Following the unauthorized (by parents) showing of an overtly sexualized video to elementary school children in Westport, CT, parent Camilo Riano sent an open letter to the school district highlighting what he believed was 'sexual grooming' of children, and demanded explanations from the Westport, CT School District.
Mr. Riano's remarks included this closing phrase:
When are you going to STOP authorizing inappropriate celebrations that are offensive to many families of the district?
When are you going to STOP implementing programs based on Critical Race Theory?
When are you going to STOP conducting surveys and implementing programs that open the door for racial discrimination of minority groups such as Americans of Latin or Asian origin?
And, when are you going to STOP the ‘child grooming’ of our children?
Superintendent Scarice responded with the threatening letter below, declaring Mr. Riano's concerns over child grooming 'will not be tolerated'.
Dear Mr. Riano,
I am writing to respond to your “Open Letter” below.
At the outset, I want to acknowledge that you have the right to express your opinions. I will not comment on any of the opinions you expressed in your letter. However, I feel compelled to address two parts of your letter, given that your “Open Letter,” by definition, is a letter intended for the general public.
First, your targeted attacks on Principal Messler are highly inappropriate and very disappointing. Mrs. Messler has an exemplary and longstanding record as a successful principal and educator in the Westport Public Schools. I stand behind Mrs. Messler and the messages of acceptance and inclusion she shared in the video you referenced, which are intended to make all members of the school community feel welcome. In any case, it is very disappointing that you did not address any of your concerns directly with Mrs. Messler, but instead chose to write an “Open Letter” publicly attacking her. I am confident that she would show you, and any parent of SES, the courtesy of having a direct conversation to address any concerns.
Second, your choice of using the phrase “child grooming” is defamatory. This is a serious allegation and bears absolutely no relationship to the work we do in our schools. Further comments of a defamatory and irresponsible nature will not be tolerated.
Again, it is clear that you are free to share your opinions, however, I ask that you do so in a respectful and civil manner.
The Connecticut Centinal spoke with our parent company CDMedia's Senior Editor and Chief Investigative Reporter Christine Dolan about the issue. Dolan has a long history of investigating child trafficking globally and is known around the world as an expert on the subject, having been commissioned by international agencies to investigate the abuse of children.
Dolan contacted another expert, Retired FBI Agent Bob Hamer, who infiltrated the North America Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), to get his view of exactly what 'child grooming' is.
His response is below:
A SEXUAL PREDATOR’S STRATEGY: GROOMING
By Bob Hamer
For the persuasion sexual predator, “grooming” is the vehicle used to manipulate and seduce the vulnerable child. I didn’t learn about grooming in a college classroom or from a textbook. I learned it from the pedophiles themselves.
I spent twenty-six years in the FBI, many of those years undercover. In assignments lasting anywhere from a few days to more than three years, I successfully posed as a contract killer, international arms merchant, drug dealer, white-collar criminal, and pedophile. Though each undercover assignment carried with it an element of danger, maybe my least dangerous assignment, yet most difficult, was infiltrating NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group of men sexually attracted to boys. I have shot people in drugs deals gone wrong and on more than one occasion have been threatened with death by targets of our investigations, but the NAMBLA undercover operation was psychologically and emotionally draining as I interacted with men who bragged of their sexual conquests of children.
We were able to successfully prosecute eight members of the group’s inner circle. One member gave me 125 pornographic images and eight videos of men having sex with boys. The other seven members traveled in interstate commerce to engage in oral and anal sex with boys ranging in age from ten to twelve. We were able to take these men off the streets, but they represent only a tiny fraction of men sexually seeking our youth.
As a result of my undercover role, I dealt with these men as equals. They viewed me as a like-minded cohort, not their defense counsel or court-ordered counselor. They shared their secret desires and the methods they used to persuade children to engage in sexual acts with them. These men were “persuasion predators.” They didn’t snatch children from bedrooms in the middle of the night. They seduced the child through successful grooming techniques.
The first step was identifying the vulnerable child. Willie Sutton, the famed bank robber, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, “That’s where the money is.” Predators are drawn to where children are. Though we warn our children of “stranger danger,” in fact, most predators are known to their victims. They are relatives, family friends, clergy, teachers, and coaches. It is through these friendships and associations, that the predator identifies the vulnerable child. In my experience in the three-year NAMBLA investigation, it was typically a child looking for a father-figure living in a single parent household.
The next step was fulfilling a need for the child and the parent…camping trips, free-babysitting, toys which the family couldn’t afford, time and attention the family wasn’t providing.
Then came the praise and the gentle touch…hugs, arm around the shoulder, playful wrestling. Anything physical which strengthened the bond or relationship was a step toward the ultimate goal of sex. One NAMBLA member told me how he used a Frisbee at public parks. He could toss the disc at a potential target, engage that child in conversation, then use that opportunity to “teach” the child how to throw the Frisbee. This allowed the predator to wrap his arms around the boy. Another member used remote-control cars which he would race toward a target. Then allow the boy to “drive” the car, with the predator draping his arms over the boy’s shoulders instructing him on using the controller. In each instance, the predator praised the boy for being so much more adult than his peers.
As the relationship developed, the most important step evolved. The predator would introduce sexual talk and pornography, explaining to the child that he was old enough to understand and mature enough to appreciate sexual topics. Praise was the key; compliments he probably didn’t receive at home or at school. Falsely extolling the child’s maturity and other “adult” attributes helped reduce embarrassment, shyness, and anxiety. With the inhibitions lowered, it was a matter of introducing activities that furthered sexual physical encounters…getting undressed together, showering together, sleeping in the same bed or sleeping bag.
From there it was easy to move to the final step which was sexual intimacy. Once the intimacy began, it was all about keeping secrets. “Ours is a special relationship.” “No one would understand our special friendship.” “If you tell, we would both get into trouble.”
Time and time again, I listened as men bragged about their abilities to exploit children with variations of the techniques discussed above. As parents, we need to be aware of persuasion predators lurking in our home, our yard, or our local playgrounds.
Bob Hamer spent four years on active duty in the Marine Corps and twenty-six years in the FBI. Since retiring, he has authored or co-authored eleven books. His book, The Last Undercover: The True Story of an FBI Agent’s Dangerous Dance with Evil chronicles his infiltration of NAMBLA.
The use of the term 'grooming' in Riano's open letter can be debated if appropriate or not.
However, the following phrases in Hamer's article resonate with the reader:
Predators are drawn to where children are.
As the relationship developed, the most important step evolved. The predator would introduce sexual talk and pornography, explaining to the child that he was old enough to understand and mature enough to appreciate sexual topics.
Though we warn our children of “stranger danger,” in fact, most predators are known to their victims...Falsely extolling the child’s maturity and other “adult” attributes helped reduce embarrassment, shyness, and anxiety.
We also spoke with Mary Holland, lawyer and former NYU law professor. She commented, "In my personal opinion, showing that video to children in elementary school is inappropriate."
Below is an interview Dolan conducted with Mr. Riano.