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By Detective Don Howell

Cancer InCytes Magazine - Volume 5, Issue 1, Summer 2016



Managing Editor: Juliana Zhu, Esq.





The concept of pipeline is perhaps the easiest way to understand how child molesters are able to select child-victims who will not “tell”. If you remember back to the Jerry Sandusky-Penn State child molest scandal, the idea of pipeline will jump out at you.


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I first heard the term, pipeline, during a lecture by FBI agents many years ago. It's actually a way to visualize the victim selection process. Picture a pipe or tunnel with wide flared ends. Many children are attracted to the entrance of this tunnel, where the offender will employ a variety of selection measures to identify the most vulnerable children. The offender will then draw these desired children into the pipeline to be molested. The molestation can last for weeks, months and in some cases, years. All the children are eventually discarded from the other end of the pipeline.


The “draw” to the entrance can vary, greatly. The offender can be a sports coach, youth counselor, or that “cool guy” down the street with all the latest video games. Whatever the lure, the offender needs to identify which children are ready to exchange sexual contact for a friend and confidant.


At Penn State the draw was a kids sports-football program run by Sandusky. Each year dozens, if not hundreds, of boys came to join the program. I have to think that the program itself was geared to the gender and age of children that Sandusky had a sexual preference for. Once in the program aka the opening of the pipeline, Sandusky had to identify the kids that were open to his sexual advances.


In my experience the method to identify these kids is rather simple. The first sign is the child who hangs around after practice, having no where else to go, or whose parents are always late to pick him up. Next, the offender will find an opportunity for some type of “innocent touching” of the child. It may be an arm around the kid's shoulders, pulling him in tight, with a whispered “Good job today”. If the child pulls away, then he/she is not a candidate for further touching. If the child sinks into the hug, allows it or wants it to last longer than what would be considered normal, this is the child the offender is looking for.


Remember some of the media interviews with Sandusky before his arrest. He said that he would be in the showers with the kids, sliding on the wet tile floor with them and snapping towels and even putting his hand on their thighs while they were getting dressed. Are you kidding me! He wasn't coaching them, he was selecting them.


If the assistant coach, who saw Sandusky grooming these kids, knew what a pipeline was, he may have reacted differently. If those few people at Penn State who had heard of this behavior, also knew, they may have also reacted differently.


Once selected the child is pulled into the pipeline where the sexual touching is traded for attention. This is not consent. It is referred to as “non-complaining”. These children are disconnected from their families for a variety of reasons, and are in essence “floating around” waiting for someone to catch them and reel them in. While “in the pipeline” the child is completely attached to the offender and is not likely to disclose the molest. To do so would bring the special attention to an end.


Eventually, the child leaves the sports program or becomes too old to fit the offender's needs and is discarded out of the other end of the pipeline. The child might be willing to talk about the molestation at this point, but it will require someone to ask the child about the abuse. This child does not have the support system to come forward on his own.


Pipelines can also be established through the Internet and Social Media. Whatever the medium, the basic formula is the same; attract as many children as possible and then sort through them to find the ones that will not “tell”.


Any discussion of pipeline requires a very loud and clear disclaimer. The vast majority of coaches, counselors and cool guys, are just that; not child molesters. Don't think that molesters are hiding behind every mailbox, have infiltrated our pre-schools or are lurking on every playground. The truth is, your children are pretty safe. Parents can make their children even safer by filling them up with self-esteem, talking to them and asking them about their daily activities.


Refer to “Sexual Abuse - Two Sides of the Same Coin” Cancer Incytes – Volume 2, Issue 1, Summer 2013 and “The Secret Victim Population” Cancer Incytes – Volume 3, Issue 2, Winter 2014, for more information on how being disconnected is the root cause of child molestation and boys being highly targeted by some molesters.


Detective Don Howell

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Don Howell, lecturer and author of Sex Crime Interviews Simplified and Beyond Stranger Danger - Smart Parents Raising Safe Kids, can be reached at He is a retired detective with over 30 years experience with the Huntington Beach Police department, Calif. He taught at the University of Southern California's School of Sociology for 12 years and is an editorial advisor for the Department of Culture, Law and Policy at Cancer Incytes Magazine.

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