Gifts To Children: A Red Flag For Grooming, But Some Gifts Are More Dangerous Than Others

Jaime Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias, a former South Carolina priest, was sentenced to prison for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual acts after sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy and showing him pornography.

The man met the child victim and his family in 2020, at which time he began giving the young boy high levels of attention, and gifting him a cellphone that he used to communicate with the boy.

In late 2020, the boy's family reported the former priest to Catholic authorities because they were concerned that his relationship with their son was inappropriate. The man was suspended from his duties and was reported to the county sheriff and to the FBI.

According to a press release, investigators assigned to the case found that in November 2020, the man brought the young boy to Florida alone under the pretense of a beach vacation. During the trip, the former priest masturbated in front of the victim and showed the minor victim pornography. Investigators also found inappropriate texts and WhatsApp messages that the man had sent to the boy. These included "affectionate names for the child" and "messages consistent with the boy's disclosure of abuse."

After his arrest by FBI agents at the Miami International Airport, the man admitted to touching the young victim's genitals when they went to Florida, showing the child pornography, and showering with him in South Carolina.

The man pled guilty and was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release. He was also instructed to register as a sex offender and ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Elina Tarkazikis "Ex-Catholic priest gets 22 years in prison in child sex abuse case" (Feb. 13, 2024).

Commentary and Checklist

Grooming consists of acts by offenders and potential offenders to build trust with a target. Offenders often provide gifts to their targets to quickly build trust. In the above matter, the offender took the child to Florida and gifted the child with a cell phone.

All gifts from a third-party adult not tied to an occasion (ex. birthday, holiday) and/or approved by parents/guardians are red flags. An adult acquaintance gifting a child a cellphone is serious boundary violation and extremely troubling. First, the gift itself endears the target to the victim because it is a gift most children desire. Most importantly, the phone provides an adult a means to communicate with their target without parents or safe adults present.

When a child is gifted something of interest or value by an adult who is not a parent or guardian, those working with or around children should take notice and action.

What are other signs a child may be being manipulated through gifts?

·      The child is receiving multiple gifts from one person or group

·      The child is receiving seemingly unexpected gifts for no reason

·      The child is receiving money or new things like clothing or digital gaming devices that seem inappropriate in value or age range

·      The effort or timing of sending the gifts seems wrong or suspicious (e.g. through home delivery with return addresses that seem fake or far away)


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