By Seona Angell, Seona has over 20 years experience in Child Protection including work with Youth Offending Teams and the NSPCC working with perpetrators and young people with sexually harmful behaviour.

***TRIGGER WARNING*** This article contains sensitive content.

Sexual perpetrators come from every walk of life including professionals and those in positions of trust such as teachers, clergy, justice/law officials, members of the armed forces, medical practitioners and sporting leaders/officials. Whilst the majority of sexual perpetrators are male, females too commit sexual offences. Whether male or female, and regardless of age (excepting very young offenders who are acting out behaviours having been abused themselves), an offender knows what they are doing is wrong and against the law. They know they will be heavily punished if caught, so ensuring secrecy via means of grooming of and/or threats towards the victim is an essential component of perpetrator behaviour.

Sex offenders are often charming and are skilled at manipulating and grooming the carer of the child they are targeting. Their offending is always planned to a greater or lesser degree [(Finkelhor, D 1986) and (Wolf, S 1984)] and offenders become plausible and convincing liars. They often target vulnerable single mothers offering false affection or a close relationship in order to gain access to one of her children. To this end there is now a law – ‘Sarah’s Law’ which allows parents, carers or guardians to formally ask the police for information about a person who has contact with their child, or a child close to them, if they're concerned the person may pose a risk.

It is the duty of each and every one of us to endeavour to protect children against sexual predators. Following a gut instinct of ‘something is just not right’, always believing a child’s disclosure, having to accept that there are those who wish harm to children and being cautious of whom we let into our lives and homes, are all ways in which we can play our part in protecting our vulnerable young.

To follow is a fictitious diary of a sexual predator, the thought process behind and the extent to which someone might go to ‘groom’ a child. ***Please be aware that the following content might be triggering.***

Hi, my name is Harry. I like children – I mean it, I really like children; they fascinate and excite me. Sure, I have my family (wife and two kids, the usual) and a few friends but there is something missing - that someone very special who looks up to me and idolises me because I will become their hero; someone I can control.

My school days were ok-ish. The teachers liked me because I was clever but my class mates made fun of me calling me a four-eyed swot. I was an ‘A’ grade high achieving pupil, never put a foot wrong, good at sport, played the trumpet and had an artistic quirky bent which led to winning the school’s art and design prize during year 12. Sounds great but I wasn’t popular, I was bullied by fellow students and referred to as the ‘gay nerd’. Not true because I liked girls but they didn’t like me.

University was ok but I was a bit of a loner. Student drinking antics and partying didn’t interest me so I was never one of the lads or part of the ‘in crowd’. I had some acquaintances but no real friends. I kept up my trumpet playing, worked hard, got a first-class degree in mathematics, did a PGCE and got a job teaching maths and some music in a nearby primary school.

I was approached by a female teaching colleague, Joanne, to join a local brass band and after much persuasion relented. Playing the trumpet made me feel good, powerful; master of my own skill. I was a good musician and my talent was duly recognised with a permanent position in the band. Joanne was a bit like me – a kind of loner. We got together and after one year married. She said she loved me and I loved her but in a different way – like I love my sister. We were good together; I was a caring and helpful husband but she ‘wore the pants’. Five years hence we had two children, Flossy aged 4 and Jimmy, 22 months.

From the outside, a perfect family, two professional parents with full time teaching jobs (I had been promoted to deputy head and became school designated safeguarding lead), children in school and nursery and members of the local brass band. We had a mortgage, two cars, a recently purchased new home on a local sought-after estate. We wanted for little, and on the surface had everything, but for me something was missing .................. I loved my children but was attracted in a different way to other children, young boys and one at school in particular. Peter was a shy small and thin boy of 10 years. He was good at maths and worked hard to please me. He looked up to me and that empowered me; made me feel good.

Joanne usually went to bed early whilst I stayed up preparing lessons, doing school admin or marking work on line. That was when I was drawn to searching the net for images of boys like Peter. Wow ...... there were so many and this became a nightly addiction. Sex with Joanne was dull and boring and she was always in charge; my mind was elsewhere. Masturbating to images of Peter ‘look alikes’ was far more exciting and satisfying but soon that just wasn’t enough.......

I had to find ways of spending more time with Peter so I set up an after-school maths club for those sitting forthcoming grammar school entry exams. I encouraged Peter to attend and spoke with his mother at a parent/teacher evening about the benefits to Peter, telling her it could make the difference between success and failure. Peter’s mother was extremely grateful and told me how much Peter likes, and looks up to, me. Music to my ears! I experienced that fluttering feeling deep in the pit of my stomach which only sexual excitement produces.

Those after-school classes became the focus of my life – Joanne encouraged me believing I was offering additional tutorship for the benefit of the pupils, the school Head commended my commitment to promoting good grammar school entry results. I found myself clock watching and longing for 3.30pm on Tuesdays.

One afternoon Peter told me he may not be able to continue to attend after-school as his mother’s shifts had changed and her neighbour could not provide the necessary childcare for the 1.5 hour gap until she got home (she was a nurse). My heart sank – my life had become centred around Tuesdays and being in close proximity to Peter. When he struggled with a question I had the perfect excuse to lean over him and brush myself against his nubile body. Peter liked this; I know because he didn’t retract from my touch. The after-school class without Peter would render it pointless, so I told Peter I would call his mother and discuss childcare arrangements so that he could continue to attend.

Peter’s mother was very grateful for my offer of extra 1-1 tuition before giving Peter a lift home (I assured his mother this was not a problem as they lived nearby). I was excited and aroused; that night I spent longer on the net knowing the sexual gratification I got from looking at those young boys being sexually abused would soon be a magical reality ....................... as indeed it became.

