The successful pedophile does not select his targets arbitrarily. He culls them from a larger pool, testing and probing until he finds the most vulnerable. Clay, for example, first put himself in a place with easy access to children—an elementary school. Then he worked his way through his class. He began by simply asking boys if they wanted to stay after school. “Those who could not do so without parental permission were screened out,” van Dam writes. Children with vigilant parents are too risky. Those who remained were then caressed on the back, first over the shirt and then, if there was no objection from the child, under the shirt. “The child’s response was evaluated by waiting to see what was reported to the parents,” she goes on. “Parents inquiring about this behavior were told by Mr. Clay that he had simply been checking their child for signs of chicken pox. Those children were not targeted further.” The rest were “selected for more contact,” gradually moving below the belt and then to the genitals.
The child molester’s key strategy is one of escalation, desensitizing the target with an ever-expanding touch. In interviews and autobiographies, pedophiles describe their escalation techniques like fly fishermen comparing lures. Consider the child molester van Dam calls Cook:
Some of the little tricks that always work with younger boys are things like always sitting in a sofa, or a chair with big, soft arms if possible. I would sit with my legs well out and my feet flat on the floor. My arms would always be in an “open” position. The younger kids have not developed a “personal space” yet, and when talking with me, will move in very close. If they are showing me something, particularly on paper, it is easy to hold the object in such a way that the child will move in between my legs or even perch on my knee very early on. If the boy sat on my lap, or very close in, leaning against me, I would put my arm around him loosely. As this became a part of our relationship, I would advance to two arms around him, and hold him closer and tighter. . . . Goodbyes would progress from waves, to brief hugs, to kisses on the cheek, to kisses on the mouth in very short order.Even when confronted, child molesters frequently get away with it because they seem so charming and likable and molestation is such a horrible thing to believe about someone, much less accuse someone of participating in:
The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.
I thought this was an interesting example of the halo effect, the residual goodwill that accompanies one good trait like physical attractiveness or likability and unduly impacts the viewers ability to accurately assess other aspects of the person. The overall impression of the person as likeable blinds the viewer to evidence that the person does bad things. Take as an example Jerry Sandusky -- so successful and relatively powerful in his own slice of the world that he is able to get away with one of the most unthinkable crimes for decades.
What I don't understand is, how did humans evolve to be this way in the first place? Shortcut thinking? First impressions are actually more accurate than they are inaccurate? Not like I'm complaining. Obviously I have benefited from being able to fly "under the halo" myself.