Most people have a hard time thinking or talking about child sexual abuse. Simply put, child sexual abuse is one of parent’s greatest fears. But, in order to prevent it from happening, we must all think, talk, and take action about it.
Sexual grooming is a deliberate process by which an offender gradually cultivates a relationship with a victim in secrecy. Through grooming, which can happen online or in-person, the abuser builds trust with the targeted victim to lay the groundwork for future child sexual abuse.
An abuser will show special favor to a child in order to gain their trust, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.
In some situations, an abuser may groom the victim’s family or friends, and even whole communities, to gain more access to the child or hide their actions.
Predators are often well-practiced at their techniques to avoid detection.
Learning more about the types of behavior that constitute sexual grooming can help you spot signs and learn how to prevent grooming and child sexual abuse from happening at all.
Stages of sexual grooming
In order to prevent child sexual abuse from happening, the process of sexual grooming must be understood in detail. Although there are different types of sexual grooming, there is a similar pattern of behavior that many abusers follow:
- Targeting the victim
Perpetrators often target and exploit a victim’s perceived vulnerabilities, including isolation, neglect, a chaotic family life or lack of parental oversight. However, children living in nurturing environments may also be targeted by abusers.
- Gaining the victim’s trust
Abusers work to gain the victim’s trust by using tactics such as flattery, attention, sharing of secrets, gift giving, and meeting other basic needs. Tactics may also include increased attention and affection towards the targeted child.
- Gaining the trust of the victim’s family
To gain further access to the victim and lower suspicion, perpetrators will try to gain the trust of the victim’s family, caregivers, or friends.
- Gaining access and isolating the victim
Abusers uses physical and emotional isolation tactics to reinforce the relationship with the child by creating situations in which they are alone together, including one-on-one coaching, “special trips,” or telling the child that no one cares for them the way they do.
- Sexualizing the relationship
Once emotional dependence and trust have been built, the perpetrator begins to sexualize the relationship. This often starts with seemingly innocent behavior such as hugging, massaging, or tickling to desensitize the victim. Over time, the boundaries will be tested. For example, an abuser may share sexually explicit content, or discuss sexual actions or behaviors with the victim.
- Maintaining control and concealing the abuse
Once sexual abuse is occurring, abusers commonly use secrecy, blame, or threats to maintain control of the relationship and ensure that the victim does not talk to others about the abuse.
Examples of grooming behaviors
Grooming is a slow but deliberate process that can take place in a matter of minutes, over one conversation, or over long periods of time, which can make it difficult to detect. The key to preventing sexual grooming is to keep an eye out for predatory behavior such as the following:
- Giving attention to a child
- Paying special attention or preference to a child
- Giving a child gifts
- Offering special privileges to a child
- Taking a child on a trip
- Communicating with a child privately online
- Breaking boundaries with a child
- Bathing a child
- Entering the room where a child is undressing or using the restroom
- Touching a child in seemingly harmless ways, such as tickling, wrestling, or hugging
- Engaging in sexually oriented behavior with a child
- Discussing sexually explicit information with a child
- Telling sexually explicit jokes with a child
- Showing a child sexually explicit content
Online Sexual Grooming
Many perpetrators use the internet to groom their victims. Basically, the goal is to create trust and then quickly or slowly exploit that trust. A secondary goal is to use shame and fear to make sure the child stays quiet about how they’ve been exploited.
Common online platforms used by abusers for grooming include:
- Social media networks
- Texting or messaging apps, such as WhatsApp
- Online forums or chat rooms
- Text, voice, or chat features in video games
Abusers often exploit the anonymity that technology offers. They can easily hide behind an unknown phone number, an e-mail address, an avatar, or an online profile.
Often, they create fake profiles and pose as somebody younger, of a different gender and/or sexual orientation in order to befriend the victim and gain their trust.
Signs of grooming
It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. However, you may notice signs of grooming in the victim themselves, including the following:
- Secrecy about what they are doing and whom they are doing it with – whether online or in person
- Having a relationship or friendship with an older person
- Having money or new things that they can’t or won’t explain
- Underage drinking or drug use
- Experiencing emotional changes, such as becoming more withdrawn or distressed
- More time spent outside the home
Long-term effects of grooming
The impact of grooming can last a lifetime, no matter whether it happened in person, online or both. Some common effects of sexual grooming include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Problems with sex
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
How to prevent grooming
Understanding sexual grooming is an important first step to prevent child sexual abuse. However, there are active steps to take to keep a child safe from sexual grooming.
- Talk to your child about consent and staying safe. Teaching children about healthy relationships and staying safe online can help prevent child sexual abuse.
- Talk to your child about keeping secrets. Explaining that responsible individuals will not ask a child to keep secrets from their parents can help children understand healthy boundaries in relationships.
- Actively listen to your child. Asking questions and avoiding judgemental comments can help create a safe environment in which your child feels more comfortable coming to you with things they are worried about or ashamed of.
- Be selective about the information you share related to your child. Being mindful of what you share on social media about your child’s life limits the information that predators can use for their own gain.
Get help from our skilled and experienced child sexual abuse injury attorneys
With an established history of successfully advocating on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse, Andreozzi & Foote, PC offers you the resources of a highly-reputable, trusted law firm that is dedicated to protecting your right to compensation after injury caused by the harmful intentions and negligence of other parties.
We serve clients across the state of Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States.