“It's important to talk about it. You raise awareness. But you can also prevent it (child abuse) by not letting it be a secret.”
within “sharing secrets” is allowing the child to do things that their
parents do not allow (e.g. smoking a cigarette, drinking beer, watching
certain types of movies etc.) which can later be used against the child.
One of my first articles that I wrote was called “Know Your Enemy”. In that article I wrote about how people who sexually abuse children usually fall into one of two categories: Situational and Preferential.
In this article, I plan on discussing Preferential abusers and one of the main ways they select their victims, through a method known as grooming.
What is “grooming”?
Grooming is an exploitative process which acts as preparation for sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.
Grooming develops an emotional connection with a child and helps to:
• Gain the child’s trust
• Create opportunities to abuse
• Reduce the risk of detection
• Increase vulnerability of the child
• Increase the child’s compliance
There are seven stages of the grooming process (Please note: every case is different, in some cases one or more of these stages might be skipped)
1. Getting access to children - Abuser places themselves in a position where they have access to children
2. Targeting the victim - Abuser will gauge which children are the ones most capable of being abused without getting the abuser into trouble e.g.
a. Finding a child or children that has a vulnerability that can be exploited by the abuser. Or
b. Is there a child who wouldn’t be believed if they ever reported abuse? Is there a child who wouldn’t be allowed to come forward with a claim of abuse?
3. Gaining trust e.g.
a. Befriending the child
b. Learning about his/her interests, being helpful, showering the child with gifts and attention, or sharing secrets
These behaviors are used to give the child the impression there is a loving and exclusive relationship between them and the would-be offender.
The perpetrator portrays themself as a non-threatening individual with whom the child can talk and spend time with. During this step, the offender adjusts his or her strategies based on the age of the child they are targeting, the needs of the child, and the child’s perceived vulnerabilities.
4. Filling a need e.g. Perpetrators utilize tactics such as giving money/gifts, flattery, and meeting other basic needs of the potential victim. Tactics may also include increased attention and affection towards the targeted child.
5. Isolation - The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special bond between the abuser and the potential victim.
6. Sexual Stage: Desensitizing the Child - Once there is sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the abuser progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through:
d. Seemingly accidental touch or innocent behaviors, which then escalate to more intimate touching. e.g. the child molester may first give the child hugs or pats on the back, and then gradually escalate to wrestling, tickling, or back massages and the eventual sexual contact. Other tactics include playing hide and seek in the dark, playing strip poker, drying a child off with a towel, massaging an injury, playing physical games etc.
At this point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship.
7. Controlling the Child and the Situation: Once sexual abuse is occurring, abusers will commonly use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain the child’s participation and continued silence.
Perpetrators use various types of emotional manipulation. One specific method used is convincing the child that the child would be the one in trouble if the abuse or “shared secret” (as mentioned above in 3b) becomes known.
Why is it important for adults to learn about grooming?
Short answer: Because we shouldn’t expect kids to stop it on their own.
By the time the grooming process reaches the sexual stage, it is nearly impossible for a deliberately selected and groomed child to avoid the sexual abuse.
Therefore, it is the job of the adults in the child’s life to recognize the warning signs and put a stop to the relationship while still in the initial stages.
The child will not be happy that you are separating them from the person who gives them attention and gifts, and that’s okay.
Better your child be angry at you for intervening before the groomer shows their true colors versus your child being angry at you for turning a blind eye and allowing the grooming and abuse to proceed.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.
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