molestation lawyer
  • February 17

Understanding Sexual Grooming And Warning Signs To Know

One common tactic that perpetrators of sexual abuse use is grooming. Grooming can include a variety of manipulative behaviors that an abuser will use to gain trust and access to a potential victim so that the abuser can later engage in abusive conduct. Grooming frequently is used against younger children, but it can also be used against teenagers or vulnerable adults. It can take place in person or on-line, and it frequently is employed by someone close to the victim, including a family member, teacher, coach, pastor, youth leader, or other individual with whom the victim has close and frequent interactions. Our friends at Kellogg & Van Aken LLP discuss common grooming behaviors below: 

  1. Targeting a Particular Child. Abusers typically target a victim based on perceived vulnerabilities or ease of access. This could include a child with whom they frequently interact, such as a student or athlete, or someone who may be experiencing a chaotic home life or lack of parental oversight. 
  2. Accessing and Isolating the Child. Perpetrators will often undertake efforts to gain access to or isolate the child both physically and emotionally. This may include seeking out positions in which they have frequent contact with children, including coaching, teaching, or leading youth groups or organizations. Abusers may create situations in which they are alone together with a child. 
  3. Developing Trust with the Child. Perpetrators go to great lengths to gain the trust of the victim and sometimes the victim’s family to gain access to the child. They gain trust by gathering information about the child, learning more about what the child likes or needs, and using that information to fill the needs of the child. Abusers often get gifts for children, give them special attention, share “secrets” with them to make them feel special and trusted, or give them flattery or affection. 
  4. Testing Boundaries and Desensitization. Abusers will often test the boundaries of the relationship slowly in order to desensitize the victim in ways that appear harmless, including hugging, wrestling, or tickling. They may take silly pictures with the child, tell sexualized jokes to see how the child responds, or try to play sexualized games with the child. By doing so, they are normalizing sexualized behavior and desensitizing the child to inappropriate conduct, which then often escalates to more serious misconduct, including massages, sexual touching, inappropriate photographs, or showering together. 
  5. Maintaining Control. Once the perpetrator is engaging in sexual abuse with a victim, they often use manipulation, secrecy, blame, and coercion to maintain control over the situation so they can continue to abuse the child while maintaining secrecy. They often make the child believe that they are the only person who loves them or that the child will be in trouble or get the perpetrator in trouble if they expose the relationship. They often encourage secret communications to ensure the relationship is protected from disclosure. 

As a parent or member of society that frequently interacts with children, it can be helpful to recognize the above behaviors as well as some red flag behaviors in adults that may be a sign of grooming. Red flag behavior in adults may include the following: 

  1. Special Attention is Given to a Particular Child. If you notice that an adult is paying unusual or particularly special attention repeatedly to one specific child, it may be a sign that grooming behavior is underway. Examples include when an adult takes a child into a room alone with them, when an adult messages a child on their phone or social media, when an adult heavily compliments a child, especially on their looks, or when an adult gives a child excessive or unusual praise. 
  2. A Child is Getting Gifts from an Adult. Abusers often use giving gifts to their victims, no matter how big or small, to gain their trust, make them feel special and flattered. Examples could include jewelry, toys, food, electronics, or clothes. If an adult is giving gifts to a child for no particular reason, this may be a red flag that something more is happening. 
  3. An Adult is Frequently Touching a Child. Perpetrators of abuse may push the physical boundaries of what may be appropriate with a child in order to normalize touching behaviors. This may include putting their arm around a child, tickling them, having them sit on their lap, or giving them hugs. They may do this in front of other adults, and if the child is uncomfortable, it can be confusing as to what type of touch the child understands to be appropriate. As an adult that sees such behavior, especially if a child is uncomfortable, intervening or objecting is an appropriate response. 
  4. An Adult is Undertaking Efforts to be Alone with a Child. Abusers often undertake efforts to get the child alone with them. This could include offering to do special activities with them on the weekends, giving them rides home from school, inviting them over to their home, or spending extra excessive time teaching or tutoring them. If you notice an adult is trying to repeatedly get a child alone with them, it may be a sign that boundaries are being crossed.

There can also be warning signs in children that sexual grooming may be occurring, which can vary depending on the age of the child. Some red flag behaviors that a child may reveal if they are being sexually groomed or abused include the following: 

  1. The child has unexplained new gifts like toys, jewelry or electronics, and the child does not want to share who gave them the gifts; 
  2. The child is suddenly upset, withdrawn, or distressed; 
  3. There is a sudden change in the child’s mood or personality, such as increased aggression;
  4. The child is secretive about how they are spending their time or who they are spending their time with; 
  5. The child engages in sexually aggressive play, writing, or art that is not appropriate for their age; 
  6. The child shows discomfort in getting dressed or undressed; 
  7. The child shows signs of anxiety, depression, or self-destructive behavior; 
  8. The child is spending more time away from home or is missing for a period of time; 
  9. The child has regressive behaviors; 
  10. The child does not want to be left alone with certain people or is suddenly afraid to be away from caregivers. 

It is important to note that the behaviors specified above do not automatically mean that an adult is abusing a child or that a child is being abused. These lists may seem overwhelming and many of the conduct listed may contradict each other or may be part of normal childhood development. The most important thing to remember is to trust your gut and do not ignore your feelings or intuition if something with a child seems amiss, especially if there is a sudden change in a child’s behavior. If a child tells you that something makes them feel uncomfortable, it is important that you listen, that you pay attention, and that you take appropriate action. Additionally, consulting with a molestation lawyer can be helpful to discuss your family’s legal options.

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