What is “grooming” and how do child predators target children?

Grooming is a predator’s “ticket” to your child. It is the careful means by which a predator befriends, flatters, builds trust, removes inhibitions, and blurs sexual and body boundaries in order to make a child an “easy” target for abuse—a child who does not fight back and is far less likely to report.

Grooming is a slow and insidious process, intended to manipulate the child into thinking that the abuse is his or her fault and ensure that the child is confused and will not actively resist. It is such a successful tactic that the majority of child sexual abuse is not under physical force or the threat of physical force. It also helps a predator ensure that the victim is less likely to report the crime, due to the child’s shame, guilt, and confusion.

Many predators also carefully groom families so that if the child does disclose, his or her parents will not believe the child.

Some signs of grooming include when a predator:

  • Shares secrets with a child
  • Gives a child gifts or money
  • Gives a child alcohol, drugs, or pornography
  • Spends large amounts of time with the child alone
  • Engages in long hugging, touching, kissing or “accidental” touching that is sexualized
  • Takes the child alone on overnight trips
  • Tells the child s/he is “mature” for his/her age
  • Engages in sexual talk or jokes
  • Discusses adult subjects with the child, including marital problems, emotional troubles, financial difficulties
  • Threatens the child if the child tells the adult’s secrets

This list is by no means comprehensive. But remember: your gut is usually your best guide. If something makes you feel “hinky”, go with your gut, ask questions, and do everything in your power to stop the cycle of abuse.

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