The following offending strategy was used against Suzie. It is a common strategy, with many variations. It is not the only strategy used by the offenders in our midst, but it is a darn good illustration of the fact that sexual offences are premeditated, predatory acts of manipulation, deceit, intimidation and careful planning. They are not usually acts of sexual impulsivity. Understanding this will help you to know that you are not responsible for your victimization. You were manipulated into a vulnerable position and your vulnerability was exploited. You are without blame.
The offender will identify the potential victim well before initiating a sexual offence. Offenders use sexual fantasies and day dreams to rehearse possible offending scenarios. When these fantasies are accompanied by masturbation, the inclination to proceed with the offence will be strengthened.
Few people realize that they have been chosen as a potential victim during this beginning stage. Personal appearance is not a factor in victim selection. Appearing to be provocatively or seductively dressed is not the issue. The potential victim is selected because she or he is seen by the offender as vulnerable, and because the offender sees an opportunity to offend without getting caught. Do you get this? The problem exists with the offender, not with you.
Vulnerability and opportunity to offend are the main reasons for selecting a victim.
Sexual offences are primarily a crime of power -- of domination. The desire for control, power and domination is the numero uno motivator. Sexual gratification is a lesser consideration. The sense of power comes not only from the violent act itself, but from the charge that comes from manipulating and controlling another human being throughout the whole process -- very serious mental pollution. In the sex offender, the desire for domination and power becomes linked with sexual gratification.
The vulnerability of the potential victim is evaluated by the offender. The offender will consider whether the victim appears to be in dire need of attention, affection, acceptance or approval, to determine whether these needs can be exploited. The offender will observe who is close to the potential victim, to evaluate the risk of getting caught or exposed. Gullibility and naivete are considered. Offenders will assess whether there is opportunity to safely isolate the potential victim and to commit a sexual offence, undisturbed. It is a manipulative powerplay, right from the beginning.
The fantasy life of the offender is the forum for offence planning. The details are worked out, and contingency plans are made. Again, the potential victim will usually be aware of none of this. Deception is the name of the game.
Jake saw Suzie as a shy, quiet child. At nine years old, she was sometimes withdrawn and lonely. He saw her as mentally and emotionally vulnerable, and he was right. He saw opportunity -- her parents were often out of the home socializing. It was easy for him, being a family friend, to offer his baby-sitting services. He presented himself as clean, articulate, sincere, mature and reliable.
Offenders aren't necessarily strangers who appear out of the blue to commit the crime. Many offenders know their victims socially, or are members of their family. The opportunity for ongoing contact is already established in these instances. Offenders take advantage of opportunities to interact with the potential victim in order to assess vulnerability and to evaluate the opportunity to offend.
Some victims blame themselves for not realizing the con job that they were being subjected to: "I should have seen it coming. I should have known better." Have you blamed yourself in this manner?
Let's debate the thinking mistakes that are behind this self-blaming. For starters, it assumes that you have a level of ability to handle life, that borders on perfection and being able to read minds. It also assumes an ability to know the future. Is this reasonable? It further assumes that you are responsible for someone else's actions.
It is not only children who are taken to the cleaners by accomplished con artists, but teenagers and adults too. The manipulative skills of the average sex offender are sophisticated. Who among us cannot be conned? Certainly not moi! You? Really? Kick that thinking error around the block a few times until it leaves you alone. You aren't responsible for the calculating, deviant maneuvers of a sophisticated con artist. You do the best you can -- just like the rest of us. Armed with understanding, you will do better in the future.
Offenders using this strategy will flatter, pay special attention, and generally do what can be done to be seen as wonderful and attentive by the potential victim. That is their objective during this stage of the offending strategy.
The offender will now test the vulnerability and defense responses of the potential victim. At this stage, actual victimization begins.
In the case of Suzie, Jake had prepared for this stage by spending time with Suzie, by playing with her, making her feel special -- stage managing things so that she anticipated his visits eagerly. He then introduced the idea of playing house, which they did, initially in an appropriate manner. Suzie enjoyed these activities and participated enthusiastically. Jake then tested Suzie. He brought in adult videos to watch with her, having her sit beside him and cuddle -- "Let's play mummy and daddy." He engaged her in kissing, assuring her that it was part of the game. Suzie's victimization had begun for real.
Suzie began felt uneasy about what was happening. She enjoyed the closeness, the attention and some of the physical sensations, but she also felt that she was doing something bad. She continued to participate -- trapped into cooperation by her baby-sitter. She did not find it easy to stand up to Jake. He was banking on that. Suzie's participation in the game convinced her that she was to blame for what happened next.
