In order to sexually harm or sexually abuse, offenders need to be able to access their victims. In this Explainer, we introduce some of the ways that might happen.
Remember: most offenders are known to their victims, offences committed by total strangers are rare. However, many offences are committed by offenders who have deliberately cultivated relationships which allow them access and give them the ability to offend.
What sort of relationships might offenders have?
The most common type of relationship is familial, such as a parent or step-parent, a sibling, a more distant relation like an uncle or grandparent, or close friends of the family.
Offenders may create relationships over the internet, using platforms like Facebook or Twitter to establish contact and reasons to speak, through online communities, or through games.
They might be in positions of trust, like teachers, police officers, religious leaders or community figures.
And they might target specific places where potential victims congregate, such as leisure centres or shopping malls.
It’s worth noting that these relationships might not just be with victims, but with people with responsibility for them. For example, an offender might establish a relationship with a single parent, maybe even marrying them, to gain easier access to a child.
Manipulating a victim, or someone with responsibility for a victim, is called ‘grooming’.
Certain types of grooming are illegal. For example, adults can’t make contact with children online and encourage them to meet in person for sexual purposes.
A lot of grooming, though, looks and feels like a normal relationship. Offenders will look to establish bonds with their target through shared interests and activities or through behaviour which seems loving.
Sex offender skill set
To be able to do this, offenders need certain skills. They might appear to be:
In short, they’ll seem to be normal people it is fun to be around. They will be hard to spot.