When most people think of paedophiles, they imagine an evil voice, a larger-than-life persona and perhaps some deformity that symbolises their intent. The truth is far more alarming.
Paedophiles are usually sweet-talking, charming people who easily blend into their surroundings. They do most of their work in broad daylight, oftentimes under our unseeing gaze. They build excellent rapport with our young ones by catering to their needs and wants. And in order to spend as much time as possible with children, they might find a convenient vocation—they could be a volunteer teacher, the bus driver, an X-ray technician or even a daycare worker. At other times, they are our close family members, neighbours or best friends.
Paedophiles trap children in a vicious cycle of secrets. That's why children need to learn that keeping secrets from trusted adults is not a good idea.
With more than 53% of Indian children facing sexual abuse, it's apparent that paedophiles exist as a strong demography in our society. And although they do not attend a standardised university course on paedophilia, they seem to have learnt the exact same tricks.
Here are eight popular lines they use to get the child to do anything they want:
1. If you tell anyone, you will get in trouble
At the very outset, the paedophile would have indulged the child by offering ice-creams, an outing, a toy—whatever the parent was unwilling or unable to give the child. They would thus establish a history of guilt in the mind of the child. And once they exhaust their bag of tricks and the child threatens to reveal their behaviour, they say, "Go ahead. If you tell anyone, you will get in trouble. Everyone will blame you. Remember how many ice-creams you ate without your parents knowing?" They are experts in reverse blackmail.
2. Shh.... I am just checking on you
This is the most common line used by paedophiles. Having earned the child's trust, they approach him or her while they are alone and say, "Shh... I am just checking on you." The child finds it difficult to confront this behaviour from somebody they trust. So they succumb to it. Once the fondling is carried out effectively, the paedophile tells the child, "We are going to carry out these checks regularly just to make sure everything is all right down there."
3. You're my special child; if it feels good, it cannot be bad
The paedophile usually makes the child feel special, safe and happy. (S)he will make the child believe that they feel good about the abuse experience. And how can anything which feels so good be bad?
4. I want to show you how much I care
Paedophiles can be cunning while selecting their victim. Often, they will identify families which are broken or dysfunctional. If the parents fight a lot, they rejoice, for they can now play the role of a saviour. They will approach the child, often while the parents are fighting in the other room, and tell the child, "I'm here for you. And I want to show you how much I care." A child who feels lonely and unloved is most vulnerable to such an approach.
5. Why are you withholding? I will buy you anything in return
After indulging in inappropriate behaviour, they make the child believe that they have the upper hand. As if the child has the power to withhold sexual favours until the paedophile gets them whatever they want. This makes the child feel like the aggressor and in control.
6. I will harm your mother/father if you don't agree
Paedophiles learn whom the child loves the most and then threaten to harm that person. They could display a gleaming knife or some a weapon and continue with the threat until the child surrenders for the sake of the parent/loved one.
7. It's the last time
This is a line paedophiles use at the beginning of a sexual encounter. Believing that this is the end of the ordeal, the child just cooperates. Of course, the paedophile usually belongs to the inner circle and has maximum access to the child's body. But irrespective of the frequency of the encounter, every time could potentially be the last time. The child holds on to this hope and succumbs.
8. You know how sucking your thumb feels good?
Children who suck their thumbs could be made to believe that performing oral sex is an extension of this habit. Innocent children get trapped by such statements.
Parents, teachers and all other stakeholders need to empower the child and encourage them to take ownership of their body. Paedophiles trap children in a vicious cycle of secrets. That's why children need to learn that keeping secrets from trusted adults is not a good idea. They should feel that they can tell the trusted adults ANYTHING without getting into trouble. A child who is accepted and given the freedom of expression is less likely to succumb to a paedophile.
Another specific distinction the child needs to learn is the difference between the secret gift and the surprise gift. While adults understand the difference intuitively, a child might conflate something like a birthday surprise with the act of doing things behind closed doors. To clearly demonstrate the difference, we can say the following:
- The surprise gift is a secret for a very short time.
- Only one person is kept in the dark— the birthday child.
- The surprise gift ends with laughter. The secret gift ends in tears.
- The secret gift can never be enjoyed because it has to be consumed when nobody is watching. So the secret gift feels like trouble
In the final reckoning, the only secret worth discovering is how our happy children pack innocence and wisdom together. In the meantime, let us safeguard our children from the common tricks played by paedophiles.