Reading the grand jury findings in the Penn State child abuse scandal made me think of a conversation I had years ago with “Hank," an intelligent, accomplished man, who did volunteer work. Hank was considered an upstanding man in the community.
Hank was also a pedophile.
I was a detective, specializing in child sex abuse cases, when a mother reported to our agency that Hank had placed his hand on her son’s thigh. It happened while Hank drove the boy home from a sporting event. It made the boy very uncomfortable.
The mom did not know Hank was a convicted child molester. Neither did the organizations where Hank volunteered. Long before sex registries existed, Hank had done his crime and done his time.
Hank openly acknowledged to me his prior conviction. Yes, he had molested two boys. “I’m a pedophile,” he said. But Hank maintained he learned a lot “back then” through sex-offender therapy. He assured me, he knew how to deal with his “urges.”
When I brought up the current boy Hank was “befriending,” Hank admitted he felt that old temptation when he placed his hand on the boy’s thigh. He resisted going further, which kept it non-criminal. "It was just a lapse of judgment.” In typical denial fashion, Hank stressed the purity of his motives in helping youth, and minimized the effect of his actions on this young boy.
Hank willingly answered my questions about how he thought back then. He shared how he selected his victims, won over the victims’ families, made his first sexual overtures, and dealt with victim resistance. All those things eerily mirrored the behavior documented in the grand jury’s report regarding former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
Although Hank is a convicted child molester, Jerry is not. But the parallels between these men are worth highlighting as a warning to parents about the behaviors of pedophiles.
Pedophiles seek to be near children. Being a coach, teacher, religious leader, daycare worker, or volunteer increases the opportunity to select accessible victims. It also offers a cover of respectability.
Pedophiles endear themselves to their victims and victims’ parent by meeting a need. Offers of helping a stressed-out parent, providing a father figure, or treating a less-advantaged kid to gifts and events they could never otherwise have, all serve to gain parents’ trust and enable the molester to have alone-time with a child.
Pedophiles usually keep with a pattern that has proven successful for them in the past. They first test the water to see a child’s response to an invasive touch or situation. For some, it could be a hand on the thigh, groping during wrestling, sitting on one’s lap, or having back rubs. Should the child react negatively, or if someone inquires about it later, they explain them as a misunderstanding or honest mistake
Children exposed to such touches usually feel uncomfortable. They recognize it as a departure from the norm, or a violation of a private area. Confusion sets in because the child cares about the person who is making them uncomfortable.
Most children lack the confidence to challenge an adult. They are more likely to accept the perpetrator’s explanation for the touch and choose to discount their own internal warning signals.
Pedophiles bank on the child’s vulnerability to manipulation. As the sexual touching increases, a child feels deeper shame, often blaming himself. Often the child is told that no one will believe him if he tells and senses there is no way out.
Fear of rejection, or retaliation from the perpetrator, forces the child’s continued silence and insures a continual compliance. It’s no wonder that child victims delay disclosures of sexual abuse, sometimes for years.
Diane Obbema is a 27-year veteran of law enforcement. She resides in Colorado. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.