Grooming is a subtle, gradual, and escalating process of building trust with children and adults to gain access to and time alone with the children. It is deliberate and purposeful.
How Abusers Groom Children
- Abusers may groom children for weeks, months, or years before any sexual abuse takes place.
- Abusers often seek children who seem to be loners. They find ways to fill a need, giving them attention, offering to spend time with them, perhaps making statements like “I know how it is to need a friend”.
- Grooming usually begins with behaviors that do not even seem inappropriate. This may include:
- Testing a child’s boundaries through telling inappropriate jokes, roughhousing, backrubs, tickling, or sexual games.
- Moving from non-sexual touching to “accidental” sexual touching. It can happen during play so the child may not even identify it as purposeful, inappropriate touching. It’s often done slowly so the child is gradually desensitized. It can be confusing for the child as the contact becomes increasingly intimate and sexual.
- The abuser may use the child’s fear, shame, or guilt about what’s happened to get them not to tell. They may also use bribes, threats, or coercion.
How Abusers Groom Adolescents
Grooming adolescents may include additional strategies, such as:
- Identifying with the adolescent. The abuser may appear to be the only one to understand him/her.
- Displaying common interests in sports, music, movies, video games, television shows, etc.
- Recognizing and filling the adolescent’s need for affection and attention.
- Giving gifts or special privileges to the adolescent.
- Allowing or encouraging the adolescent to break rules (e.g., smoking, drinking, using drugs, viewing pornography).
- Communicating with the adolescent outside of the person’s role (e.g., teacher or coach). This could include texting, emailing, social networking/Facebooking the teen without the parents’ knowledge or permission.
How Abusers Groom Adults
It is not just children and adolescents who are groomed. Abusers also work hard to gain the trust of the adults around a child/youth (e.g., parents, other family members, and coworkers). This may include:
- Befriending the parents or other caregivers.
- Looking for chances to spend time alone with a child (e.g., offering to babysit, having the child over for a sleepover, and driving the child to sports events.)
- Developing romantic relationships with single parents to gain access to children.