Sex offenders may test victims with off-colour jokes, getting physically too close for comfort, by touching, or by making suggestive remarks. They may try intimidation, persuasion or guilt-tripping to get the victim to take risks or put themselves into vulnerable positions -- just to see how they will react. Have another drink. Loosen up. Don't be such a prude. You're hurting my feelings. The offender wants to find out how to control the victim, and to experiment with ascending stages of control. Accidentally touching the victim's body is common - accidentally on purpose that is. If confronted, there will be a ready excuse: I was just kidding. It was an accident.
When the victim does not stop the action, it is a signal to progress. If possible, the victim will be engaged in sexual foreplay. This is seen by the offender as license to offend. It can be mistakenly seen by the victim as cooperation in the criminal act that follows. This leads to enormous guilt. That's the con. Many offenders manipulate a victim into sexual situations in which they are suddenly out of their depth. Embarrassment and fear of rejection combine to ensure silence or ineffectual protest. The offender is now in charge.
When the offender is assured of being able to control the victim, the offence is simply a matter of isolating the victim. Here again, the victim may not even realize the danger, having been conned into a false sense of security, or being so fearful of rejection and embarrassment, that danger signals are ignored.
Jake was able to isolate Suzie with no difficulty. She was his captive in the baby-sitting situation.
Physical isolation is arranged in parked vehicles or empty homes - any place that provides security for the offender. Psychological isolation is arranged through the testing phase. Many offenders are excellent at improvising.
Victimization takes many forms. Everyone handles these situations in the best way that they can. It is traumatic in every sense of the word. It can be so traumatic that the victim goes into shock and cannot do anything but submit. Some people mentally and emotionally retreat from the psychological and physical violence. They watch the assault from outside of their body. This is called detaching, dissociation or splitting. Children will often use this kind of retreat from the horror of the moment.
Some people cooperate with their victimization - it is a means of survival, often misunderstood by themselves and others, to mean that they wanted the assault, or that victimization has not occurred. It can leave the victim confused, uncertain and prone to shame and secrecy. To make matters more difficult, the relationship between the victim and the offender may be one of love or affection, as well as victimization. Some children who have been sexually abused by a parent experience this love-fear-shame-hate confusion. It makes for a secrecy-maintaining mental set.
Sexual victimization occurs when an offender has achieved a measure of psychological and physical control. The average person of any age is truly unprepared for this. There is no such thing as a perfect way of handling it. Whatever it was that you did to get through those horrifying moments - good for you. Really.
Suzie remained silent and non-resistant when Jake sexually assaulted her. Nothing in her previous experience had prepared her for this. She froze. That was the very best that she could do.
An offender's biggest fear is of being exposed - of being caught and held accountable. Threats, violence and bribery may be used, but there are trickier methods too.
Jake chose a trickier way. He simply carried on with Suzie as if all was well and normal. In doing so, he created in her a sense of disbelief about what had happened. Combined with her state of shock, the sexual assault was like a dream to her. He continued to give her special attention, to stick to the established routines and rhythms of the baby-sitting job. By doing so, he communicated this: "Everything is normal."
Suzie took refuge in the normalcy which returned as quickly as the horror had come. Jake's manipulative prowess had succeeded. She kept the secret.
Offenders try to convince themselves that nothing deviant has happened. They often lie easily and with conviction if confronted. Soon after Jake was convicted with sexual assault against Suzie, he said this: "I thought I was in my girlfriend's house."
Repeated victimization of the same person by an offender does happen. Child sexual abuse literature often documents the repeated victimization of a child by the same offender. So do our newspapers - almost every day.
Sex offenders do not usually stop offending on their own. They surely don't ask for help very often. It is a mistake to think that a sex offender will stop offending all by himself or herself. The tendency is to continue - even after being caught when the opportunity arises. If not caught, stopped and given specialized treatment, the average adolescent sex offender will commit 380 sex crimes in the course of a lifetime, according to a recent study.
Re-victimization can become a ritual. The offender will signal the beginning and the end of the victimization event by certain gesture, voice inflection, or other behaviour. These signals separate the victimization experiences from the rest of life, which will proceed without disruption.
Children are especially vulnerable to re-victimization. Rituals of entrance and exit from the victimization episodes will support their sense of unreality about the abuse, and will increase the likelihood of splitting, of having a clear mental boundary between two different worlds. The offender may be like two separate people to the child victim, for example, daddy and monster.