Child Abuse

Grooming For Sexual Abuse On Children And Adults

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Grooming can be defined as the process of desensitization of a victim by a perpetrator in order to make them less likely to reject or report sexual abusive behaviour. Grooming can happen when there is a power differential within a relationship, which the abuser exploits for their own gratification. This is most commonly recognized as a tactic used by paedophiles, both on children and parents. However, adults can also be groomed. Grooming may also include threats or bribes, which persuade the child or young person that it would be impossible to ask for help.

Child grooming

Age difference is one example of a power differential. Children are taught to respect older children and adults – many abusers take advantage of this. Someone who was groomed as a child might find it hard to accept that what happened to them was ‘abuse’. The abuser may have taken an interest in them in a way that other adults did not, have allowed them to do things other adults did not. Sometimes adults misunderstand the role that grooming has played, and assume the young child is consensual, they fail to see that the child is caught in a trap. In those cases even if the victim ask for help they are not heard. Sometimes the victims themselves do not understand how they have been trapped into a situation where they are no longer able to break free, and they themselves believe they have done so willingly. 

Whether consciously or not, the abuser does this as a way of gaining a child’s trust and make it less likely that they will risk losing the ‘special relationship’ by talking to others about the sexual abuse. Sexual grooming of children also occurs on the Internet. Some abusers will pose as children online and make arrangements to meet with them in person. Sexual grooming of children over the internet is most prevalent (99% of cases) amongst the 13–17 age group, particularly 13–14 year old children (48%). The majority of them are girls. The majority of the victimization occurs with mobile phone support. Children and teenagers with behavioral issues such as “high attention seeking” have a much higher risk than others.

Adult grooming

While grooming is most associated with child sexual abuse, it is also possible for adults to be groomed – or prepared – for abuse. This is again most common in situations where there is a power differential, men can be groomed by older men – physically stronger men or professionals who have a measure of control over them, such as doctors or therapists. 

Grooming can also happen in domestic and relationship settings where the abusive partner, over time, introduces abusive acts that become accepted though they remain unwanted. In these situations, consent has technically been given, but something abusive may still have been happening. Young people say that it is very difficult to break free of this trap and tell someone. They also don’t recognize the process of being drawn into a situation as grooming. 

The effects of grooming

One of the key results of grooming is that the victim is left carrying the shame of the events, often represented in a sense of complicity – that they let it happen. This self-blame once again makes the abuse difficult to talk about. The survivor might fear that the blame he places on himself would be replicated in the responses of others. Sadly, some young people who had already broken free and told an adult spoke about not getting support to deal with the emotional impact of the shame and self-disgust they felt. 

Grooming blurs the lines around sexual abuse – makes it more difficult to identify when it is happening, and more difficult to identify and talk about in retrospect.

All survivors of abuse have been victims of grooming in one way or another. It is part of the reason survivors believe it’s their fault (which it’s not). It’s part of the reason survivors feel guilty (which they’re not). It’s part of the reason they feel shame (which they shouldn’t as it’s not theirs). And it’s part of the reason male survivors find it difficult to talk about as boys and men, because the belief is that males don’t get groomed, or to use another word – tricked. Well that belief is wrong!

Perpetrators of abuse and rape are clever. They have one goal in mind and that is to get away with their crime, so they need to make their victims somehow believe they had a part in the act and to remain silent about it. Grooming is used to achieve that.


Adapted From Living Well:

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