Child grooming refers to actions deliberately undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, in order to lower the child’s inhibitions in preparation for abuse or exploitation.
The Home Office has defined grooming as: ‘A course of conduct enacted by a suspected paedophile which would give a reasonable person cause for concern that any meeting with a child arising from the conduct would be for unlawful purposes.’
Adult grooming is the adult equivalent to child grooming and applies to any behaviour where an adult is prepared so they unwittingly allow abusive behaviour or exploitation to occur later.
The abuser typically befriends or builds a relationship with the victim in order to establish a relationship of trust.
Although it is a common belief that grooming is most relevant to children, the same or similar psychological processes are used to exploit adults. As with child grooming, adult grooming typically involves:
- Positive Reinforcement: includes praise, superficial charm, superficial sympathy (crocodile tears), excessive apologizing; money, approval, gifts; attention, facial expressions such as a forced laugh or smile; public recognition.
- Negative Reinforcement: includes nagging, yelling, the silent treatment (sulking), intimidation, threats, swearing, emotional blackmail, the guilt trap, sulking, crying, and playing the victim.
- Intermittent or Partial Reinforcement: Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt, for example in terrorist attacks. Partial or intermittent positive reinforcement can encourage the victim to persist, for example in most forms of gambling, the gambler is likely to win now and again but still lose money overall.
- Traumatic One-Trial Learning: using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.
- Normalisation of Behaviour.
As survivors of abuse, we have all been victims of grooming whether we believe it or not. Its part of the reason why we believe it’s our fault (which its not). Its part of the reason why we feel guilty (which we’re not). Its part of the reason why we feel shame (which we shouldn’t as its not ours). And its part of the reason why we find it difficult to talk about as boys and men, because the belief is that male 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 victim somehow believe they had a part in the act and to remain silent about it. Grooming will sort that out!!
Read Daniel’s Story on grooming and what he thinks about it all.
The Six Stages of Grooming
Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner explains the six stages that can lead up to sexual molestation.
The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by engendering in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs.
Different law enforcement officers and academics have proposed models of the “stages” of grooming. Since there are a variety of these models, it’s best to think of the grooming by sex offenders as a gradual, calculated process that ensnares children into a world in which they are ultimately a willing part of the sex abuse.
Stage 1: Targeting the victim
The offender targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability, emotional neediness, isolation and lower self-confidence. Children with less parental oversight are more desirable prey.
Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust
The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. Only more awkward and overly personal attention, or a gooey intrusiveness, provokes the suspicion of parents. Otherwise, a more suave sex offender is better disciplined for how to push and poke, without revealing themselves. Think of the grooming sex offender on the prowl as akin to a spy and just as stealthy.
Stage 3: Filling a need
Once the sex offender begins to fill the child’s needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Gifts, extra attention, affection may distinguish one adult in particular and should raise concern and greater vigilance to be accountable for that adult.
Stage 4: Isolating the child
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 connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation.
A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitisation occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship.
When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms.
Stage 6: Maintaining control
Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence, particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.
Children in these entangled relationships, and at this point they are entangled, confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the dirt bikes the child gets to ride, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner has worked on some of the most sensitive cases in America in recent years, from Andrea Yates to the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. He is the lead researcher of an evidence-based measure to standardize the worst of crimes at DepravityScale.org. Dr. Welner is an associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and is chairman of The Forensic Panel.
© The Oprah Winfrey Show (www.oprah.com). October 2010.