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Newest Abuse Prevention Research and Top Lessons for Your Organization

Identification of red flag child sexual abuse grooming behaviors

Praesidium is excited to share the most current research on sexual grooming behaviors conducted by experts, Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic, Dr. Georgia M. Winters, and Dr. Benjamin N. Johnson. The full text of the latest article, Identification of Red Flag and Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors can be read here.

While it is widely known that offenders use grooming behaviors to access and manipulate victims prior to abusing them, Jeglic et al.’s new research examine how offenders (with a variety of different relationships to youth) utilize specific grooming behaviors differently than adults who have healthy relationships with youth.

By surveying adults who have experienced child sexual abuse and those who had not, Jeglic et al. could determine how behaviors differed between the two distinct groups. One of many important findings from the research shows that multiple sexual grooming behaviors were two times more likely to be present in cases of child sexual abuse than in cases where abuse did not occur (p. 9). Organizations and individuals working to provide a safe environment for consumers can translate several important learnings from this research into practice.

What does this mean for my organization?

Policies and Training on Grooming Behaviors

Abuse prevention policies and training are critical pieces to your organization’s abuse risk management strategy. Everyone in your organization plays a role in preventing abuse; therefore, everyone should be trained and know the organization’s policies on the topic. To stop grooming or red flag behaviors from rising to the level of abuse, individuals need to know what grooming can look like, what is expected of them and their peers for interacting with youth, and their immediate steps to respond to any grooming behaviors they may observe.

Jeglic et al.’s research found that offenders were very likely to engage in behaviors that allowed them access to youth and purposefully isolated victims from others. For example, physical and psychological isolation from others was 20 times more likely to be present in cases of child sexual abuse. Results also showed other significant behaviors: offenders spending time with the victim’s family to gain access to the youth were 3.8 times more likely to occur and trying to do activities alone with the youth without other adults present was 3.4 times more likely to occur (p. 10).

To minimize and prevent these behaviors from occurring in your organization, it is imperative to have clear policies on adult and youth interactions inside and outside the organization. For example, one-on-one activities, meetings, etc. should be kept to a minimum so offenders cannot isolate and interact with youth alone while at work. Additionally, clear policies and training on how to handle outside contact with youth are vital. As an organization, it is not always realistic to prevent or forbid all outside contact with youth; however, it is possible to implement outside contact protocols staff and volunteers must follow (i.e., reporting any pre-existing relationships with youth, receiving approval to attend a youth’s high school graduation ceremony). Clear, concise policies along with effective training set the foundation for a safe environment within your organization.

Consumer Education and Participation

Educating consumers, parents, and guardians on recognizing grooming behaviors and policy violations allows these groups to become a valuable part of your organization’s risk management team. Organizations should educate and empower both consumers and community members on sharing their concerns and providing feedback to the organization.

Jeglic et al. found that offenders were statistically more likely to urge youth not to report abuse, keep secrets from other adults and their lives, and use rewards or bribes to further isolate the youth (p.9).

Research continually shows that privacy and secrecy are necessary and common tools offenders use to abuse their victim(s). Consumers must know and understand that secrets between adults and youth are prohibited and should be reported to their parents, caregiver, and trusted adults within your organization immediately. Additionally, organizations can provide parents and guardians with the staff/volunteer code of conduct and encourage parents and guardians to talk to their youth about their experiences in your organization. It is imperative that organizations create an environment of transparency in which parents and consumers are knowledgeable about how to protect themselves/their children from abuse and how to report concerns.

Responding and Reporting

How an organization responds to reports of grooming behaviors and policy violations can make all the difference in stopping such behaviors from rising to the level of abuse. As individuals and organizations become more educated on these behaviors that can lead to abuse, we must also be diligent in providing a swift response and deliberate next steps when any concerns or abuse are reported.

Jeglic et. al found that grooming behaviors used to desensitize youth to sexual touch and content were the most statistically significant risk factors (offenders were 34 times more likely to engage in these behaviors) (p. 10). This includes “any sexual touching exposing of the adult’s nude body, excessive touching of the child, exposure to sexual content such as pornography or discussion of sexual behaviors” (p. 10-11).

As previously discussed, it is common for offenders to seek privacy to engage in these behaviors with youth, but they may also be observable or reported to the organization by a youth. Regardless, having clear policies outlining staff, volunteers, and leadership’s response to allegations or suspicions of abuse can significantly affect the harm to the victim, their family, and the organization. Here are the best practices your organization can implement when creating responding and reporting procedures:

  • Ensure your organization has a policy outlining the appropriate staff response to allegations or incidents of abuse.
  • Ensure your organization has a policy outlining the appropriate supervisor response to reports of allegations or incidents of abuse.
  • Ensure your organization has a policy outlining the appropriate administrator response to reports of allegations or incidents of abuse.
  • Ensure the policies each address mandatory reporting requirements.

Overall, Jeglic et al.’s findings are incredibly helpful in understanding how the most high-risk sexual grooming behaviors occur in offenders’ relationships with youth. This valuable research will only help move the needle forward in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse incidents. The researchers created additional helpful tools for organizations to use. Below are the Red Flag Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors: Level of Concern Guide and the Red Flag Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors: Post Abuse Maintenance tool which can be used for further training and education within your organization.

To learn more about Dr. Jeglic and Dr. Winters research on grooming behaviors you can find their book, Sexual Grooming Integrating Research, Practice, Prevention, and Policy here.

Download the Red Flag Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors: Level of Concern Guide.
Download the Red Flag Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors: Post-Abuse Maintenance Tool.



Source: Jeglic, E. L., Winters, G. M., Johnson, B. N. (2023). Identification of Red Flag Child Sexual Grooming Behaviors. Child Abuse and Neglect, 136.