From Innocent Touches to Sexual: Know the Signs to Protect Your Children

When many parents hear the name “Sandusky,” a wave of nausea courses through their bodies as feelings of anger and disgust pulse through their veins. I’ve received many requests to talk about how parents can protect their children from sexual predators. On June 20, 2012, I gave an exclusive interview to Sheeka Strickland with Fox 8 News providing some of the verbal and nonverbal “tells” of how innocent touches can turn sexual, must-know information for every parent! Think about the continuum of the touches as a temperature gauge from cold to hot. With the cold temperature reading being innocent touches and the hot being sexual, the predator starts at the cold and moves up the thermometer. The progression may be so gradual that the child doesn’t realize the extent of the inappropriate touches before he or she gets burned. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, most of reported child sexual predators are male. For the purpose of this blog, I will refer to the predators as male.

(To see the interview, click the image below)

Blanca Cobb – Body Language Expert

As with any media interview not all the information will be aired. For this reason I’ve crafted “On the Cutting Room Floor” where I’ll share with you what you didn’t see in my media interviews. Child sexual predators transition from non-sexual touches to sexual touches gradually in order to establish a bond with the targeted child and to desensitize the child to the predator’s touches. As you noticed in the FOX 8 segment, I talked about non-sexual touches such as a touch on the shoulder, thigh, or a tousle through the child’s hair. While engaging in non-sexual touches, a child sexual predator might say, “Good to see you” or “Great job on the ball field” or “Nice looking hair cut.” These non-sexual touches while giving compliments, for example, serve a purpose to determine how the child responds to the touch and to the sexual predator, as well as to establish a relationship with the child. What you didn’t see in the FOX 8 segment is what happens next if the child appears receptive to the non-sexual touches and to the predator. The non-sexual touches typically advance to tickling or wrestling with the child in the name of fun.

Think about the most common body part that’s usually tickled. The abdomen, right? The abdomen is the middle ground between sexual body parts. When the sexual predator transitions from the extremities such as the head, arm or thigh, he may gently jab with one finger or quickly skirt his fingers across the abdomen before escalating to a full abdomen tickling episode. Perhaps, you may hear him say, “Are you ticklish?” or “I bet you like to be tickled?” or “Tickling was one of my favorite games with my dad.” The touch seems innocent as a way to play around. The sexual predator uses everyday language to normalize the touching. Since tickling induces laughter, smiles and good feelings, it serves as a veil of innocence to test boundaries. In addition to tickling, the predator may wrestle or “rough house” with the child. Most boys like to wrestle to demonstrate their strength and competitive skill in pinning their partner. Accidental touches to the genitalia are bound to occur on occasion in tickling or wrestling with wiggly bodies. Again, the predator is watching the child’s reaction to the touch and to him. If the predator is called out for the supposed accidental touch, you might hear excuses and minimizations such as “Man, you are fast. I didn’t realize that I touched you there.” Or, “If you didn’t move around so much, my hand wouldn’t have slipped.” Or, you might hear “Relax, it was an accident.” What you may not hear is the sexual predator accepting responsibility for the inappropriate touch or any validation of the child’s confused, hurt or angry feelings to being touched inappropriately. To further desensitize the child to the touches, the predator may engage in the tickling episodes and wrestling matches in front of parents and other people. If no one else objects then it sends the message to the child that these types of interactions are okay behind closed doors when alone with the predator. The day after my interview with FOX 8, one of Sandusky’s victims bravely and publicly shared his story including wrestling with Sandusky. It appears Sandusky used wrestling as a ploy for sexual advances. For the complete story, click on the link.

The shift to sexual touches is usually gradual. The language the sexual predator may use to entice a child to sexual play surprises many parents. A phrase a coach might say to a player such as “Let’s get cleaned up and then get some pizza” is reminiscent of what many parents say at dinner time at home. The language structure is similar. The difference is the intent behind the words. Since children are accustomed to hearing the familiar language from their parents they don’t find the words suspicious. They go along with the request. When the child finds him/herself in compromising situations, the sexual predator is ready with minimizations and justifications for the sexual advances.

Stay tuned for Part II of “Innocent Touches Turned Sexual” to help you figure out the intent behind the touches and to learn the appropriate touches between non-relative adults and children.