What is Grooming and What are the Warning Signs?
Grooming is manipulative coercion that abusers use to gain access to potential victims, manipulate them into thinking the abuse is normal, and ultimately gain control over the victim. Although these tactics can work on anyone, children are particularly susceptible. Understanding and recognizing the signs of grooming can help to:
- Prevent potential child sexual abuse when people identify the warning signs
- Aid in the healing process when survivors realize it wasn’t their fault and that they were manipulated and coerced
It is important to recognize that grooming occurs gradually. An abuser slowly builds trust with the victim, and often the victim’s family and close friends. The developed relationship makes it more challenging for the victim to view what is happening as abuse. The abuser typically appears helpful, warm, charming, and overall, quite likable. Over time, they will slowly blur the lines between a “normal” relationship and an inappropriate and abusive dynamic.
What Does Grooming Look Like When Done to Children?
Abusers often use the techniques below to manipulate and groom children:
- Carefully select victims that are vulnerable. The abuser may capitalize on a challenging home life or the lack of healthy adult relationships in a child’s life to ensure abuse seems ‘normal’.
- Give children money or gifts for the child to feel special, or so the child feels like they owe the abuser. This can also be a way to normalize secrets in the relationship.
- Start to touch a victim in ways that appear harmless, such as hugging, tickling, or wrestling. Possibly even in front of the parents to ‘normalize’ physical contact. Eventually, the contact escalates and becomes more extreme.
- Provide support whenever the child is upset, appearing to be the adult that “cares the most” about the child. Typically, when the child is upset with another adult, the predator can swoop in and provide emotional aid, appearing as a hero.
- Express excessive interest in the child – making the child feel special and important. This may be executed by showing intense enthusiasm in the child’s interests or hobbies.
- Attempt to isolate the child, often both physically and psychologically. They may attempt to have alone time with the child or have private communication with them, which may be online.