Spot a sexual abuser

‘I have become the very thing I was supposed to protect you from,’ wrote a remorseful stepdad, who had abused his stepdaughter.

It could happen to any child and in most cases the offender will be someone you and your child may know.

‘It’s easier for someone you know to abuse your child,’ says Marihet Infantino of The Child Family Unit at Jo’burg Child Welfare. ‘The offender knows the family and knows the child which means there is probably an existing trust relationship and people use this relationship to get closer to the child.’

Infantino adds that children are taught to be careful and aware of strangers but for someone you know, access is also much easier and the offender can move along quickly with the grooming process.

Paedophiles go through a grooming process. The offender will not just start abusing a child but rather get to know the child and test him/her. Offenders prey on children who are vulnerable, for example children who have low self esteem or inadequate parental care. The perpetrator will develop a friendship with the child and try to win over their trust.

They will then test the child to see how comfortable he/she is with certain levels of touching. If the child feels uncomfortable early on, it is likely that the offender will move on to another child rather than pursue the relationship with an ‘unwilling victim’. Eventually the touching will progress to a level that is inappropriate.

The offender is likely to shower the child with gifts and sweets and once the child is emotionally hooked, the paedophile may threaten the child with violence against his/her family.

Can a paedophile reform?

‘The prognosis for a paedophile is poor. We don’t believe that paedophilia can be cured but rather only managed. It’s like alcoholism, one day at a time,’ says Aileen Langely, Assistant Director of Jo’burg Child Welfare.

However, she adds that a regressed sexual offender has a better prognosis. For a regressed sexual offender, the primary orientation is towards adults however certain stressors or triggers may lead to the person committing an offense against a child. These triggers could include financial stress or marital problems.

When offenders seek help, there is a strong focus on prevention. Social workers will try help the offenders to develop strategies to help them when they feel tempted to violate a child again.

Langley says that when the offenders first come in for help there is a very low level of responsibility taken. Offenders often blame their behaviour on alcohol or drugs or insist that the child was willing and enjoyed the sexual encounter. Langley says that the key message they need to teach the offender is that adults need to care for and protect children. However as the weeks pass, the offenders begin to express remorse.

Who is a sexual offender?

Sexual offenders can be found across all race and socio-economic groups and the typical offender looks just like anyone else.

‘It is a myth that all sexual offenders have themselves been abused,’ says Langley ‘but this is the case for the majority of the offenders at Jo’burg Child Welfare.’

Langley says that the typical paedophile cannot form normal relationships with peers and relates to children emotionally. ‘The offender’s primary sexual orientation is towards children and the offender is likely to be attracted to a specific type of child whether it’s a boy or a girl and of a particular age.’

There are always things that a parent can look out for when it comes to spotting abuse in your child's life.

- Parents, take note

For more information please contact Jo’burg Child Welfare on 011 298 8500 or alternatively e-mail us at

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