Our attorneys focus on holding institutions responsible for allowing abuse to occur. We typically do not handle matters involving abuse by a personal acquaintance, family member, or other individual outside of an organization.
You may be wondering, What is sexual grooming? Put simply, sexual grooming is when predators exploit and manipulate normal societal expectations of adult-child relationships to get access to children. You may have seen red flags of grooming in your child’s life or past relationships.
Sexual grooming involves a process whereby sexual predators develop relationships with children and influence their families to trust them. Perpetrators use grooming behaviors to make sexual abuse seem ordinary and unalarming. By exploiting a child’s trust, sexual predators cause grave and lasting harm to a child’s physical and emotional well-being.
What Is the Definition of Sexual Grooming?
Anyone of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion can be a sexual abuser. An abuser might be a family friend, teacher, faith leader, priest, boy scout leader, or another person in authority. Sexual predators use grooming behaviors to target and form a relationship with a child to control, exploit, and abuse them. An abuser may appear charming, helpful, and generous. They use these personality traits to influence families and communities so they can have access to abuse a child.
Once the abuser has built a relationship with the child, the abuser will introduce sexual conduct. They will exploit the emotional connection to convince the child that the conduct is okay and that they must keep it a secret. They may persuade the child that sexual activities are expected in relationships. Many children grow up thinking that their abuser was their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” However, grooming and sexual abuse are never okay, and they are never the child’s fault, regardless of the connection they feel with the abuser.
The Stages of Sexual Grooming
Any child can be influenced by grooming. Abusers use grooming to take advantage of a person’s physical and psychological needs. And sexual predators use their position of trust—like being a faith leader, youth volunteer, or teacher—to gain access to a child’s life to begin the grooming process. Here are the stages of grooming, according to the child sexual abuse prevention organization Darkness to Light:
- Targeting the child—The abuser reaches out and pays particular attention to a child to determine if they are vulnerable;
- Gaining the child’s and family’s trust—The offender develops the relationship by learning about the child, their family, and how to meet their needs;
- Filling a need—Perpetrators abuse a child’s emotional neediness, loneliness, neglect, turbulent family life, or lack of parental monitoring by gifting, flattering, and providing basic wants;
- Isolating the child—The abuser uses isolation tactics to create situations where they can be alone with the child, convincing them that the relationship is special;
- Sexualizing the relationship—Once the perpetrator convinces the child and adults that their intimacy is normal, they will begin to use the relationship for sexual gratification; and
- Maintaining control—The abuser exploits the relationship to persuade the child not to tell an adult about the abuse and to continue the relationship.
As abusers build a relationship with a child, they slowly push the boundaries. They want to convince everyone that the relationship is normal and acceptable when the reality is far from it.
Sexual Predator Grooming Signs
RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, reports that 59% of abusers are acquaintances, and only 7% are strangers. This means that a perpetrator will likely use established relationships of trust to groom a child toward sexual abuse. Thus, there are a few signs of grooming for adults to be aware of when children interact with adults. These signs include an adult:
- Giving the child special attention and affection;
- Flattering the child by claiming to have the same likes and interests;
- Giving gifts, like money, electronics, candy, and soda to the child;
- Providing alcohol or drugs to the child;
- Calling the child on the phone, sending text messages, or talking online;
- Taking the child on vacations and trips;
- Touching or hugging in front of trusted adults, making the child think it is okay;
- Pretending to be “best friends” and listening sympathetically when the child is upset or excited;
- Talking with the child about their personal problems or relationships;
- Lacking age-appropriate relationships;
- Spending time with children outside of their role (teacher, faith leader, scout leader, etc.);
- Offering to help the family with things like babysitting, driving the child to activities, or paying school tuition;
- Telling the child dirty jokes or showing them pornography; or
- Failing to respect boundaries and continuing behaviors after they are told “no.”
Many parents have failed to realize what is happening to their children. They feel shame and anger that they invited an abuser into their home and granted access to their child. However, remember that parents and families can also be targets of grooming behaviors. Abusers manipulate families into trusting them with their children.
If you or a loved one was a victim of sexual grooming or abuse, contact the attorneys at Boucher LLP today.
Schedule a Free Consultation
Signs of Sexual Grooming Online
Social media and online messaging provide an easy way for perpetrators to access information about a child and directly contact them. Abusers use non-physical forms of coercion via online messaging, like flattery and blackmail.
When abusers use the online environment to acquire sexual content from the child or engage in sex with the child, it is called “sextortion.” Some red flags of sextortion include:
- Using reciprocation tactics (“I’ll show you if you show me”);
- Pretending to work for a modeling agency to collect sexual photographs;
- Secretly filming sexually explicit video conversations;
- Physically threatening the child or family;
- Threatening suicide if the child doesn’t send sexual photos or videos;
- Contacting the child using numerous online identities;
- Pretending to be younger than they are or the opposite sex; or
- Threatening to make their conversations public.
Although online abuse doesn’t always escalate to physical sexual abuse, it is no less harmful to the child. Regardless of whether physical contact occurs, exploiting a child’s vulnerability and emotional immaturity causes lifelong scars and trauma. Further, once explicit photos are available online, it is difficult to ensure they are removed completely.
Boucher LLP: Helping Survivors and Families Heal After Childhood Sexual Abuse
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you deserve reparation and closure. At Boucher LLP, our attorneys have decades of experience supporting California’s most vulnerable through the court process.
Our attorneys will listen to you and discuss your options. We understand the courage it takes to tell your story and face a courtroom with your accusations. By coming forward, you can hold the responsible people accountable for the harm you endured.
You can help empower others to speak out and end ongoing abuse. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual grooming or abuse, contact Boucher LLP today to start seeking justice.