The best groomers in town…are NOT the ones taking care of your furry 4-legged friends. When most of you think of grooming, you probably think of cleaning, brushing, and fluffing your fuzzy four-legged friend’s furry coat. Maybe even putting a cute little bow on your dog’s head. Much to the dismay of my daughter, the Battle house does not include any dogs, cats, or other critters to feed and bathe. At our house, the only grooming that happens is occasional braiding or curling my daughter’s hair for school or dance competition.
To me, the word “grooming” takes on a different meaning and tone. In my line of work, grooming means “preparing someone for a particular purpose or activity ”1.
When you mention grooming at our weekly Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children meetings, that word means the preparation and process involved in luring, manipulating, and seducing a child with the intent of sexually abusing him/her. The best groomers make the child sexual abuse victim feel like he is a PART of the abuse, to BLAME for the abuse, and should FEEL SHAME about the abuse…thereby ensuring the child will not disclose the abuse to others.
How does a child molester or sexual predator groom a child? There are several steps involved in the process:
- Identify victim
- Target certain places
- schools, playgrounds, parks, malls
- Target certain kids
- **all kids can be victims, but some are at higher risk
- unsupervised children
- those who feel unpopular, unloved
- emotionally needy, low self-confidence
- isolated from peers
- family problems or decreased parental attention
2. Collect information & gain victim’s trust
- Learn what the victim likes and dislikes
- get favorite candy, music, toys, gifts, tickets to concerts
- play games that child likes
- know what child complains about
- Groom the environment and parents
- befriend the parent (often helping a single parent with child care)
- volunteer at places where children are available
- form relationships to gain access to victim
- Fill a need
- Provide love, attention, affection, gifts to child victim
- Provide drugs, alcohol to older children/teens
- Lend sympathetic ear to child—“Your parents/friends don’t understand. I understand. I’m here for you. You can trust me. I’ll always be here.”
- Isolate the child victim—special trips, one-on-one coaching or tutoring, babysitting, sleepovers
5. Desensitize and lower inhibitions
- Talk about inappropriate things, tell dirty jokes
- Show pornographic pictures/videos, sexting
- Opportunities to be naked—showers, swimming, changing clothes, locker rooms, bathrooms
- Nonsexual touching at first (often in front of the parent)—hugs, rubbing arms, playing with hair, massages, “accidental” touches
- Lowers inhibitions and eventually leads to sexual touching
- Initiate the sexual abuse
7. Maintain control and secrecy
- Confide in child about other secrets first—“Don’t tell your mom I bought you this phone because she’ll be mad.” This gains child’s trust and makes victim feel like he has special bond with perpetrator.)
- Tell child he allowed the abuse to happen—BLAME/SHAME
- Tell child they did it together—BLAME/SHAME
- Pair secrecy with threats—“Don’t tell her what we did or else I’ll kill you/kill her/etc.”—FEAR
- Child fears loss of relationship & attention if abuse is disclosed—FEAR
If a sexual predator has done his job well, he will have groomed the child victim and their environment so that the sexual abuse is happening right in front of the parent’s eyes. The successful groomer has also manipulated the child so that s/he is unlikely to disclose the abuse for years, if ever.
The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon conducted a study in which child sexual predators were interviewed. Some of the actual quotes from convicted child molesters:2,3
- “Parents are so naive—they’re worried about strangers and should be worried about their brother-in-law. They just don’t realize how devious we can be. I used to abuse children in the same room with their parents and they couldn’t see it or didn’t seem to know it was happening.”
- “Parents shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about things like this—it’s harder to abuse or trick a child who knows what you’re up to.”
The best defense against these grooming tactics is knowledge. Teach your children about what situations to avoid. More importantly, we as parents need to pay attention to our children’s activities, mentors, coaches, social media, text messages, etc. Stay involved in your children’s lives. Teenagers in particular need our attention as they become more independent and headstrong. Let your child or teenager know they can come talk to you about their bodies and their concerns anytime/anywhere without fear of discipline or judgment.
Thank you, and as always, empower your kids and stay safe!
Soo Battle, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website/blog is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the relationship that exists between you and your pediatrician or doctor. Please contact your doctor for medical advice and/or treatment recommendations specific to your child.
- Oxford dictionary
- photo credit Deb Grey, Flickr