6 Stages of Grooming – Child Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, in our world, there are many people who aim to harm the young, innocent, and vulnerable. Oftentimes children are victims in tragic and horrific crimes, whether that be sexual, emotional, or physical. But what many don’t know is that the process by which an offender draws a victim into these situations tends to happen overtime and is often referred to as “grooming”. Grooming is the process in which the victim is drawn into a sexual relationship and forced, whether implicitly or explicitly, to keep that relationship secret. Although different law enforcement agencies and experts give a variety of stages in grooming, there are 6 typical stages that are included in different models. Overall, it’s best to think of grooming as a intentional and gradual process that manipulates and deceives the victims into willing participation.
As you work with children whether in orphanage settings, foster homes, etc. be on the look out for any signs of these stages and report suspicious activity to authorities immediately.
Stage 1: Targeting
The victim is targeted based on perceived vulnerability such as emotional neediness, isolation from others, and low confidence levels. Children often seen with little parental supervision are typically desirable prey.
Stage 2: Gaining Trust
The offender attempts to gain trust by observing the child regularly and gathering information about his/her needs and desires. Offenders often come across as warm and attentive and so can easily blend in with responsible caregivers. Watch out for caregivers who display overly personal attention such as intrusiveness or intimate touching and conversation.
Stage 3: Fulfilling Needs
Once the offender has identified a child’s needs, they will try to be the “hero” to the child who gives them what they desire. Examples include gifts, extra attention, or affection. This causes the child to see them as highly important and even idolized. They won’t want to upset them in risk of not getting the void in their life fulfilled.
Stage 4: Isolation
By this stage, the offender has been grooming the victim for quite some time and a relationship has been formed. They will use this trust to create situations in which they are alone with the child. Time spent alone also reinforces the “special connection” the child feels they have with the offender. This “special connection” is further reinforced when the offender convinces the child that they love and appreciate them more than anyone else…even parents. Sometimes parents can unknowingly feed into this through praise and appreciation of the relationship that is secretly becoming more and more inappropriate.
Stage 5: Sexualizing the Relationship
Once emotional dependence and trust has been established, the offender will begin to progressively sexualize the relationship. It often appears innocent at first such as personal conversations, taking pictures, or creating situations (like swimming or modeling) in which compromising attire and actions occur. At this stage, the offender will exploit a child’s natural curiosity through physical touch and excitement. They will begin to teach the child sexual preferences and manipulate what the child responds to. The child begins to see themselves as a sexual being prematurely and the relationship with the offender now takes on a sexual term.
Stage 6: Control
Now that the sexual abuse is occurring, offenders will use secrecy and guilt to keep the child silent. Victims are often threatened with blame, anger, ending the relationship, or upsetting others such as parents or family members. Children often feel confused and scared of losing a relationship that once made them feel special and important. Fear of humiliation or getting in trouble also keeps them hidden in the shadows.