Karen Tai, Good Shepherd Services advocacy officer, started her talk on child sexual grooming by “duping” conference participants into “donating” to her cause. While she didn't really take any money from the 80-odd participants, she did prove her point that it's fairly easy for a stranger to gain the trust of adults.
If adults can fall for sweet talk, what more little children? “Young children don't have the mental capability to tell what is safe. It is up to us adults to educate them,” she said.
Tai was one of the presenters at the one-day Safeguarding: Why Must the Children Suffer? conference held at the St Ignatius Church (SIC) in Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya.
The conference was organised by Archdiocesan Single Adults & Youth Ministry (Asayo) in collaboration with the Archdiocesan Ministry of Mental Health, Good Shepherd Services and Parish Integral Human Development Ministry (PIHDM) of SIC.
According to Tai, the predator doesn't just groom the child, but also their family and friends. This is to ensure everyone trusts the predator and he or she is able to spend time alone with the child.
She outlined the six stages of grooming:
- Stage 1 – Target victim and environment
- Stage 2 – Gain trust
- Stage 3 – Fill a need
- Stage 4 – Isolate the victim
- Stage 5 – Sexualise the relationship
- Stage 6 – Maintain control
Tai informed that guilt, fear and shame are used to manipulate the child so that he or she won't tell anyone about the sex crimes. The predator might tell the child things like: This is how we show love; your parents don't love you, that's why they don't show you love like this; and if you love me enough, you will show it. In some extreme cases, they may even threaten harm to the child's siblings or parents if the child exposes them.
Tai recommended trying to stop predators at Stage 1 by preventing them from targeting children and the environment. Parents can do this by being vigilant, fostering a safe and trusting relationship with their children, having good communication with them, educating their children on how to protect themselves, and setting rules for Internet usage.
While Tai stressed the need to create more awareness and educate parents and children, she also expressed hope that the upcoming Child Sexual Crimes Act would criminalise child sexual grooming. The Act is expected to be tabled in Parliament this year by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.