Identify Appropriate Behaviors: Child sexual abuse rarely begins with assault; usually, it begins with behavior that is very subtle, but is meant to test and push the victim’s boundaries. This process is called grooming. The following behaviors may be warning signs that someone is grooming your child:
- Showering your child with inappropriate gifts. This is intended to gain the victim’s trust. It’s also inappropriate because it can make your child feel indebted and creates a power imbalance.
- Showing an inappropriate preference for your child. Perpetrators will often target a child because they think they are vulnerable in some way.
- Offering to help the family. A perpetrator may try to gain the child’s family’s trust while looking for access to alone time with the child. This could involve offers to babysit, give rides, tutor, or pay for the child’s expenses.
- Testing your child’s boundaries or your own boundaries. Once a perpetrator has the target’s trust, they may try to see what they can get away with before escalating the inappropriate behavior. These boundary violations may be physical, technological, emotional, conversational, or sexual.
- Isolating your child emotionally. Some perpetrators may try to control a victim by convincing them that they can’t trust anyone else, and this allows the abuse to continue. This could sound like:
- “If you tell anyone, I will go to jail.”
- “Your parents don’t understand you like I do.”
- “Our family will get broken up if you tell your mom.”
You can help deter inappropriate behavior by setting clear boundaries with adults who work with your child and encouraging your child to communicate their boundaries as well.