Child grooming is a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy. – Darkness to Light

90% of child abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust. Grooming of a child happens in stages to build the trust of a child and family. From the outside, the relationship between the offender and child appears to be a close and caring relationship. Knowing the stages is imperative to recognizing the signs and ending the abuse. 

Target the Child – Child predators look for a child’s perceived vulnerabilities, these could include neglect, a difficult home life, isolation, in need of emotional support, etc. They take to these potential vulnerabilities and begin to pay special attention or preference to the victim. Be sure to stay involved in your child’s online world, as many child predators find victims on social media networks, gaming sites, and messaging apps.

Gain Trust – Most often, child groomers are those who are trusted by the family or community, such as teachers, church leaders, coaches, or family friends. They work to gain the trust of not only the child, but also the family. This trust allows them to begin to gain access to the child through what appears to be care and support. They will begin to get close to the child, understand what they may need, and learn about their feelings. Pay attention to those who appear to offer extra support or gifts for your family, especially if it includes your children.

Giving Gifts and Extra Attention – Now that the child offender has created a relationship with the child and family, they will begin to have a more prominent relationship in the child’s life. They may give gifts, extra compliments, and help meet the child’s needs. From the outside, this is often perceived as extra care and affection for the child.

Isolation – The offender will begin to create situations that allow the child to be alone with them. This could include special trips, babysitting, private coaching, etc. In this one-on-one time, they will begin to create the perceived idea that they are the only one who understands each other and that they are the only one who truly cares for the child.

Sexualizing the Relationship – It is not until this trust in the child and family is gained that they begin to progressively sexualize the relationship. This can occur in several ways from taking pictures, talking, introducing sexual concepts, creating “games” to introduce sexual situations, etc. They will exploit the child’s natural curiosity, along with the trust in the relationship.

Maintaining Control – After sexualizing the relationship, the offender will use emotional manipulation to keep the child from talking about their situation. They continue to isolate the child and make them feel they are the only ones who can understand their needs and feelings, they may threaten them or their family if the relationship was exposed.

If you notice any of the stages of grooming, it is imperative to step in. This can look different depending on your relationship with the victim. As a parent, it is important to set family rules about how other adults may interact with your child; if someone breaks these family rules be sure to have a conversation with both the offender and the child about how these are not acceptable behaviors. These rules could include: not accepting gifts outside of holidays/birthdays, having a parent present at all functions including not allowing the child to go places alone with another adult, giving the child control of who they hug and when, etc.

As a community member, you can stay aware of the adults around you and notice if they may present red flag behaviors. If you see a behavior that could potentially lead to grooming or is grooming, be sure to share with the parent or caregiver of the child. Additionally, we can all continue to bring awareness to child grooming and how we can prevent it. 

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