Grooming is attempting to create a relationship with a child or young person to sexually assault them. In other instances, they get children to commit crimes or join a cult or a terrorist organisation. The perpetrator manipulates the child to gain their trust to create abuse opportunities. Usually, it starts with non-threatening behaviour to gain closeness and then eventually escalates into sexual behaviour.
This crime doesn’t just involve manipulating younger people in vulnerable positions. It also includes the child’s parents and community. Groomers appear as kind, caring, and thoughtful individuals. In many cases, a groomer is a person in a position of mentorship with the child. They make the child feel indebted and the community or organisation they’re under grateful.
The methods of grooming
A report by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse found that the abusers singled out survivors of school-based abuse. They were given favouritism, rewards, and attention. Children of any demographic can be targeted, but socially vulnerable children are more likely to be targeted. Young people from marginalised identities or who experience discrimination and isolation are likelier to be victims.
Perpetrators look for a chance to target children without any detection. They also befriend the parents and guardians of the child to create even more opportunities for abuse. They can offer to babysit or watch the kids when the guardians are busy. In addition, groomers can also target children with minimal parental supervision. Children with low self-esteem, are naïve, or live in low economic situations are also more likely to be targeted.
Once a groomer identifies a victim, they reward them with gifts and share secrets of making the children feel important. They also give the children experiences that they enjoy. Among older teens, a groomer can give access to alcohol and other drugs.
As the groomer establishes a closer relationship with the victim, they desensitize them. Groomers start with non-sexual touching to make it seem like close body contact is normal. This can include hugs, cuddling, wrestling, and tickling. This then escalates to bathing or showering together, giving massages, and talking about sex. Afterwards, they can even make the child watch pornography. In online communication, groomers can convince their victims to send nude photos of themselves.
Read also: How To Protect Your Children Online
If the victim starts feeling uncomfortable, the abuser gaslights them into believing what they’re doing is a form of affection. When a victim tries to stand up for themselves, the groomer will threaten to humiliate them. They can also issue threats like revenge porn or ensure the authorities threaten the parents for allowing abuse.
Unfortunately, grooming is very hard to detect because a lot of the behaviour exhibited by the abuser appears commonplace. For parents and guardians, what helps is being hyperaware of the people interacting with your children. Just because an institution may have a positive reputation within the community doesn’t guarantee the safety of children.
The Catholic Church is responsible for covering up multiple instances of abuse. In France, it was exposed that the church covered up 216,000 cases between 1950 and 2020. The US Catholic Church had 7002 clergy members credibly accused of assault. The Boy Scouts of America had at least 7800 abusers accused of assaulting over 12,200 Boy Scouts between the 70s and 2016.
In Nigeria, men troop to young girls’ houses with offers to teach them about marriage. The men offer the young girls cash incentives. They target girls from impoverished homes where they can also make the families feel indebted to them. The offer to teach them is disingenuous because marriage is the demanded form of payment. These abusers often abandon their young wives after they fall pregnant or grow older, and then they move on to the next victim. Little can be done to make the men face retribution because there is no contract.
The men offer the parents a choice, one less mouth to feed. And poor parents can coerce their daughters to go off with these men to secure a future. Some girls’ only reprieve is a parent or guardian accepting their wishes and sending the abuser away. Rescue centres can also provide shelter for girls forced into early marriage.
What can parents do if they suspect grooming?
If you suspect your child is being groomed, raise the concern with the authorities within the school. It’s often better to be safe than sorry. Studies show that a history of seemingly isolated abuse incidents is uncovered only after abuse is disclosed. Reluctance to report issues is often linked to a fear of being mistaken. However, investigations can often clear misunderstandings but protect other potential abuse victims.
Groomers heavily rely on secrecy to continue their abuse. Parents need to have an open line of communication between them and their children to prevent a predator from hiding their crimes. Research shows that teens and children are first likely to reveal the abuse to a parent or friend.
Schools and other child-based organisations should also have open dialogue policies with parents. The institutions should also disclose their security frameworks to prevent children from getting into vulnerable positions with abusers.
Read also: Parenting: Warning Signs Of Sexual Abuse In Children
Parents and teachers can also look out for changes in behaviour to identify if their children are being groomed. Some indicators include:
- Being isolated when they weren’t before
- Appearing in constant distress
- Avoiding school, including staff and activities
- Having inexplicable new gifts that weren’t provided by parents or close family
- Being secretive about who they’re spending time with
Read also: Safety: 7 Ways To Ensure Your Child’s Safety In School
Schools and other children’s organisations can train staff to respond better to child safety issues. Any reports of abuse must have policies to protect the children as a priority. Children should have staff support to ensure they can feel safe at school or church and can approach relevant authorities to be protected from abuse.
Sexual Violence Against Girls In Kenya Is Mostly Carried Out By Family Members. What Can Be Done To Reduce The Risks?
6 Ways To Support A Sexual Assault Victim
Don’t Just Be A Bystander: 5 Ways To Intervene And Help A Sexual Harassment Victim
Why Focusing On Abstinence From Sex Among Teenagers Is The Wrong Way To Reduce Teen Pregnancies And Prevent STIs
Relationships: Conversations Every Parent Should Have With Their Children
How To Protect Your Children From Traumatic News And Content