Some 93% of child sexual abuse cases involve a perpetrator that knows the victim. That is According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Lincoln Keller, Sara Kern and Kris Kvols of HOPE Coalition in Red Wing are trying to make the community aware of sexual grooming tactics and techniques to help combat those sexual abuse cases.
Grooming is when a person uses their relationship and trust to manipulate, exploit or abuse a child or young person. People who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked by the groomer as well.
“In a lot of cases, people aren’t aware that it could be happening to someone they know and care about, so it’s not on their radar,” Kvols, the executive director of HOPE, said. “It’s not until it does happen that it really shakes peoples worlds.”
So what does grooming look like? Being secretive about who they are spending time with, spending more time away from home, underage drinking or drug taking, and increasing sexualized behavior are just a few signs.
Keller, the sexual assault advocate for HOPE, said it’s important for families to discuss sexual grooming. He also said people must stop using the phrase, "It doesn’t happen here," when viewing issues of sexual assault.
“It happens everywhere,” Keller said. “It’s not just race, sex, creed; it happens to every level of society.”
For HOPE, it’s a case-by-case basis when meeting with victims of sexual grooming. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, according to Keller.
One way parents can speak to their children about sexual grooming warning signs is discussing consent and the power of "no," according to Kern.
The associate director for HOPE, Kern said when she was working in Washington state she was able to teach students as early as kindergarten about consent. With students that young, Kern would talk with them about empathy, how to listen, how to say no and how to be a good friend. Currently, Keller is able to speak to students as young as grade 5 around the area.
Kern has spoken with her young son about boundaries, saying it’s his decision who hugs and kisses him, even if it’s a close relative.
Something as innocent as tickling, Kvols said, could be a way a predator could break down a child’s defense to see how much the person can get away with. Kvols said one of her nieces told her not to tickle her a few years ago. While Kvols thought it would innocent and fun, it was a good reminder that no means no.
“I don’t know what practice she had in place to continue to hold that boundary, but she’d been taught very clearly that this is my boundary and I have no problem telling you that you’ve crossed it,” Kvols said.
When clients come and speak with them, the trio said they focus on eliminating the why, focusing on how they can help, asking who can the client trust and making sure they know they’re believed.
“To have a person say, ‘I believe you. I can help you. You won’t be alone. Let me give you some choices.’ In that moment, that’s going to mean more to them, and help them in their recovery, to get to that survivorship,” Keller said.
For more information, visit the HOPE Coalition website: hope-coalition.org.