Grooming – How Sexual Predators Get Into Our Lives


David Pittman shares methods to keep our children safer by helping identify sexual predators.

After posting my story of childhood sexual abuse, I was asked an important question by a concerned parent. How did this monster get into your life?

The answer is both simple and complex. The easy part is that they don’t have the appearance of a monster. They don’t look like some James Bond or Cartoon character villain, with beady eyes, horns coming out of their heads, or a big neon sign saying, “STAY AWAY, PEDOPHILE HERE!” Sadly, they almost always look like everyone one else. The gentle minister, the encouraging coach, the neighbor always willing to lend a hand or the family member who seems to be there just when you need them.

And this is where the complexity comes in. How do you distinguish genuine care from pure evil? While there are no set in stone answers, there are some clues to look for and ways to evaluate what is going on. And though nothing is fool-proof, I hope it’s at least a start for you to help figure out friend from foe.

One of the most frightening things about pedophiles/sexual predators is that they seem so “normal”. They are notoriously friendly, nice, kind, engaging and like-able. And they target their victims, often insinuating themselves into that child’s life through their family, school, house of worship, sports, and hobbies. But don’t ever forget, pedophiles are professional con-artists and are experts at getting children and families to trust them. They will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy.

So let’s first define exactly what grooming is and then we will go into the steps involved.

Erika Lyn Smith, of the “Missing And Exploited Children Site”, gives a thorough explanation of what we are talking about.

The act of grooming a child involves spending time, energy, and money to make a child and even the parent or parents feel comfortable with the relationship. Only after a trusting relationship is established will the child predator start to become more intrusive and to test the boundaries of the relationship by pushing limits. These violations may include hugging, kissing, tickling, wrestling, and invading a child’s privacy while showering, dressing or toileting.

Initially a pedophile will begin to violate the physical boundaries, by accidentally touching the child through his or her clothes to see what kind of reaction he or she receives. If a child or parent questions the action the predator will likely back off and regain the trust of the child or parents before proceeding.

By befriending the parent or parents, the pedophile gains the trust of everyone in the family. Children are less likely to tell when the relationship turns sexual if the adult is someone he or she knows personally or is a friend of mom or dads. In addition, mom and dad may be less likely to listen to a child when it involves a good friend of the family.

Single parents, especially mother’s will be looking for a positive male role model if there is no father involved. Single mothers are more likely to accept offers from a child’s coach or school for help when offered. All parents needs to be vigilant when it comes to allowing someone access to his or her child, and question friendships or relationships that take up a lot of a child’s free time.

Signs that a pedophile may be grooming your child include:

• Telling a child, he or she is a “special” friend
• Bringing a child special mementos or gifts
• Talking to a child about adult issues like sex or marriage problems
• Giving a child alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
• Inviting a child to spend the night or go camping

A former F.B.I. agent named Kenneth V. Landing wrote about 5 steps he identified as the general process most sexual predators use in grooming children to be their ext victims. Below you will find this listed.

Stage 1: Identifying a Possible Victim
Although pedophiles differ in their “type” regarding age, appearance and gender, all pedophiles will look for a victim who seems in some way vulnerable.

Stage 2: Collecting Information
The next step is for the pedophile to collect as much information on the targeted victim as possible. This is most commonly done through casual conversations with both the child and the parents or caretaker.

Stage 3: Filling a Need
Once the individual has the information he needs, he then becomes part of the child’s life by filling a need. If the victim is poor, for example, the pedophile will provide him/her with expensive toys. If the victim is lonely, the pedophile will act as a friend.

Stage 4: Lowering Inhibitions
The pedophile will then start to lower the child’s inhibitions concerning sexual matters. He may come up with games or activities that involve getting undressed, make sexual comments or show the child pornographic images or pictures.

Stage 5: Initiating the Abuse
At this final stage, the pedophile begins to sexually abuse the child.

Another technique used by these predators is called the 4 “F’s”.

Friendship, Fantasy, Fear and Force.

“Friendship” is built through nurturing a relationship through bonding. The adult will usually give the child gifts, take them on special outings and show them a lot of attention.

Once a child trusts an adult, the adult can influence the child’s attitude regarding sexual behavior. Grooming may include introducing sexual content to the child as an example of what the perpetrator desires and to give the impression that the depicted acts are acceptable. If the child thinks that sex between children and adults is ok, it’s easier for the pedophile to victimize the child.

Then they will introduce “Fantasy”. They will manipulate the child with a false sense of security. They will pay a lot of attention to the child’s problems and personal matters and offer advice and counseling. They will tell the child how much they love them and that they want to have a long term, loving relationship with them.

Once the child has opened up to the pedophile, they will begin to instill “Fear” by threatening to share the child’s secrets with their classmates or their parents. Sometimes they will even threaten the life or safety of the child or of their family and friends It’s all a manipulation tactic to get the child to do what the pedophile wants them to do.

Ultimately, the pedophile uses “Force” to sexually exploit the child.

While these are by no means the only ways sexual predators work their way into ours and our children’s lives, they are at least a beginning place for parents to be on the lookout. The more information you have and the better educated you become, the more you will be able to best protect your kids.

