I hate to bring bad news on the best day of the week, but I think this merits attention. In his book On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Children Abuse at Church, Deepak Reju provides a look at the techniques of a sexual predator, and focuses on the way a predator will prepare or groom an entire church so that he can take advantage of its children. His words are worth reading and worth considering.
The most common technique for sexual offenders to gain access to children is to cultivate a double life. Sexual offenders work very hard to be likable and respectable members of a church. If they are liked and respected, they earn the trust of the church community. Once they are trusted, they gain access to children. This is known as “grooming”—a process of working over the children and adults in a church in order to earn their trust.
Offenders don’t usually rush through grooming but instead take the time to develop relationships with the members of a church community. In order to win over the adults and become an accepted part of the church, they put on a persona of being useful, kind, useful, helpful, polite, and caring to adults and children alike. Author and expert Anna Salter comments,
The double life is a powerful tactic: There is the pattern of socially responsible behavior in public that causes parents and others to drop their guard, to allow access to children, and to turn a deaf ear to disclosures. But a surly and obnoxious person would have little access, no matter how proper and appropriate his public behavior was. The second tactic—the ability to charm, to be likable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness—is crucial to gaining access to children.
Most violent offenders know enough to keep their behavior in check publicly or else their plans would be ruined. The fact that a sexual offender is not off-putting but might actually have lots of good qualities makes it very difficult to pinpoint one. Most people think of a sexual offender as all bad and can’t conceive of such a person having anything good about him or her.
Once the sexual predator has gained the trust of a significant number of people within a church, suspicions become harder to articulate. Conformity studies show that few people will publicly disagree with a majority opinion. And if the person gets enthusiastic support from church friends or church leaders, it makes it all the more difficult to speak out against them with persuasive conviction.
In reality, what is happening is that the sexual offender is regularly manipulating and pretending to be someone he or she is not. Offenders are professional liars—very skillful at what they do because they’ve done it for years. They’ve lied to everyone in their lives—church members, friends, their victims, and even to themselves—in order to justify their sinful desires and continue on the destructive path of harming children. According to most experts who work with sexual offenders, not only is their lying hard to detect, but it is often quite convincing.
If a predator is roaming around your church, he is probably not a stranger to you. More than likely, he is someone whom you already know, like, and do not see as a threat to your children.