#childsafety | Five ways girls, parents can identify potential predators – Punch Newspapers

Jesusegun Alagbe

No parent would imagine having their child raped or fall into the hands of paedophile. The thought of it is depressing. The act will not only wreak emotional havoc on the parent and victim; in many cases, it can also inflict a permanent physical scar on the victim.

This is why it is important for parents and guardians to always seek measures to protect their children, especially the girl-child, from any potential paedophile or rapist.

This is more important now that lockdown measures are being lifted across the country and children are getting exposed to the outside world again after months of stay-at-home order caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, schools have reopened in most states; likewise worship centres. Public facilities such  as parks may also reopen in the coming days.

The truth is, child molesters do not have one physical characteristic that sets them apart from the rest of human beings, according to American psychotherapist, Dr Karen Ruskin. There is not one profession, personality, sex, religion, or race that paedophiles belong to, which is why it is important for parents and guardians to pay attention to people their children interact with.

“In fact, many times predators are actually people you or your children know, instead of a stranger, which can make the situation harder to detect and can also cause victims to continue to have a relationship with their abuser,” Ruskin said on doctoroz.com.

Similarly, a Lagos-based psychologist and counsellor, Mrs Olajumoke Adesanya, noted that child predators were not usually strangers.

She said, “They are hidden in plain sight. They can be an older sibling, a family member, teacher, neighbour, or colleague. In fact, 90 per cent of the time, a predator is someone with a relationship to the victim and the family.”

“Child molestation happens everywhere and it can happen to anyone’s child. There is no spared place and person. It can happen in school, home and others. Any professional can be involved, though when it comes to child molestation, schoolteachers, home tutors, domestic workers and relatives are usually the culprits.

“Of course, the reason for this is not far-fetched. Children aged between 0 and 18 spend most of their lives at school and home, and during this stage, the people they see mostly are their teachers, domestic workers and family members.”

Rapists and paedophiles could appear harmless when seen, Adesanya, Ruskin and others outlined some common red flags to identify them which they said could make girls safe when alone.

The gift giver

Australian reporter and crime author with over 30 years’ experience, Candace Sutton, said one of the ways paedophiles enticed their preys was by gifting. She identified this as one of the red flags to watch out for.

“Beware of toys or gifts from an unknown source turning up in your child’s possession. Paedophiles often like to “buy” your child presents and often can, in a twisted manner, portray the child as the sexual aggressor after the victim realises he or she can bargain for toys, clothes, outings or games by withholding sexual ‘favours,’ she wrote on news.com.au.

Similarly, a child development expert, Corinne Roth, stated on thepragmaticparent.com that child predators were usually good at gifting gifts to children.

She said, “Child predator is an expert at grooming children and their parents, by gaining trust, using gifts and attention. These are the first warning signs of a predator.

“What do kids love more than toys and gifts? A predator is an expert at finding the soft spot of a child because they work especially hard to relate to kids and speak their language. If someone is gifting items to your child that you may not be able to afford, seems excessive, gives an adult an opportunity to spend more time with your child – this is a major warning sign.

“A predator will prep your child – they will test the waters to make sure your child can keep secrets.”

Loves staying alone with children

Sutton said one of the signs of a potential paedophile is someone who prefers relating with children to adults and loves staying with children alone.

She said, “What to look out for is someone who relates better to children than to adults, and has either very few adult friends or whose friends might also be sex offenders.

“Signs to watch for: paedophiles usually prefer children in one specific age group, such as infants and toddlers, children between six and 10 years old, or ‘tweens’ and young teenagers up to the age of 16.”

Also, Roth noted that paedophiles were often well-liked by others.

“They strategically target their victims, often installing themselves into a child’s life through family, school, church, sports, and activities,” she said. “Child molesters are very cunning in their deception– they have to be in order to get away with these despicable acts. Children– innocent, naïve and trusting– are the most susceptible to the deliberate tricks and ploys a paedophile uses to gain their trust, as well as the family’s trust.”

Roth said, “A cold predator gains time with children. They spend excessive time at your home and with you and your family. This includes a sibling, relatives, family friends, neighbours, colleagues, cousins, a coach or teacher who have taken a special interest in one particular child.