Knowledge truly is power and we cannot give over our power to these heinous criminals. They will use every trick in the book so you have to know what they’re doing. Even more frightening, pedophiles and sexual predators work together to help each other figure out ways to gain access to our kids. Don’t believe it, read this article about a 170 page, “How To” publication put together by and for adults who prey on innocent children. They are making a concerted effort to help each other so we have to be more vigilant, more active and tireless in our work to combat these predators.

I hope this is a good start on helping you to protect your children. God knows I wish my family had been told this when I was a child. Maybe they would have been able to stop my abuse before it began. So please take a page from our family history book, educate yourselves and talk with your kids.



Kenneth V. Lanning, Special Agent, F.B.I.

Erika Lyn Smith

America’s Most Wanted



Originally appeared on Together We Heal 


Image Credit: John Mallon Iphoneography/Flickr

About David Pittman

As the Executive Director of Together We Heal, David Pittman works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


  1. W.R.R.,
    I couldn’t agree more about more education being needed! We seem to be stuck in the “head stuck in sand” phase of people accepting just how many children are affected by this plague of abuse. Everyone says “not where I live”, meanwhile it’s happening EVERYWHERE and in EVERY neighborhood…poor, rich, white, black, Christian, Muslim, it makes no differnce, pedophiles and sexual predators are literally everywhere and no one seems to want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. It’s not stranger danger that’s the problem, it’s your next door neighbor, teacher, coach, preacher/priest/imam, or the kid sitting next to yours in class that’s committing these horrific crimes. 90% or more of all sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone that is known, trusted and often loved by the family…and we have to keep shouting it from the rooftops until people finally listen and do something about it. I’ll check out your site and please let me know if we can work together in any way. U can reach me at

  2. David, thank you for all that you are doing. I’m a survivor of CSA and child sex trafficking; the abuse went on my entire childhood, in a pedophile ring run by my father. Education and prevention (including proper age-appropriate sex ed for kids) are vital. When the parents are the abusers, it is very difficult indeed to help a child. I believe we need public PSA type messages, billboards, TV ads, etc. to reach all victims, even those who have no adult protector. You can find my essays here by clicking on my name, or my blog is here: One of my abusers, a “client” of the ring, was a preacher. Thank you for your work with SNAP also.

  3. Archy, forgive my typo in spelling your name.

  4. Rob, I couldn’t agree more with you. As I just said to archy, and he concurred, stranger danger is a MYTH. we must be aware of the wolves in sheeps clothing.

  5. There’s day-to-day living as a society, as a community and as targets of predators. Unfortunately, the predators leverage social norms and human behavior to get what they want. They have been so expert at it, and so prolific in their victories that society has become a bit sensitive to the meager traits of the predator they THINK he exposes.

    What the parents don’t realize is that they will NEVER be fooled, nor taken advantage of by ANY predator they suspect. Drooling-Old-Carl in the park will never get your kids. You would never let that happen.

    What was Bernie Madoff? Think about it a bit. Was ANY victim of his predation suspecting him of being a con-man? Hell no! And Bernie devoured the principal of the hunt. That is, he killed the one he stalked.

    The predators imagined by those parents at the ball-field are not only dolts regarding true child safety, but they are certainly the easiest targets of the heard. The TRUE predators…The TRUE baby-rapists…certainly would NEVER slither up to the back-stop of Junior’s game and expect to get the kill. The drooling, unzipped, mouth-breathing, pervert-Carl will never get to anyone!!! And if HE is what the parents are on-guard for, they have left the kid’s bedroom doors and windows wide open.

    The real predators begin grooming the parents. Ice cream trips with Jr do not evolve into a touch on the thigh. They build a relationship with the parents that the parents don’t want to see ended. They will say “thank goodness Joe is in our lives, else the boys wouldn’t have any positive role model. God knows that drunk ex-husband of mine won’t provide anything to the boys! Joe is HERE for them! Joe is here for me AND them. I mean Disney??? Disney??? Their own father would never take them to freakin Disney.”

    And 5-years later…Little Johnny explains the realities of that dynamic that led to his abuse:

    “I couldn’t tell you about it Mom, cuz we all woulda lost Joe…we woulda not gone to Disney, and Billy wouldn’t have gotten his hockey equipment…and you woulda lost the guy you love. Bsides…Joe made it all seem normal…like its what men and boys do. He never even told me to not tell you.”

    Single moms; Stay home.

    Everyone else; Stop thinking Law & Order SVU is educating you.

  6. The initial behaviours seem similar to what the non-parent of a child would do when dating the parent. Eg, buy icecreams, try to be there for the child as the parents-partner. It’s probably important to note that those initial actions may just be someone being friendly like the gf/bf of the parent. My uncles n aunts use to buy me stuff as a kid, my parents did the same for my relatives, so I hope people keep this in mind before jumping to conclusions.

    The other day I was cleaning out the garage and saw a bunch of art stuff we bought, I was tempted to just offer them to any of the kids but realized that in doing so I would be seen as an adult male giving stuff to kids which is a big no no if you don’t know them. I just wanted them out of the house and if I can’t find a friend with kids who wants them they’ll be going into the bin.

