Monday, June 27, 2016

How To Talk With A Potential Abuser

Suspicions

So, you know the warning signs. You know the grooming signs. You think someone fits enough of the warning signs and grooming signs to say confidently that something... is off. You think the person might really be struggling with something, but you have no idea what. Or, they recently went through a very traumatic event. The point is, you think something abusive might be going on. Now what? Do you call the police? Do you ask the children if they are being abused? Do you talk with the potential abuser?

These are never easy questions to answer. Bear in mind that a potential abuser is someone who is suspected of being at-risk for abusing a child sexually. I can guarantee that starting a conversation will make you uncomfortable, and you will have a hard time digesting what I am about to suggest. However, I have sexually abused a child. I know myself, and what tactics I would have listened to. I know what would make me run for the hills. Most importantly, however, I know what motivates child sexual abuse. If you have a conversation with a potential abuser, you are delving into psychology, and you are using it not to gain a confession, but to understand them. You want to understand them, so you can help them process whatever difficulty they may be facing and do it without abusing a child. They cannot hear that you are concerned about children, they have to hear that you are concerned about them. Even though you are concerned about children, saying that is something that comes much later.

Sideline: Why Talk?

Despite popular myth, the majority of people who sexually abuse children do not do so for sexual gratification. Their choice is a complex web of needs, emotions, and issues that they are trying to fulfill with sex. This holds true for those that look at child sexual exploitation material as well. The process to viewing child sexual exploitation material, or to sexually abusing a child, is always a process, and that process takes anywhere from several weeks to several months, even years. People do not wake up one morning and decide they will molest a child. When I use the term, "potential abuser", I am referring to someone who is in the midst of this process. The point to have a conversation is to intervene in that process and get the person to the help that they need so that a child is not abused in the first place. The conversation is not about coddling sex offenders, because at that point, they are not yet sex offenders and it is unknown if they have abused a child.

How Do You Start The Conversation?

The first thing to remember is that your suspicions may or may not be true. There could be a valid explanation for what you are seeing, or what you are seeing is really cause for concern. However, you do not know which it is just yet. Write down some of the things you have seen that concern you. Stick to three situations you can recite, and tell the person that this is what you have observed, and tell them that you want to understand what you are seeing. Period, end of sentence. Do not ask leading questions, just let them explain it. Plan what you will say and ask beforehand. Take deep breaths, and make sure you are calm and collected.

Their explanation could make sense, or it might be complete nonsense. Pay close attention to what they say, how they say it, and what their body language is. Are they confident in their answer? Are they nervous? Are they confused? Scared? Try to identify how they are feeling, or ask how they are feeling. If they cannot identify how they are feeling, or they are nervous or scared, you need them to know that you are concerned about them, full stop. You are not asking out of concern for the child (well, you are, but they do not need to know that at this point), you are asking because you want to help them. They can trust you. They can tell you if something is bothering you, no matter what it is.

Bear in mind before you start the conversation that most sexual abusers are not pedophilic, or sexually attracted to children, but are just adults or juveniles wrestling with life issues, and a child is just a convenient sexual outlet for those frustrations. The answers you receive may have nothing to do with sex, but are still risk factors for sexual abuse, or they may not be risk factors. The answers you receive may have to do with sex, but are not risk factors for sexual abuse, or they may still be risk factors. Your purpose is just to gain more insight and more information.

Getting Good Answers: Ask For Additional Perspective

Where the conversation goes from the start of the conversation depends completely upon you and the situation. If the answers they are giving are making sense, but are not cause for concern, then get help understanding their answers. Ask them to clarify anything you do not understand, and be honest in telling them that you are not sure you quite understand. Make sure to ask how they are feeling. After the conversation, write down what their answers were as you remember them, and talk with a trusted friend about the conversation, and ask if it makes sense.

Getting Weird, Shady, Or Unusual Answers: Be Sensitive

If the conversation is not making sense, or their answers seem disjointed or out-of-touch with reality, you have to be sensitive to the idea that they may not trust you with what is really going on. This could be a sign that they did something embarrassing, or that something illegal happened, true, but it can also be a sign that more is going on than what they are saying. They could be hiding from talking to you for any number of reasons, both for normal protection, and for covering up inappropriate behavior.

It is often beneficial to stop the conversation. Say, "It seems that this is making you uncomfortable. Could we talk about this later? I just want to help you." Sometimes, getting to the heart of what you are seeing can take several conversations, and it can take time for the person to trust that you mean them well. Many issues are very uncomfortable to talk about, even if there is no risk of sexual abuse involved. It is possible that the child knows something deeply personal and is blackmailing the adult. It is possible that the adult did something offensive and rude, and wants to make amends somehow. There are many possibilities besides sexual abuse or a risk of sexual abuse.

Know What Resources Are Available

Before you start these conversations, know what resources are available in your area. Know what therapists specialize in major mental health needs, such as sexual needs, emotional needs, compulsive behaviors, eating disorders, or personality disorders. Have several clinics in mind that can take on new patients or make recommendations for resources. Many of the links on the side of this page link to experts in sexual issues.

Also have a conversation with a close friend of the potential abuser, and ask them about the conversations you are having. They may have more insight into what you are seeing, or what you are getting from these conversations. An additional perspective besides your own is extremely beneficial. If, after these conversations, you still feel off in your gut, or something is still nagging at you, write it down. If you have exhausted your conversations and resources, and the person still feels off, report your suspicions to law enforcement. Tell them everything you have observed, and show them what you have written down. Talking to law enforcement can be intimidating, and that is why it is valuable to write everything down that you are observing. If you need help, contact a child advocacy center in your area.

You can also utilize the resources at Stop It Now. You can also call them during their business hours, email them, or chat with them on their website by clicking "Get Immediate Help" at the bottom of their page.

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