Child molesters groom the whole community (and they don’t need Troll dolls)

Here in the US, conspiracy theory-minded folks recently convinced themselves that a new doll was deliberately designed to groom kids for sexual abuse.

When you push a button on the doll’s bottom, it makes happy noises. One mother posted a video saying that she thought the noises were sexual, and her message quickly went viral.

The company said that any sexual connotations were unintentional, and they’re happy to replace the doll, and are “in the process of removing the item for purchase.”

Is it possible that someone in toy design deliberately made a toy for the purpose of teaching kids to associate their private parts with pleasure? Anything is possible (although most kids figure that out easily enough on their own).

There is certainly a lot of blurring of lines between sexiness and cuteness in toys, and it’s gross. It’s worth while, for any number of reasons, to limit your kids’ exposure to dolls and toys and books and shows that constantly show them sexual things.

But this woman’s concern was based on a misunderstanding of what active, targeted grooming often looks like. The whole point of grooming is that it doesn’t start with private parts and sexy noises.

Grooming of children and other victims starts with things that are objectively innocuous and non-sexual: Offering rides, being friendly and helpful, giving little gifts, accustoming them to non-sexual physical touch. So when we get the impression that grooming of children looks like sex plus children, we’re setting ourselves up to miss actual red flags, and that means missing actual sexual abusers.

And there’s another important idea: When someone wants to sexually abuse a child, he doesn’t just groom the child. He very often grooms everyone around the child.

He grooms character witnesses. He grooms an entire community, so that nobody thinks twice about letting him spend time alone with the child, and so that, if the child does speak up and say something is weird, no one will believe the child or the whistleblower, because everyone knows and loves Awesome Coach Steve or Holy Fr. George or Helpful Uncle Andy or Venerable Grandpa Henry, and it would never cross their mind that the guy everyone likes would do such a thing.

Having everyone on your side is vital, and abusers know this. They work to make everyone around the child will be unwittingly complicit in the child’s abuse.

This reality hit home when I was undergoing training to teach catechism class for my diocese… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.


Image: minanfotos via Pixabay

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7 thoughts on “Child molesters groom the whole community (and they don’t need Troll dolls)”

  1. Sadly, I have met many adults (a shocking number, really) who were molested as children. It’s my observation that most of them were taught from an early age that passivity in response to intrusive behavior is more Christlike and/or feminine than an aggressive self-protective response. It’s taken them a lot of therapy not only to come to grips with their molestation but also to overcome their early conditioning to be passive.

    We can never protect our kids completely from evil, but I have come to believe the single best thing we can do to minimize their risk is to teach them that standing up for themselves is good and righteous and smiled on by the Lord. And it’s never too early to support them in their efforts.

    I have a story that I’ve probably told a hundred times. When one of my kids was of toddler/preschool age, he was the type of kid who was easily reprimanded – “mommy’s angry face” usually sufficed to get him to stop whatever unacceptable behavior he was doing. One day, an older woman who was in my home quite a bit at that time, and who had probably hugged him before, moved toward him and put her arms out and asked him for a hug. He very politely told her, “No thank you.” She went and took a hug anyway and so he hauled off and hit her with all his 3 year old might. She immediately released him and howled, “He hit me!” At which point, he ran over to me, crying. I believe he thought he was going to be in trouble. I picked him up, hugged him, and told him, “It’s ok buddy. You told her no thank you.” I have no reason to think that woman was a child molester or grooming him or any other evil thing and I could see she was seething at my permissive mothering, but the bottom line is no means no. My kid said don’t touch him. Guess what? That means don’t touch him. And if you touch him after he says no, you’ll suffer the consequences from him, or from me, or maybe even from both of us.

  2. Amen! In a Catholic context, I think lay people need to be a lot more on the alert and not trusting in how money and church resources are used. The sex abuse scandal has showed us that the hierarchy is exercising no oversight or management of individual pastors and parishes. This also means that your priest has no one watching the money, in most cases.

  3. Totally agree with you although, as an aside, I do find it creepy for a child’s toy to have a push button in it’s bottom.

    1. I think it was designed to make a noise when the doll sat down. (not defending it – I loathe the entire Trolls franchise. But it wasn’t a “use your finger to poke her bottom” kind of thing, necessarily, either)

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