When a man sets out to groom a woman or girl for abuse, he does not target just anyone, and certainly not his peers; he deliberately targets those who are vulnerable. If high profile grooming cases teach us anything, it is this.

Predators don’t prey on the strong. They prey on those who nobody will ever believe: people from broken homes, people who have been in trouble with the law, people with mental health issues, people going through hard times, people afflicted with addictions.

It is clear why they are targeted. Firstly, because they can often be easily manipulated. Secondly, because they are frequently disbelieved, allowing the abuser to get away with his crimes for as long as possible.

In nearly every case of alleged abuse that emerges, there is a common thread. The women alleging abuse are hardly ever believed, because they have character traits which betray them. They are the perfect victim for the abuser — who targets women with precisely these traits — because the inconsistencies of the victim’s account can easily be picked apart and dismissed, especially if they have something to hide. The careful abuser, who attentively manicures his public profile, knows full well that nobody will ever believe people like this, but will believe him absolutely.

People probably don’t believe that an alleged abuser could possibly be one because they have a distorted picture in their mind of what a predator looks like. They probably imagine the lonely loser of a TV thriller: someone a bit seedy and odd, or a nerd. But while such men undoubtedly exist, they are certainly not the norm.

The norm is everyman: a man from every background across the spectrum. Many hold positions of power or authority, and are well respected in their field. Many hold apparently honourable roles in their communities, presenting a paragon of moral virtue. They are teachers, priests, imams, police officers, charity workers, held in high esteem by congregants, colleagues, students and the public. Many are extremely intelligent, with higher degrees and impeccable insight. They may have successful careers and adoring admirers. They may be kind, generous and charming. They may even be your friend, whose impeccable character you can vouch for without a shadow of a doubt.

Predators don’t prey on the strong. Predators may be strong themselves, but they are not stupid. They choose their prey carefully. An unbalanced woman with a history of mental health problems, recently divorced from an abusive relationship, and now making absurd decisions based on the advice of others: such a woman is almost the perfect candidate for the hunter in search of his prey.

Such a woman is a prime target for seemingly genuine affection. Feeling cherished for the first time in her life, she will learn to trust her hunter intimately. She will not see herself as the victim of manipulation. She just needs love and respect, and she thinks she has found it. When the abuse starts, she thinks herself a willing victim, and the predator will make sure she feels that way too. The predator knows how to work his prey: to convince her that she asked for it, that she was looking for it, that she is in the wrong when she starts to question the abuse. And ultimately, when the abuse ends, in her mind she will have been convinced that it was all her fault.

As observers to allegations of abuse, we often fall into the same trap too. There is absolutely no way we could possibly believe that the alleged perpetrator is guilty of the crimes he has been accused of. And there is every reason to believe that the accusations are completely spurious and false. And of course, in some cases they are. As observers we too find ourselves emotionally manipulated by the appearances of these cases. When the accused is an upstanding member of the community, we are at a total loss. Denial kicks in with full force.

Somehow we need to find a way to step back, to try to listen to the alleged victims when they call out for help. Difficult when we have preconceived notions of righteousness, which causes us to judge apparent sinners and saints differently. But listen if you can, and let justice run its course.

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