“They will work very hard to arrange for alone with your child – they are not doing you a favour or helping out of the goodness of their heart. Alone time is a seized opportunity.”

Children photographs’ collector

According to Roth, paedophiles are enthusiastic collectors of photographs or videos of children, even children who are fully dressed, but preferably, and behind a parent’s back, of children half or fully nude or engaged in sexually suggestive or explicit acts.

“They will have vast image collections, and hidden away a collection of child erotica and child-adult pornography,” she said.

Sutton added, “Paedophiles share inappropriate, adult-geared personal or private information with your child. They point out sexual images or tells inappropriate or suggestive stories in front of children.”

The child kisser, hugger

Adesanya asked parents to be wary of people, especially men, who don’t respect boundaries with children, especially girls.

She said, “Paedophiles often push physical boundaries with children, including hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling or holding a child even when the child resists physical contact or attention.

“They can be overly affectionate/playful with children–to the extent of having a child sit on their lap. They may have long stares at a child. They may make comments or conversation about a child’s appearance –which may even take a turn for the inappropriate.”

The always available babysitter

This is often a single male with no friends, the sort of paedophile who would place himself in a situation where he becomes the trusted babysitter, often for the children of several, usually single-parent families.

Sutton said, “The mothers regard him as a godsend, who will safely mind their children while they go to work, or go out with their friends. In many cases, the single parent is unable to provide the support the children need, leaving the scene wide open for the child molester to play ‘uncle’ and provide care, attention and ‘fun.’

“Many paedophiles seek out mothers of single-parent families for the purpose of victimising their children.”

Avoiding child predators

Even if someone’s intention is not harmful, experts advised that it was important to address and correct inappropriate behaviour so that children could understand what to expect from people in a position of authority.

“We’ve heard from numerous parents who weren’t sure what to do because they couldn’t prove the person’s intentions, but knew the behaviour was not appropriate for their position. The answer is simple – say something because you know it’s not right and it can enable abuse; it’s not our job to prove someone has ill intentions but to prioritise child safety,” experts at themamabeareffect.org, a non-profit in the United States, said.

They wrote, “With the majority of sexual abuse occurring in situations where the perpetrator is in a 1:1 situation with a child, and much of that abuse occurring within the home of the child or perpetrator, it is important to identify situations where children are isolated with older children or adults.

“Promoting an open-door policy at home, during playdates or family gatherings, checking in on occasion; and if someone is spending time alone with a child, checking in with them at a quiet moment to ask if they were treated appropriately and that people followed body safety rules.

“Even if children go to school, attend childcare, or take part in sports, tutoring or have medical appointments, there are steps these facilities should be taking to prioritise child safety. Asking about such policies and procedures is important, as many organisations may not be doing all that they can to reduce the risk of abuse.”

Also, Roth offered the following tips to protect children from paedophiles and rapists.

Open communication

Talk to your children about inappropriate behaviour, touching, sexual abuse, physical limits, not keeping secrets and how to use their voice. Make sure each family member knows what healthy sexual development in children is and what might be of concern.

Teach children the proper names for body parts and what to do if someone tries to touch them in a sexual way. Make sure young children know that no one has the right to touch their private parts (unless for medical reasons) and that they should not touch anyone else’s private parts. If your child ever experiences attempted or perpetrated child abuse, using a safe word can help them communicate with you.

Be a visible parent

How involved are you in your child’s daily life and activities? Are you present or is another person doing you “favours” and helping out with your child’s schedule and activities – especially if it involves a lot of alone time with another person? This is a major deterrent for a child molester because the more visible and present the parent is in the child’s life, the harder the target becomes.

Set clear boundaries

Set clear family guidelines for personal privacy and behaviour and discuss them with members of your family and model respecting guidelines. Discuss these guidelines with any other adults who spend time around or supervise the children. For example, if a child does not want to hug or kiss someone hello or goodbye, then he or she can shake hands instead.

Trust your gut

The people closest to you should be the people that you can trust the most. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. But being a smart and present parent, you will notice the red flags that are present when someone is “grooming” a child for their own disgusting purposes. If you have any red flags – if your gut is telling you someone is not right – do not allow any one-on-one time with that individual and your child.

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