CARMI — Grooming, a tactic in which a child or other vulnerable person is being conditioned to be sexually victimized, begins with building trust with a protector of a child, according to one expert.

"The first thing that you need to know about grooming is that, depending on the child … they cannot groom a child unless they groom a parent first," said Sheryl Woodham, executive director of the Guardian Center Child Advocacy Center in Saline. "Grooming a parent so that that parent is trusting you to be alone with that child. These predators or sex offenders work very diligently to present a very positive image in the community and to parents. Otherwise they would not have access to children."

She defined grooming: "I would define it personally as an individual assessing a child’s vulnerabilities and playing to those vulnerabilities to gain access to them sexually,” Woodham said.

"So if you have a child who is lonely, you be their best friend," she said. "If you have a child who doesn’t have anything, you might be buying them things that they truly need ... so they start to look to you as a provider … or they may come from a very normal family, but these individuals seem to be able to tune into what a child needs. And then they will use that for their benefit.”

This experience is not uncommon, based on Darkness to Light data that reports that about 90 percent of children who are victims of child abuse know their abusers.

Indeed, a look at the state's Sex Offender Registry shows that the overwhelming majority of the cases are for the sexual abuse of children.

What the data shows

One in every 10 children experience child sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, according to Darkness to Light group. According to the group, 30 percent are abused by family member, and as many as 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts.

Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.

According to Darkness to Light, here is additional information about perpetrators of child sexual abuse:

• The younger the victim, the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member.

• Homosexual individuals are no more likely than heterosexual individuals to sexually abuse.

• Seventy percent of child sexual offenders have between one and nine victims, while 20 percent have 10 to 40 victims.

Creators of the 'Stewards of Children' program

That group created the program, "Stewards of Children" program, which educates parents and other adults to be responsible for protecting children from child sexual abuse. Staff at area Child Advocacy Centers have been trained on the teaching approach, Woodham said.

"They are fun, they are (empathetic), they act like they love children, and parents let down their guard," Woodham said. "If a person shows an interest in being alone with a child during a lesson or some kind of activity, and they don’t want the parent to oversee that activity or interrupt that activity, that’s a big part of saying ‘no’ to the process."

"The other thing is that child molesters will groom their victims with attention, affection, kindness, recognition … and maybe even things like drugs or alcohol or money — anything they can do to lower that victim’s inhibition and gain their cooperation,” she said.

The Darkness to Light organization indicates that parents should notice their children's behavior whenever they return from various activities.

The group indicates that is OK to use directness to thwart possible sexual abuse.

"Find a way to tell adults who care for children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse," one part of the group's educational materials report. "Be that direct."

stephanie.esters@thesouthern.com

618-351-5805

On Twitter: @scribeest

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Murphysboro and Perry County.

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