    We must be ever vigilante to protect our kids but we need to balance it out with trust of humanity, currently there is a pedophilia hysteria which is SEVERELY damaging adult male and child normal interactions where it’s so hard to find a male role model, teacher, scout leader, etc because of this hysteria. I myself am a photographer and I am super cautious around kids and usually put the camera away if I am doing some sort of landscape shoot or whatever. I avoid being near kids at the mall and do a bunch of behaviours to try limit any of the hysteria affecting me. In my camera club it’s gotten so bad that even the females are having trouble taking photos of their own grandkids at sports games! Pretty much every adult male I know is cautious as hell around kids and afraid, fathers have told me of the eyes they get at the park with their OWN damn kid by other parents! Even women I know are getting cautious. I actually avoid looking at kids because of this shit.

    Becareful but be smart, someone showing interest in your child may simply be friendly and they love kids. Society is quite different to when I was a kid, everything needs balance.

    • Hi Archy, I appreciate your input and agree with you on having a balance in our lives, not just on the issue of CSA. I have to disagree with you on one point though. The “pedophilia hysteria” as you called it I believe goes beyond the pale. Because pedophiles have been able to get away with so much for so long, we must continue to educate more parents as long and as loud as we can because sadly, unlike yourself, entirely too many continue to keep their heads buried in the sand, in spite of the risk to their children and those around them. It’s an unfortunate side affect, but as with any change that is so dearly needed, an extreme amount of effort has to go into it to make things actually change. As people of color needed extreme action, as immigrants of all generations needed action, so too do our children need protection now more than ever. And if that requires men and women altering their behavior until laws made to protect children rather than pedophiles are enacted and society genuinely opens its eyes to the 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys who are sexually abused before they turn 18, then that’s what must happen. Like you, I grew up in a time when people trusted their neighbors, friends, coaches, clergy, etc., without question…it’s how I ended up being molested/raped by a minister…

      • The flipside of this though is that the hysteria is pretty much denying children much interaction with males, I think primary school here has over 80% female teachers and our children are suffering for it especially the males. Abuse largely happens by the parents and close relatives yet it is the strangers who are most feared, that is the problem. We should be trusting of adults to some degree, we should not freak out if an adult wants to play with a kid in a very basic manner of just being friendly. If the adult shows warning signs THEN we can worry.

        I am sorry for your abuse, I was physically abused by teachers but I still think it’s a terrible idea to let our fear get so bad that our kids can’t go on scout camps because very few parents want to do it from fear. My parents were both teachers and my dad especially had to be super duper careful around the kids at highschool just to cover his own ass. My mum has had the girls hug her because they’re friendly and she has to push them away and say they can’t do it over this hysteria. I truly believe it’s creating a society that is far far far less physically affectionate than it should be, we should be able to do basic hugs with friends and not freak the fuck out.

        What is probably needed is when looking after kids we have multiple adults and different genders to try keep it all in check and hopefully reduce abuse which correct me if I am wrong is mostly when a single adult with bad intention is around the kid without others to watch over the kid. We don’t need to trust 100% but we should be free to say hello to kids and adults without fear, teachers shouldn’t be afraid to be hugged by students, nor afraid to be in a room alone with them when the student is trying to get help. This extreme level of care will end up making a generation of physical touch starved children such as myself whom could barely get a hug, a generation of adults afraid to be near kids and humanity’s socialization greatly suffers.

        Put it this way, if a child at school hurts herself the male teacher has to wait until a female teacher is present before applying first aid….

        • Archly, I agree with you completely that stranger danger is a myth. And it is 90-95% of all CSA happens at the hands of someone that is known, trusted and often loved. But to infer I am saying we are causing fear is simply not true. The whole purpose of TWH is the EDUCATE not INSTILL FEAR. I’m sorry that message has somehow been lost or misunderstood within the confines of this article, and I assure you, if you take the time to read the articles I’ve written you will see this is simply not the case. I hope you will spend a few moments verifying what I’m saying to you. It’s my belief that you and I want the same thing for all children.

          • Oh my bad, I wasn’t trying to say this article was instilling the fear. It’s just advice I am tacking on as your article is great advice. Something for people to keep in mind, apologies if it sounded like I meant your article was teaching the fear.

            • No worries Archy. I didn’t mean to sound defensive if I did. Sometimes it’s hard to discern a persons tone when reading what they’ve typed. I’m very appreciate of your input and the fact that you are writing shows you care. Thank you for being a part of the solution! And please do read some more of our blog an feel free to share with others you feel it might help. Peace be with you!

  7. Thanks so much Rob for pointing out a group of people that these predators go directly after. I was the perfect example of this. My mom was a single mom, working odd hours for the police department and my abuser took advantage of all of these factors.

  8. Well done David!

    I would add a note to single moms out there. The pedos hunt for you like meth-head hunts for $5.00 rock.

    You are not only a ready-checked list of target traits, but you show him to the f-ing house!

    I know of one boy who was abused by SO many boyfriends of the mother, he lost count! And in a moment of liquore-greased come-to-Jesus honesty…she admitted that she suspected, but did not want to know.

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