Grooming is the process in which sexual predators gain the trust of children, teenagers, or vulnerable adults with the intent to sexually abuse them. 1
According to the American Bar Association, sexual predators first target the victim, then secure access to and isolate the victim while they gain their trust. Finally, they initiate sexual contact—which can range from voyeurism to rape—and convince their victims to conceal the relationship. This can happen online, or in person. 2
Children are sexually abused more than any other demographic in the U.S., with as many as one-in- five girls and one-in-six boys being victims of child sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. More than half of perpetrators are family members, and less than 25 percent are strangers. 3
The purpose of grooming is:
- to manipulate the perceptions of other adults around the child.
- to manipulate the child into becoming a co-operating participant which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the child will repeatedly return to the offender.
- to reduce the likelihood of the child being believed if they do disclose.
- to reduce the likelihood of the abuse being detected.
The perpetrators of this sexual abuse are often acquaintances, family members, or trusted members of the community who take advantage of the inherent power dynamic to secure the victim’s trust and manipulate them into secrecy.
There are red flags that family and loved ones should be aware of, which include: adults who play games with a child that involve touching genitalia; adults who discuss sexually explicit content with children; and adults who buy children gifts with the purpose of building trust and feelings of security and appreciation.
Often times, sexual predators use their power to fill an emotional need within their victims, which manipulates them into lowering their inhibitions and makes them susceptible to being violated. While parents may prepare their children to say “no” to inappropriate communication or touching from strangers, it is not always strangers that children need to fear. In order to protect our children, is important that parents discuss healthy physical and emotional boundaries with them; keep open the lines of communication; and make sure that they know that they are loved unconditionally These things will make it more difficult for sexual predators to target them. 4
1.The National Center for Victims of Crime: Grooming Dynamic: http://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/grooming-dynamic-of-csa
Wachs, S., K. D. Wolf, & C. Pan. “Cybergrooming: Risk Factors, Coping Strategies and Associations with Cyberbullying.” Psicothema 24(4), 2012, 628-633.
2. The American Bar Association: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-34/november-2015/understanding-sexual-grooming-in-child-abuse-cases.html
Synder, H.N., Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident and offender characteristics, in A NIBRS Statistical Report. 2000, U.S. Department of Justice: Washington, D.C.
3. Finkelhor, D., et al., Victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment: Journal of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, 2005. 10(1): p. 5-25.
4. McAlinden, Anne-Marie.‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children, 2012, 11. National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse: http://www.naasca.org/2012-Articles/040512-GroomingWillingVictims.htm