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Call for action on sexual grooming

Be alert: Debi Ray-Rivers (File photograph).

More work has to be done to prevent the “grooming” of children by sex offenders, a charity has warned. Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder of child protection agency Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, said more people needed to be aware of the danger signals that a child was being groomed for sexual abuse.Ms Ray-Rivers said: “The adults in the community have to watch for behaviour from other adults.“It really is about behaviour, things like pushing one-on-one time, talking about sex around children in ways that’s inappropriate.“It’s really about paying attention to people around us.”Ms Ray-Rivers added that grooming — the building of an emotional connection and friendship with a child with the intention of abusing them — was a problem in Bermuda and around the world.Jon Brunson, the Scars chairman, added that perpetrators were often trusted by the child and their families.He said: “Grooming is very difficult to spot because it’s masked. People come across as well intentioned, so it’s hard to detect. “It seems like they want to help, they want to volunteer, people like them.”Mr Brunson added: “If you don’t have the power of the training, it can be hard to see through that.”He said: “The reality is two things can be true. They can be helpful, but the motive behind that is harmful.”Mr Brunson said the establishment of a code of conduct could help to prevent grooming in organisations for children through the creation of a baseline for acceptable behaviour.He highlighted “rule of three” — where no child can be left alone with an adult without a second adult also present.Ms Rivers added: “When a teacher grooms a child they are going to start crossing boundaries. “They are going to be that pet child or that child who stays after school or that child who he takes home.“That is why doing preventive work like having a code of conduct and talking to our children is so important.”Ms Rivers added that boosting the self-esteem of children could also help prevent grooming.She said: “Perpetrators will use vulnerabilities to groom. “They will look for children who don’t feel good about themselves and say things to make them feel good and they develop that relationship.”The Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families said in October that laws on sexual exploitation should apply to anyone up to the age of 18 “to better protect all youth” from grooming.Commissioner of Police Stephen Corbishley said in November that sex between teachers or other people in positions of trust and children in their care should be a crime, even if the young person is over the age of consent.Mr Corbishley added a ban on that type of relationship, including where they involved 16 or 17-year-olds, who are over the age of consent, was “appropriate, because it’s just drawing the exact line”.