CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Ever heard of a "grooming guide"? We hadn't either. Federal agents want that to change. They want all parents to know these vile guides are out there, teaching predators how to get to your kids.
There are various "grooming guides" floating around online and amongst predators. Officials say most are amateur, but a handful are frighteningly slick. WBTV obtained one of the more in-depth ones. A 170-page manual full of simplified lessons written by a convicted pedophile. As the big warning page on the front will tell you, this particular guide is a step-by-step "how-to" in which one predator, who goes by the name "The Mule", lists the best ways to start long-term sexual relationships with a 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 year old.
"It's a sickness and a depravity level I can't even comprehend," says Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Brock Nicholson. His office is well aware of these guides and tracks these criminals. "We call them predators but at the end of the day, they are child rapists. Flat out. That's what they're doing. It's sickening . [In the guide] they try to convince others with the same mindset that what they're thinking is NOT wrong, that it is society who is wrong. The guide says this is the ultimate expression of how to love a child."
Where do you find a guide like this? Sadly, it's not hard.
"This guide literally sold on Amazon for awhile," said Nicholson. "These guides and similar guides are posted on websites."
This particular guide goes into great detail on the difference in how to have sex with a toddler versus a kindergartner. It lays out specific word-for-word dialogues you can have with children to make them think the experiences are all okay. But the most stunning section might be where the guide teaches predators to get in with parents first, in order to get to their kids.
"It's not the 'stranger-danger' you might be thinking of," said Nicholson, who has worked a number of these cases in his 25+ year career with I.C.E. "It's teachers, coaches, ministers, politicians, even law enforcement. It's every walk of life, every race. It's usually men acting as the predators, though not always."
For example, the guide says, "If you have kids in your family, but you do not yet have a close relationship, it might be a good idea to carefully start to visit those people and start to show a friendly interest in that particular family. But do start carefully and try not to make it too obvious, like going straight for their kids and play – build up trust and friendship with the parents over a period of time, and see where this takes you."
Babysitting, the guide says, will sometimes provide the opportunity for "sleepovers". If that doesn't work, the guide tells predators to "establish a playgroup", "establish a sports group", "run a summer or winter camp" or "run an orphan home".
Nicholson said about six months ago he found out child predators sometimes identify themselves by a particular piece of jewelry or tattoo.
"When I discovered this," he said, "it totally blew me away! Much like we see in gang members, they have their own signs of who they are. With boys, if they like boys, they have a triangle within a triangle. If they like young girls, they have a heart within a heart. Either tattooed or worn as a necklace or a bracelet. Then, when they're encountered, they'll tell law enforcement, 'Oh, this belonged to my daughter who died years ago and I wear it for that reason…'."
To get another opinion on the "grooming guide", we sent it to Dr. Sharon Cooper, an expert in diagnosing child sexual abuse. She's a Forensic Pediatrician and Consultant for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children who is based in Chapel Hill, but is widely regarded across the nation for her books, lectures and work on individual cases.
"It's highly detailed and extremely disturbing," said Cooper. "What this pedophile suggests in the guide would work. This kind of rewarding of a child on a reoccurring basis, in telling them how important they are, that would make a child respond – especially young children."