What is Child Sexual Grooming? What are the signs? How do pretators use it?
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 90% of sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator. The vast majority have been groomed by an individual who is charismatic, trusted, and "normal". Thus making it very difficult to see them for what they are as they groom their next victim.
So, what is grooming?
Grooming is a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult." *
By understanding the purpose, process, and signs of grooming, we take the necessary steps to become aware of, watch for, and possibly prevent the assault of a child, teen, or even an adult.
Grooming is a method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child, and the adults around a child, in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him.
In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. Subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families are much more commonly used.
The offender may assume a caring role, befriend the child or even exploit their position of trust and authority to groom the child, and/or the child’s family. These individuals intentionally build relationships with the adults around a child or seek out a child who is less supervised by adults in her/his life. This increases the likelihood that the offender’s time with the child is welcomed and encouraged.*
The purpose of this grooming is to manipulate children and adults into seeing the perpetrator as a trusted individual, thus reducing the likelihood of abuse being reported, detected, or a victim being believed if they do disclose the abuse.
How does a perpetrator groom a potential victim? There are several key elements at play here. By learning to recognize these elements and where they occur, we can increase our awareness and possibly stop them in the early stages.
Key elements include, but are not limited to:
These key elements can be achieved in a variety of settings, including but not limited to:
Once a perpetrator has the opportunity to lay the foundation of key elements and settings, the grooming behaviors can begin. These behaviors are not always viewed as inappropriate and may be quite subtle.
We should always be aware of an adult that frequently tries to be alone with, or seems overly interested in a child/teen/vulnerable adult.
If an adult begins a social relationship with another adult, yet seems to fixate on a child/teen/vulnerable adult more than the social adult relationship itself, this is a red flag and warrants a closer look.
Is the potential offender buying the child/teen/adult gifts a lot?
Are they giving them special privileges?
Are they only catering to the interest of their potential victim?
Is there a display of age and gender preference?
Is the perpetrator asking the child to keep secrets?
All of these can be warning signs. And they are signs we should all heed.
Predators also frequently engage in seemingly "accidental" behaviors that may be sexually arousing to the offender that has a sexual interest in a child/teen/vulnerable adult.
These behaviors include, but are not limited to:
All of these sexual grooming elements are precursors to sexual abuse and exploitation.
Grooming is never completely obvious, and many predators are highly skilled at building these deceptive relationships with their victims. The signs are rarely blatant, and the victims can be groomed into "not telling" a trusted adult.
The perpetrator knows they must create a strong bond with their victim. A bond that flies under the radar and goes undetected. This bond becomes stronger as the perpetrator adds more layers and gradually escalates the abusive behaviors.
If you are unsure, trust your instinct.
Lower the risk.
Kindly confront the individual by pulling that person aside and explaining the boundaries you have set and why you have them. You should be firm in asking them to support you in those boundaries.
If the behavior truly was innocent, the person is likely to be apologetic and respect those boundaries.
If it was NOT innocent, it is likely to put a perpetrator on high alert and rare that they will continue to groom your child.
However, if they do not respect the boundaries you have set, you must remove the person's access to the child and seek help. Some helpful resources are listed below. This is not a complete list, but will get you started, should you need assistance.
Remember, if we take an active role in being informed and practicing situational awareness, we can be the very thing that protects those we love from these dangers.
Stay Alert, Stay Safe
If a child is in imminent danger, do not hesitate. Dial 911.
If you suspect illegal activity involving child exploitation, contact local law enforcement immediately.
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Child Exploitation Investigations Unit/ ICE
West Michigan Based Child Exploitation Task Force
1. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, National Sex Offender Public Website, SMART Program.
2. Wachs, S., K. D. Wolf, & C. Pan. “Cybergrooming: Risk Factors, Coping Strategies and Associations with Cyberbullying.” Psicothema 24(4), 2012, 628-633.3. McAlinden, Anne-Marie.‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children, 2012, 11.
4. Bennett, Natalie & William O’ Donohue. “The Construct of Grooming in Child Sexual Abuse: Conceptual and Measurement Issues,” Journal of Sexual Abuse 23:8, 2014, 957-58.
Christie Bass is a wife and mother of 3 children. She is a USCCA Firearms instructor and Training Counselor dedicated to empowering all human beings and helping them to realize just how valuable they truly are. She is adamant that we take all steps necessary to teach individuals how to keep themselves free from violence and believes human life holds the highest value.