old as history. But as this generation progresses, and more and more people are “lovers of themselves, . . . having no natural affection, . . . without self-control,” the threat is becoming greater. (2 Timothy 3:1-3) However, children do have one very strong defense. What is that? Their parents. These are the adults best able to protect them from other adults who may wish to molest them. Let us see how.