Grooming

Grooming is a process the sex offender uses to gain the trust of the child victim and reduce natural suspicion. The grooming process breaks down the child's defenses. The offender then manipulates the relationship so that the child will engage in sexual activity and perform specific acts. The relationship is then maintained by secrecy.

Six stages of grooming have been identified. These include:
  • Targeting the victim
  • Gaining the victim's trust
  • Filling a need
  • Isolating the child
  • Sexualizing the relationship
  • Maintaining control

Grooming gives the child a sense of uniqueness or specialness, separating him or her from other family members or from peers. Whether the abuser is family member or stranger, the grooming process is meant to establish trust and affection, increasing attachment and loyalty. Then grooming increases the child's acceptance of touch. The offender will begin with nonsexual touch and progress toward sexual touch. Nonsexual touch will desensitize the child and break down inhibitions, leading to more touching.   

When the offender is a family friend or community member, he may also need to groom the parent to gain access to the child. If the offender is a stranger, the grooming process begins when the offender first targets a child. He may visit playgrounds, malls, or parks and select a child based on availability and ease of access. Offenders target vulnerable children - those who are isolated, have problem families, or are unsupervised. They use bribes and gifts, including drugs or alcohol to adolescents. Offenders identify with the child and instigate a relationship in which they side with the child and pretend to be the answer to the child's needy area. They attempt to fill the empty places in the child's life. Secrecy is part of the grooming process. The offender may introduce candy to the child, with an accompanying secret, not to tell. Later, the secrets are reinforced with threats. 

Common grooming techniques include:

  • Giving bribes, gifts, special privileges
  • Excessive compliments
  • Being affectionate - hugging, holding hands, rubbing back, kissing in a non-developmentally appropriate way
  • Convincing child that sex is a game and is normal
  • Convincing child that parents would want child to be compliant
  • Pretending to wrestle
  • Convincing child that he is learning about sex
  • Sharing common interest with child
  • Luring child to secluded place
  • Threats and intimidation to victim, pet, family member, or friend

Other offender behaviors that may be part of the grooming process:

  • Seeking vulnerable children who are needy or emotional
  • Gaining parents' trust and then moving to position of power/authority
  • Using position of authority (e.g., coach, boy scout leader, teacher's assistant, Sunday school teacher, babysitter)
  • Luring victim to a secluded place
  • Blackmail
  • Offering ride home or to store, movies, etc.
  • Offering child safety or protection in order to gain trust
  • Use of pornography to set a sexual tone

Comments of sex offenders:

  1. One sex offender called parents "naive" because they don't pay attention. He talked about abusing children when in the same room with parents.
  2. A sex offender said that it's harder to abuse or trick a child who has been educated about sex abuse. They know what to look for.
  3. Another sex offender said that parents should never be "embarrassed" to talk about sex abuse with their children. It is the only way to protect them.

The Statesman Journal published an article about child sex abusers grooming their victims. "Grooming is a method of building trust with a child and adults around the child to gain access to and time alone with her/him. Offenders can 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 with fewer adults in her/his life. This increases the likelihood that the offender's time with the child is welcomed and encouraged.

The purpose of grooming is:

  • To reduce the likelihood of a disclosure.
  • To reduce the likelihood of the child being believed.
  • To reduce the likelihood of being detected.
  • To manipulate the perceptions of other adults around the child.
  • To manipulate the child into becoming a cooperating participant which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the child will repeatedly return to the offender.

The grooming process does not just occur with the intended victim. Offenders may groom not only the child but also their families and even the local community, who act as the gatekeepers of access.

Although not all child sexual abuse involves grooming, it is a common process used by offenders. It usually begins with subtle behavior that may not initially appear to be inappropriate, such as paying a lot of attention to the child or being very affectionate. Many victims of grooming and sexual abuse do not recognize they are being manipulated, nor do they realize how grooming is a part of the abuse process.'' 

  • An adult seems overly interested in a child.
  • An adult frequently initiates or creates opportunities to be alone with a child (or multiple children).
  • An adult becomes fixated on a child.
  • An adult gives special privileges to a child (e.g., rides to and from practices, etc.).
  • An adult befriends a family and shows more interest in building a relationship with the child than with the adults
  • An adult displays favoritism towards one child within a family.
  • An adult finds opportunities to buy a child gifts.
  • An adult caters to the interests of the child, so a child or the parent may initiate contact with the offender.
  • An adult who displays age and gender preferences.