Sexual Perpetrators and Magicians – How Both Trick People with Illusions

Sex Abuse, Jimmy Hinton, Pedophiles, Illusionists, Magicians, Dr. Larry Nassar


Jimmy Hinton, Sex Abuse, Illusion, Magician, Dr. Larry Nassar, Pedophiles

April is sexual abuse awareness month. It is very important for parents to know that nearly 90% of perpetrators are known by their victims. It is also important to understand that a pedophile can abuse a child while you are in the same room!

An article about sex abuse and the way magicians create illusions is spreading around the internet, and it’s an important one. Jimmy Hinton became a victim’s advocate after his father was convicted of sexual abuse.

Here is a brief summary of Jimmy’s painful journey:

In July of 2011, just two years into my new role as minister, a victim disclosed to me that she had been sexually abused by my father, the former preacher at my congregation. Within seconds, my life began to unravel. My childhood hero was now a villain who had dozens of victims–all of whom were humiliated and violated in the worst possible way. My mother and I reported my father to the police and he is currently serving a 30-60 year prison sentence for sex crimes against children.

Jimmy’s interest in connecting the illusions of magicians with sexual perpetrators is fascinating. Let’s take a closer look:

When Jimmy Hinton, of Somerset, heard about research into how magicians use the brain’s limitations to create illusions, he saw a connection to his own research on how child abusers use deception. 

Hinton contacted neuroscience researchers Susana Martinez-Conde and her husband, Stephen Macknik, about collaborating on research into child abusers’ techniques.

The scientists are laboratory directors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and authors of “Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions.”

Macknik and Martinez-Conde came to Somerset County to begin working with Hinton and presented a program Tuesday for law enforcement and those working with child abuse victims.

“Much of the abuse is practiced directly in front of us,” Hinton said during the program at Somerset Borough Public Safety Building. “I mean literally in front of us.”


Abuse can happen while adults are in the same room!

That last sentence grabbed my attention. My father-in-law is a former missionary and Bible translator. He’s also a pedophile with many, many victims, but the Statute of Limitations has expired on the cases, so he walks as a free man. I found out that one of the ways he abused children was by exhibitionism. He exposed his erect penis to his son’s friends, neighbors, and relatives while adults were in the same room by hiding behind a newspaper. Exhibitionism is abuse, and it is illegal. It is shocking to an unsuspecting minor and causes emotional and sexual harm/confusion.

Isn’t that shocking? Somehow, he was able to manipulate these children somehow to remain quiet while he got away with doing such evil deeds right in front of parents!

The article mentions convicted sexual predator, Dr. Larry Nassar. One of the most shocking discoveries about this case with hundreds, if not thousands of victims, was that he did most of his abuse while an adult/mother was in the room! He was able to position himself between the mother and the patient on the table and digitally penetrate girls with his ungloved hand, while the other hand was visible and doing appropriate physical therapy. He even carried on conversations with parents as he was sexually violating.

Can you see why some parents would minimize or even dismiss the abuse claims saying, “I was there, I didn’t see anything?”  Imagine how crazy-making this was to young girls who were unable to convince trusted adults that sexual abuse was going on right under their noses!

The following, also from the article, explains how our brains work and how we can miss what’s happening in front of us:

Calling some of the techniques “mental jiu-jitsu,” Macknik said the illusionists use the brain’s limited perception to get the audience to see what the performer wants them to see and suppress what the performer doesn’t want the them to notice.


“Brains are naturally limiting,” Martinez-Conde said. “Our brains end up picking and choosing a very small portion of reality.”

The limited perception and abusers’ use of misdirection through visual and cognitive illusion may explain why parents often find it hard to believe the abuse occurred, Macknik said. 

As a parent, how do you talk to your children about sex abuse and how to respond?

Here’s what I do:

  • I tell my kids if they ever feel uncomfortable around someone for any reason, it’s important that they trust that uncomfortable gut feeling, and try to remove themselves from that situation.
  • We use code language: “I don’t feel well.”

“I don’t feel well” doesn’t necessarily mean that my child feels physically sick – – to my child, it means that he/she can tell me in code language that something is wrong. They know that I will not ask any detailed questions, but will come immediately and help remove them from the environment. This gives them a way to let me know there is a problem without having to risk of them letting the abuser know that they are telling me. It is also not lying. Sexual abuse makes a child not feel well, so there will not be any conflict in a child’s mind as they say this phrase.

These are difficult topics to discuss, but I firmly believe that prevention is the best way to protect our children. When we address these issues head-on, we are giving our children tools they can use, so they are not helpless in a situation. They can identify what is happening, label it as abuse in their mind, and then make the choice to do what is necessary to leave the environment and get help.

A child who is able to do this will be empowered with their strength of having knowledge and choices, and will not be as harmed as a child who doesn’t understand what is happening and keeps it to themselves. I haven’t read any studies on this, but I highly suspect a child who is able to do this will be able to recover emotionally much faster than a child who is victimized and remains silent, not knowing what to do with what just happened to them.


photo credit: Bazar del Bizzarro illusionist#nevio martini#56642# via photopin (license)