Every Tuesday I hastened the after-school lesson so I could be alone with Peter. I sat beside Peter to help him solve the set tasks. He liked my closeness because he never pulled away. Peter and I were becoming very close, so I gave him small gifts in recognition of his mathematical progress. He enjoyed the chocolate and goodies but most of all he liked the electronic gadget gifts. [NSPCC definition of grooming (copyright 2021).] His mother was a single parent and could not afford to buy him such treats. Peter was very grateful and kept telling me how kind and generous I was; this made me glow. I told him he is very special; my star pupil and he deserves this and much more.

The ‘much more’ came not soon enough when I was giving him a lift home one cold dark November evening. Peter said he was hungry so I stopped to buy him a McDonalds. I pulled in to a layby to enable us both to eat. Peter said he could not thank me enough. I told him he could, by allowing me to touch him in a ‘special way’, adding it would be pleasurable and something people who care about each other do. I masturbated Peter and said it was only fair that he did the same to me. The excitement was intense, the waiting worthwhile and the planning ............. it had worked out just perfectly. The trap had been laid and the snare released, there was no escape for Peter now.

I told Peter he must swear to keep our ‘little secret’ for if anyone found out he would get into a lot of trouble. His friends would be disgusted with him and not like him anymore. His mother would not believe him because she looks up to me, as I am a professional; a well-respected deputy head teacher. I told Peter he encouraged me by not pushing me away; he wanted it because he never said no and he too enjoyed our sexual ’games’. I told Peter I loved him and confused him by saying I was a father figure (whilst knowing I would never abuse my own children – that would be unacceptable, awful, horrid and something beyond contemplation).

[Peter was frightened, he felt embarrassed, dirty, scared, confused and did not know where to turn for help. Harry told him if he did not keep the secret bad things would happen. He would be taken away from his mother, he would never see his pet dog again and he would be put in a children’s care home where he would not have any friends. Harry told Peter people would blame him because he ‘allowed it to happen’ and ‘asked for it’ probably because he enjoyed the experience - it was all Peter’s fault.]

Summary of Harry’s fictitious scenario

Peter was too scared, embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone about the abuse [McElvaney, R. (2013)] which continued until he left the school having successfully attained a place at the grammar school. Peter did not disclose the abuse he had suffered along with the subsequent mental health problems until he was 19 years old following episodes of alcohol and substance misuse leading to expulsion from school during his final year. With the help of a local charity supporting those who have been sexually abused, he made a disclosure to the Police ten years after the abuse ended.

Harry was arrested on suspicion of the sexual abuse of Peter. During Police investigations, the abuse of other young boys (after Peter left the school) came to light. Harry denied the charges but was found guilty of the sexual abuse of Peter and eight other young boys. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison and placed on the Sex Offender Register for life. Harry was not eligible for an in-prison sex offender treatment programme due to his continued denial of all the offences. He was released from prison, on licence, after serving 4 years of his sentence. Harry was issued with a SOPO (Sex Offender Prevention Order) in which one stipulation stated he was not allowed to have unsupervised contact with any young person under the age of 18 years.

During his term in prison Joanne divorced Harry and moved away to another part of the country. Both she and the two children were devastated and deeply traumatised by her husband’s offending. Family members become secondary victims of sexual offending (Remer, R., & Elliott, J. E. (1988)).

Harry continued to state the ‘relationship’ he had with all of the boys was consensual – “they wanted it, they liked me, they didn’t stop me, they enjoyed it” and therefore believed he had no charges to answer. Despite losing his family, his job/career and knowing he would never work with children again, in any capacity, he continued to fiercely deny his offending and to justify and excuse his sexually abusive dysfunctional behaviour by blaming the victims. (Mann, R.E. & Hollin, C.R. (2013)).

Harry’s ‘plan’ severely damaged the lives of nine young people who have now been identified and offered long term counselling to try and make sense of what happened, to be supported in their journey of survival and most importantly to reassure them that  it was not their fault. (Broussard, S.D., William, S & Wagner, G. (1988)). They were the victims of a heinous crime, perpetrated by someone in a position of trust, against some of the most vulnerable in our society.

If you are concerned about a child please visit the website here and contact the relevant team .If you are needing support for you or a member of your family please get in touch with the STARS Dorset team either by email [email protected] or by phone on 01202 308840.

Summary References

Broussard, S.D. & Wagner, W. G. (1988). Child sexual abuse: Who is to blame? Child Abuse and Neglect, 12(4), 563-569

Finkelhor, D (1986) – ‘Four Preconditions to Sexual Offending’. Journal of Psychotherapy & The Family – Taylor & Francis

McElvaney, R, (2013). Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse: Delays, Non-disclosure and Partial Disclosure. What the Research Tells Us and Implications for Practice. Child Abuse Review June 2013.

NSPCC on line (copyright 2021) – see ‘Grooming’:- What is grooming [“Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them”.], Types of grooming, Signs of grooming, Effects of grooming and Reporting grooming.

Remer,R., & Elliott, J. E. (1988). Characteristics of secondary victims of sexual assault. International Journal of Family Psychiatry, 9 (4), 373-387.

Ruth E. Mann & Clive R. Hollin (2007). Sexual offenders’ explanations for their offending. Journal of Sexual Aggression Vol. 13, 2007

Wolf, S (1984) – ‘Cycle of Abuse’. A Multifactor model of deviant sexuality. Presented at the Third International Conference on Victimology, Lisbon 1984.