First, let’s understand what we’re talking about. If you think grooming means combing one’s hair and washing one’s face, well that’s not what we’re talking about in this post. We’re addressing a second definition:
Grooming = To prepare or train someone for a purpose or activity. “The criminal activity of becoming friends with a child, especially over the Internet, in order to try to persuade the child to have a sexual relationship.”*
First, let me say that grooming, while many times aimed at minors, also happens with adults. Grooming is when an adult or teen prepares or trains another person so that what happens later (the abuse) seems normal. Grooming can occur between members of the same sex or opposite sex.
I believe we need to be aware. I believe we need to understand what’s happening when we see it. Especially if you have children in your care, you need to understand what to look out for. You need to recognize the signs.
Grooming is nothing new. It didn’t just pop up in the last ten years. It’s always been around. But, it’s more of a problem today for two reasons:
- Children are online and unsupervised.
- There are more perverted people, due to pornography and damaged souls.
It’s easy to tell a parent, “beware of grooming” without helping him to have any idea what to look for. We need to understand how an abuser acts.
This describes the normal progression of grooming:
- Friendship—The potential abuser is the nicest person around. He (the male pronoun represents both men and women throughout this post) might be a family friend or someone with easy access. He is friendly, funny, sweet, and he can be with his victim a lot. In the case of online friendships, he may lie and say he’s a much younger person, but he will be friendly, talky, funny, and sweet.
- Gifts—In general, the friendly person becomes even more beloved because he gives gifts to his victim. They can be actual gifts, privileges, or rewards.
- Touch—The potential abuser begins to touch his victim in an unthreatening way. He might begin with side hugs, touching the victim’s hair, or pats on the shoulder, thigh, or knee. Usually, the victim doesn’t even notice the progression and enjoys the warmth and touching. This “innocent” touching soon changes to stroking.
- Personal touching—The abuse has begun. The abuser touches his victim in a sexual way. Almost always, he swears his victim to silence. Sometimes, it’s a threat like “I will hurt you (or your siblings, parents) if you ever tell anyone about our special relationship.” Sometimes it’s making them promise, “Promise me you won’t let anyone in on our special friendship. We wouldn’t want to spoil it.” At any rate, this is why much abuse doesn’t get reported. The victim is afraid either he or someone he loves might get hurt if he tells.
Notice what’s happening in grooming:
- There’s access. The victim doesn’t feel threatened at first. The parents aren’t uneasy. The victim is exposed to this perverted person time after time after time. There’s a high level of trust.
- The abuser is patient. He (or she) doesn’t expect immediate gratification. Grooming is a process over time. The abuser is seeking a long-term relationship.
So, what can you do? If you’re a parent, caregiver, friend, or even a potential victim, and you notice something isn’t right, what can you do?
- Prevent—Make sure you know everyone who has access to your child. Make sure you know where he is, who is supervising him, and are aware with whom he chats online. Don’t let your kids do sleepovers, unless you are sure the children will be supervised by like-minded parents. Make sure you know every child and teen that will be there. If you have any doubt at all, it’s easier to say no the first time. (Quite a few parents never permit their children to do sleepovers at all. It’s not a bad idea.)
- Watch—Monitor your children online. (If you don’t know how to do this, find out.) Caution your kids not to tell anyone online where they go to school, where they live, etc. and not to show their location with photos, either. Watch for teens and adults who pay special attention to your child (or to you, for that matter).
- Say “no”—If anyone asks to drive your child somewhere, one-on-one, the answer is no. If an adult wants a play date with your child, the answer is no. (This is not normal!) If an adult seeks alone time with your child, view it as totally weird, and say no. (The same goes for adult-adult grooming. You don’t need to be alone with anyone not family.)
- Be alert—Do you observe someone hugging a child all the time, sitting close to him, touching his hair, or rubbing his back? If it happens more than once, go over to that person and advise him that you don’t think that’s appropriate behavior. If you’re not the parent, go to the child’s parent and report what you’ve noticed. If it doesn’t stop, do everything you can to make it known to any authority that needs to know (parents, pastor, school teacher, principal, etc.).
- Educate—Help your child from the time he is quite small to know the names for all the parts of his body. Help him know which parts are private and not to be touched (except, if necessary, by medical professionals). Tell him to report to you or his father if anyone ever touches him there. As children get older, ask pertinent questions—not often, but as occasions present themselves. Make sure nothing is happening that you don’t know about. Make sure your kids are comfortable talking to you.
- Ask—If you think you smell a rat, ask your child if Potential Abuser Name has ever made him feel uncomfortable. Then ask why. Don’t put any words in the child’s mouth. Listen. Let him tell you in his own words. If he admits to feeling uncomfortable, and it sounds like grooming, ask if Potential Abuser told him not to tell anyone. If so, you can be sure something’s going on that’s not right.
- Tell—I understand the factors. I really do. People are afraid of reprisals, of not being understood, and of court cases. Some predators are married with normal families. Some may be “responsible” members of a church. But, do you really want the abuser to be free to groom others? Most abusers are never reported. Never. This isn’t right. They will only move on and abuse more people. Were you abused? Was your child abused? Report it. Call the police. Get that person out of your life, and protect others. Was it adult-adult abuse? Make it public. Report it to the authorities. Why do people report crimes like theft, breaking and entering, and assault, yet sexual grooming and assault goes free? It’s a crime against someone’s body. It is a crime, and it should be punished.
In the Christian community, in churches, and in Christian schools, there’s a wonderful family atmosphere, and people trust each other. But more and more, there are wolves among vulnerable sheep. Please heed and be watchful. You may be able to prevent abuse.
* Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and Thesaurus