What Is Child Grooming?

Child grooming is one of the earliest red flags for childhood sexual abuse. Child grooming describes the steps a perpetrator may take to gain a child’s trust before initiating sexual abuse. This can reduce the odds that the child will tell his or her parents about the abuse, as well as make stories of abuse less believable. Knowing the signs of child grooming and how to react appropriately could keep your child from ever experiencing the trauma of sexual abuse or assault. If you suspect abuse, reach out to a California child sexual abuse attorney immediately.

Forging a Relationship

Statistics show that most child sexual abusers are people close to the child or the child’s parents. In 90% of cases, child survivors know their offenders. Perpetrators often include babysitters, nannies, teachers, sports coaches, priests, friends and family members. Be wary of adults who try to build special relationships with your child. While the person could have only good intentions, it is worthwhile to watch the developing relationship for signs of something more. Adults that build relationships and forge emotional connections with your child could be guilty of child grooming.

Once the perpetrator creates a relationship with your child, he or she may start to test the boundaries and rules of that relationship. The adult may convince your child they are a couple romantically, for example, or try to become the child’s mentor. In other cases, the adult may start by befriending you, but then get closer to your child. Suddenly offering to bring your child home from school or teach him or her a skill, for instance, could be signs that your friend is trying to sexually groom your child.

Gaining a Position of Power or Trust

Sexual abuse is all about power. Child predators often use positions of power to pressure or intimidate children into complying with their wishes. A sports coach, for example, may use his or her position to convince a child victim to stay quiet (e.g. or else the coach will kick the child off the team). Positions of power can also come with reasons to isolate the target. As a parent, you may be more willing to let your child go alone with someone you think you can trust due to the adult’s position, such as a priest or teacher. Creating frequent opportunities to be alone with your child, however, is a red flag.

Special Attention or Privileges for Your Child

Another sexual grooming behavior is rewarding your child without reason or giving your child more attention than his or her peers. Awards, acknowledgment, gifts, money, compliments, one-on-one time or special privileges frequently from an adult could be a sign of something darker going on. The adult may be more interested in developing a relationship with your child or gaining his or her trust than actually awarding hard work or good behavior. Catering to the needs or desires of a child could encourage the child to initiate future meetings or contact with the perpetrator, with or without a parent’s permission.

Sexualizing the Relationship

Once the perpetrator has established a repertoire with the child, he or she will start to sexualize things. The adult may start subtly, with “accidental” encounters such as walking in on the child changing or going to the bathroom, or excuses to touch the child, such as tickling or wrestling. Also look out for the adult arranging situations that could become sexual, such as giving baths, going swimming, using changing rooms or accompanying young children to the bathroom.

Soon, the adult will progress into more overtly sexual acts, advancing the relationship into sexual abuse or molestation. At this point, the sex offender will focus on keeping the relationship a secret. The abuser may use shame, deceit or threats to secure the child’s silence. Escaping the abuse at this point will take an emotional leap on the child’s part since he or she has become entangled in the offender’s system of sexual grooming. As a parent, learn the signs of sexual abuse in children and keep a careful eye out for potential child grooming behaviors from adults that associate with your child. You could have the power to prevent sexual abuse if you are vigilant.