What is sexual grooming?
Elizabeth L. Jeglic Ph.D. explains that sexual grooming “refers to the behaviors that a child molester employs in preparation for committing sexual abuse against a child.” Sexual grooming techniques are not always easy to identify and parents need to pay extra attention to their children and the adults around them in order to spot them. The first step to protecting your children against sexual abuse is learning about the different stages in the process of sexual grooming.
Child molesters are skilled at manipulation.
Grooming does not only involve manipulating children but also their parents and all other adults who are in the child’s environment. Due to their manipulation tactics, sexual abusers are extremely difficult to spot; often, they appear charming and kind as they lie and scheme in order to get closer to a child. Unfortunately, it is only after their crime has been revealed that one can retrace the events which led up to it and understand the manipulation.
There are 5 stages in the process of sexual grooming.
1. Victim selection
The first step is selecting a victim. According to Jeglic, “studies have found that victims are often selected due to their perceived physical attractiveness, ease of access, or perceived vulnerability.” Those who are in extreme danger are the children who do not receive enough parental supervision; in other words, they are more vulnerable and easier to access. Children who have low self-esteem and are overly trusting are also often targeted.
2. Gaining access
After the child molester has selected their victim, they begin to plot and plan. They might stalk the child, learn their schedule, and find moments in which the child is emotionally or physically separated from their parents. Jeglic further notes that predators might engage in volunteer work or befriend single parents in order to gain access to minors without suspicion.
3. Gaining trust
In this stage, the predator tries to gain the trust of the child, the parents, and the community. In doing so, they hope that they will be able to inflict their abuse without being detected. Jeglic further explains that “during this stage, the offender works to gain the trust of the intended victim by giving them small gifts, special attention, or sharing secrets.” A child or teenager would not understand that they are being manipulated and would therefore begin trusting their predator.
4. Desensitizing their victim
In this final stage, the child molester will try to desensitize the child to touch. This means that they will begin to touch their target in a non-sexual way in order to make them feel used to it. During this stage, the predator will begin to hug, wrestle, and tickle their target. The goal of the predator is to make the child feel comfortable with their touch.
5. Maintaining the relationship
The abuse will leave the child feeling lost, afraid, and confused. Once the abuse begins, the child will not know what to do. The abuser will engage in behaviors that aim to maintain the relationship by encouraging the child to keep secrets, telling them “I love you” and “You’re special”, and persuading them that the abuse is normal. What is worse, once the child decides to tell somebody what is happening, the predator will begin to threaten them or make them feel responsible for the abuse.
On the whole, detecting sexual grooming is extremely difficult and few people know how to identify potential predators. For this reason, you need to be extra careful when letting strangers and adults into the lives of your children. Do not blindly trust people that you meet and always pay attention to the people around your children.