In the words of the author Eric M. Garrison, “grooming is the slow, methodical and intentional process of manipulating a person to a point where they can be victimized.” (See Allure.com) The perpetrators are gaining trust by grooming to then exploit the victim further, mostly sexually.
Grooming can take place in person, online, or in institutions. It is important to note that everybody can be a victim. Grooming can occur at any age and in any culture, religion, or relationship pattern.
Since children are the most targeted group, let´s have a closer look at the different stages of grooming in child abuse.
First, any perpetrator will find a target. The children those people choose are often isolated from their families, emotionally needy, live in a chaotic home, or without parental care.
Once the child is targeted the actual grooming begins. The perpetrators will gain trust by finding out the needs and wishes of the child and finding ways to fill these missing spaces. If necessary, the perpetrator will gain the trust of family or caretakers.
When the trust is there the perpetrators will fill the needs of the child, emotionally, and materialistic. They will show great affection and gift money and presents to grow the child´s need for this particular grown-up.
In the next stage, the perpetrator will isolate the child from its parents. They will create situations to be alone with the child, like babysitting and cultivate a sense that nobody cares more for the child than the perpetrator.
Eventually, the relationship that has been built on emotional dependence will be sexualized. The adult exploits the childlike curiosity and creates moments where both are naked, like giving a bath, or will show pictures and videos of nudity to normalize the nakedness.
In the final stage, when the abuse is happening, the perpetrators one goal is to maintain control over the relationship. The child will be shamed, knowing that if it leaves the relationship it will be humiliating, or the child will fear losing the relationship because of the emotional and material connection and stay in it even it its hurtful.
So how can we protect children from being groomed and sexually exploited?
It´s important to pay attention to the adults that surround the child (or in some cases, young adults). If one child gets special attention, if there is a lot of touching or hugging and gift giving it doesn´t immediately mean there is something wrong going on. We cannot distrust every adult who cares for children but being aware of the process of grooming and having healthy conversations with our children and the people who have access to them can prevent exploitation.
Not only children are the target of grooming but adults are just as vulnerable.
Adult grooming is a gradual process that follows the stages of child grooming. It will start with a friendship, online or offline, and the targets will often be people who are isolated, emotionally or financially unstable and in need of someone who cares for them. The perpetrator can fake such caring behavior perfectly.
Most cases of grooming lead to sexual abuse or to sex trafficking, but some result in financial abuse or in political radicalization.
If you know someone and suspect they are groomed, watch out for the following signs:
The person becomes withdrawn. They isolate themselves further, don´t want to meet or answer the phone. They will either show up with unexpected gifts or money that they didn´t have before, or dress in a different way, or they have sudden financial issues and can´t explain where the money went. They will spend more time on the phone, talking to someone you don´t know and refuse to tell you whom they are seeing. They might also talk about a partner that they don´t want to introduce to you.
If you spot such things you can contact social services to explain the situation and get help for your friend or family member. Hotlines and resources are not only for victims. They provide information and guidance for friends and family members as well.
If you think you´re being groomed you can contact the same hotlines. Of course, now you will say that this cannot happen to you. But grooming is sometimes difficult to distinguish from romance. Groomers spend a lot of time and money on building a relationship with their target. The attention might feel good but if you get the feeling that you are taken advantage of or you have to do something to pay back the person you should take a step back from the relationship. A healthy relationship is mutual and make you feel bad about yourself or give you the feeling somebody has an agenda.
Every Victim can get out!
If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship and you feel you are getting groomed to do something you don´t wish to do, you can contact professionals to get help.
For US citizens: