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The Grooming Process — How Sexual Predators Con You and Your Child

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It is a concerning fact that many sexual predators continue to get away with what they do for years on end without being detected.

This is a great surprise to many people and it is generally because of “grooming”. The grooming process is not only intended to con children into obedience to their abuser but also to make the disclosure of the abuse less likely and/or less believable. On many occasions, the victim’s parents are “groomed” as well as the victim.

Child abusers are often experts at covering their tracks. So, to help prevent abuse, we need to raise awareness of the grooming process so that more adults and children understand the strategies used.

Following are some ways to identify grooming tendencies so that you can raise the alarm early on if things don’t seem right.

Why do abusers groom their victims?

One of the main reasons why the grooming process is so difficult to detect for parents is that it works incrementally. It is designed that way. Groomers are smart manipulators and skilled at covering their tracks.

Sexual predators aim to get what they want at all costs, gradually developing fear, isolation, power, and silence in victims. They methodically build trust with a child and the adults around them to gain increased access and time alone with their prey.

From the very first meeting, a groomer may be preparing a victim for abuse using this tried and tested pattern of behavior.

Parents are faced with the difficult task of trying to recognize this pattern and also the behavioral traits of their child.

How can you recognize the grooming process when it is in play?

There is no one set “grooming process” but most strategies used by sexual predators have similar characteristics — and virtually all have the end goal of abuse with little regard for the victim.

Typically, we see the following five phases in grooming a child:

Targeting prey

The predator stalks and assesses prey in playgrounds, malls, schools, or wherever they are available in numbers, seeking vulnerabilities like unpopularity, physical or mental disabilities, single-parent families, low self-esteem, or emotional neediness. They may also assess opportunities where these vulnerable children are unsupervised.

Earning trust by fulfilling a need

After gathering information about the prey, the predator will seek to earn trust by providing something that fulfills a need, such as a ride home when parents are unavailable, a place on the sports team or attention, compliments and gifts that they do not normally receive. In doing so, the abuser demonstrates “being there” in a time of need and the child may start to rely on the predator for certain things.

Increasingly isolating the victim and eroding standard boundaries

Once the relationship with the victim (and parents) appears “normal”, the abuser will seek ways to spend more time with the child alone, such as with special trips or even sleepovers. The parents may let down their guard and allow activities that might normally be off-limits.

Sexualizing the relationship

When the abuser is alone with the victim, he (or she) will make a move on the prey, maybe testing the water first by hugging, tickling, making a joke or with playful advances that can be laughed off. The predator may use a child’s natural curiosity or sense of fun in this regard. Some may pretend to accidentally touch the child inappropriately or brush up against them.

Maintaining control

After the first incidents of abuse, the predator will try to normalize their inappropriate advances, pretending that touching is normal. He (or she) will try to maintain control and secrecy, often dropping the soft approach for verbal or physical threats if the child tells anyone. This use of fear allows the predator to escalate the abuse.

Remember, skilled predators look for any advantage to increasing their chances of successfully abusing children without getting caught. So, as well as gaining access to their prey, they need to cover their tracks and take actions to reduce the likelihood of disclosure or the children being believed if they do speak up.

Who is a typical “groomer”?

Many predators are charming and act reassuringly to the family of the victim. Few are the archetypal “creeps” we envisage. Parents are often genuinely stunned when they find out the truth years later. But many also think back and say “well, that did seem strange at the time but he seemed so likeable and trustworthy”.

This suggests that there are always warning signs that we should be cognizant of — not just parents but all adults who frequently spend time around children.

It is challenging to spot a groomer from appearances and behavior alone. Predators come from all races, occupations, and relationships with the child although the overwhelming majority tend to be male.

They prey on both boys and girls and many tend to work in professions with ready access to vulnerable people, such as schools, care centers, youth organizations, religious organizations, and so on.

We’ve all heard of many disturbing sexual abuse cases in institutions that most Americans used to consider among the most upstanding in the country, such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church.

We have learnt in recent years that anyone in any walk of life can be deceitful enough to become a groomer if they take a wrong turn in life. That’s why we need to be on the lookout for the danger signs.

What can you do to prevent your child from becoming an abuse victim?

Without living in a state of constant paranoia, parents can and should take some sensible measures to protect children from abuse.

Most importantly, spending time with and talking to your children regularly will help them trust and confide in you and help you recognize any worrying personality changes.

Other measures include:

Educating them as early as possible

Children must be made aware (in age-appropriate language) of their ‘private’ parts, the different types of touching, what their personal boundaries are and what to do if someone crosses the line. A predator is much less likely to continue their actions if they find out early on that they might be caught.

Insisting on maximizing supervision:

There is rarely a need for children to spend time alone with an adult other than their family members. On school trips, insist that more than one adult is present with the children at all times and host sleepovers at your house rather than elsewhere.

Know your child’s supervisors

Parents should meet and get to know their child’s teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, friends’ parents/caregivers, and any other adults who regularly spend time with their child. Don’t be afraid to make unannounced visits at times to check up on your child’s wellbeing.

Check the Sex Offenders list

With Megan’s Law enacted in all 50 states, you can use online databases to locate known sex offenders near your home or school.

You also need to educate yourself about grooming— and you’ve taken the first step by reading this blog post.

Becoming more knowledgeable about the grooming process, recognizing the warning signs early on and educating your children about abuse can help protect them from sexual predators.

If you have concerns over a child being groomed, the child sexual abuse lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote, PC offer a free and confidential consultation.

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