The recent life sentence conviction of paedophile, Brett Peter Cowan for the 2003 murder of Queensland boy Daniel Morcombe brought closure to the 11-year police investigation that consumed Australia and the rest of the world.
But the subsequent release of information exposing the serial nature of Cowan’s sexual depravity has stirred strong emotions of fear and hatred among us.
Now, more than ever, parents are looking for ways to protect their children from the likes of Cowan.
What this article is not about: Teaching your children how to avoidpaedophiles.
What this article is about: A non-confrontational, play-based technique for assessing your child’s feelings about someone you suspect is grooming them or committing sexual offences against them.
Paedophilia thrives because our children are unwitting victims to the various manipulative actions of sex offenders.
Paedophiles plan for situations whereby their victims might be questioned by concerned parents or authorities. Depending on the personality of the offender, they might use guilt, threats of violence, threats of bad things happening to the child’s family or religious themes to ensure their victims don’t report the crime.
This non-verbal, non-confrontational play-based technique is designed to circumvent the paedophile’s expectation that direct questions will be asked of the child (e.g., “Has [insert name] ever touched you in a way that you don’t like?”). It gives parents a fighting chance to ascertain whether there is any basis to concerns they might hold about a specific adult with whom their child has contact.
Tell your child you want to play a fun game with them where you take turns asking each other questions about how you feel about something or someone.
Explain to them the only rule is that you can only answer with a facial expression.
Demonstrate some facial expressions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust) for your child and then ask them to show you the same expressions. Use the below image as a guide.
Each question should start with “How do you feel about …”. Begin the game with simple and familiar things like foods, cartoon characters, places, animals that you know their feelings on. This allows you to ensure your child understands the rules of the game and is able to display the correct emotions on their face.
Start asking the occasional question on how s/he feels about certain people in their life. You could start with yourself, their sibling/s, their immediate relatives, etc. Keep asking a mix of questions, though.
When you’re ready, ask your child how s/he feels about the person about whom you’re concerned. Be careful not to inject any variation in your tone when you ask the question. Closely observe their response and then, without hesitation, move on to the next question.
When you feel the time is right, end the game on a positive note and moveonto the “Why?” part of the game (see What To Do Next, below).
What To Look For …
When you ask your child how they feel about the person of concern, observe closely for any of the following responses:
A negative facial expression (e.g., anger, sadness, fear or disgust).
Failure to show a facial expression / shaking of the head / crying / freezing / request that you ask the next question.
Abrupt withdrawal from the game.
[Advanced technique] A negative micro expression followed by a masking smile.
It’s vitally important you carry out this next stage. Without it, you can’t properly ascertain the reason for your child’s non-verbal response to your question about the person of concern. Read on …
Tell your child you’re now both going to ask each other “Why?” questions about some of the things.
For example, if your child showed an expression of fear when you asked how s/he feels about sharks, you could ask, “You looked scared when I asked you how you feel about sharks, didn’t you?! Why is that?”
Make sure your child asks you “Why?” questions, too. You should model with detailed responses about why you feel the way you do about the things s/he asked you about. The modelling of detailed responses will encourage your child to do the same.
Once your child is familiar with the rhythm of the game, use the above questioning format to ask about the reason for their facial expression response to your question about the person of concern.
If your child had previously displayed a negative facial expression be sure to remain neutral and calm as you explore the reasons they showed a negative expression.
If your child gives you information that concerns you, use follow up questions such as, “Tell me about …” and “What else?” to ascertain the extent and seriousness of the situation. You, as their parent, are the best judge of how far you should pursue details here. In some cases, it might be best left for a while so that you can seek advice on the best course of action. I cannot give you advice in this regard.
In many cases, the child might explain their negative facial expression was because the person is smelly, looks scary, gets cranky, etc. That’s why it’s important not to jump to conclusions if your child displays a negative facial expression about the person of concern.
You should still ask the “Why?” question even if your child showed a positive facial expression in response to your question about the person of concern. The “Why?” question helps you to assess the possibility of grooming.
Here’s an example of why you should ask it:
Q: You showed me a big smile when I asked you about [insert name], didn’t you?! Why is that?
A: Because he tells me he thinks I’m beautiful.
Q: You are beautiful! What else does he tell you?
A: Ummm, that he loves me so much. And, ummm, oh yeah! And that’s why he takes lots of photos of me, because I’m so beautiful.
Q: Photos are fun, aren’t they? Tell me more about the photos?
A: He calls them our secret sexy photos.
Words Of Warning …
Do not use this technique unless you have serious concerns about an adult in your child’s life.
Do not use this technique if you feel you won’t be able to remain neutral and objective.
Do not use this technique if you feel you will ask leading questions that could contaminate your child’s responses.
This technique is designed to facilitate elicitation only. I make no assertions as to its application as an evidence-gathering tool.
If your child gives you information which leads you to believe they are the victim of a sex offender, do not take matters into your own hands. Seek the appropriate advice from the relevant authorities in your state.