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What is Grooming?

Four Types of Grooming in CSA Cases

Grooming is a broad term that encompasses any behavior meant to increase access to victims and prevent the discovery of child sexual abuse (CSA)[1]. The victim’s environment and the adults in their life are often manipulated to facilitate and even support the abuse.

In many cases, the offender will also groom themselves to minimize fear and guilt. And most well-known to the public, the offender will groom the victim to develop trust, maximize dependence, desensitize them to the abuse, and maintain the relationship and secrecy after the abuse.

Environmental Grooming: Creating a Setting for Abuse

Grooming the environment is about the pool of potential victims[2]. Offenders need access to children, and they need the environment to support that access. A child’s “environment” is made up of the adults, children, and locations that are regularly in the child’s life.

Environmental grooming is used to:

  • Establish a reason for being unsupervised with children
  • Reduce supervision of potential victims
  • Generate interest in and support for a relationship with the offender
  • Create a setting in which to identify a vulnerable child

Victim Grooming: Making a Child More Vulnerable

Victim grooming is the commonly understood type of grooming[3]. It starts when the offender gains access to potential victims and begins screening them to determine which is most vulnerable. Once a victim is identified, the offender will start targeted grooming with four objectives:

  • Forming a close relationship
  • Isolating the victim or otherwise increasing the victim’s reliance on the offender
  • Gradually reduce the victim’s resistance to abuse
  • Maintain the abusive relationship and prevent reporting

Grooming Adults: Gaining Support

The offender’s relationship with the adults in the victim’s life is also critical to their ability to abuse without detection. Typically, offenders will work to develop a reputation as a trustworthy authority in the community, whether in education, sports, religion, etc. They present themselves as having exemplary character, often specifically Christian[4] in the US. Offenders tend to have close relationships with adults who have children – with the intent to gain access to those kids at some point. Adult grooming provides several benefits to the offender:

  • Groomed adults are less likely to believe accusations
  • Adult grooming increases access to vulnerable children
  • The offender’s reputation makes the victim afraid to speak against them
  • Adult trust in the offender decreases the victim’s access to support

Grooming Oneself

Offenders (pedophiles) typically have a distorted view of reality. They think children generally have sexual thoughts and desires. One study showed that 70% of offenders felt the victim wanted sexual contact, and 30% thought the victim even initiated it.

They see themselves as caring and loving entities in the child’s life, and they’ll engage in behaviors to gain support for that perception. Many are or were members of online pedophile communities that normalize the offenses. When confronted with their abuse, offenders often compare themselves to “worse” offenders and claim they have standards or morals.

Why study grooming?

Grooming is an essential facilitator of child sexual abuse. It creates an environment – including the victim, adults, and offender – that shields the abuse behind a shroud of deniability, doubt, and manipulation. By studying various types of grooming and identifying patterns, we can improve our ability to identify pedophiliac behaviors and better protect vulnerable children.