How To Identify Grooming and Support Your Child

Have you heard the word “grooming”? There is a lot of misinformation about what this is – for the purpose of this conversation, we’re not referring to grooming your pet.

By Cara During and Cristina Cabral

Since April is both Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we’re here to talk about what grooming can look like. “Grooming” is a series of manipulative behaviors used by someone often known to the victim as a tactic to sexually abuse a child or teen. The abusers can be adults, family members, or even peers.

About one in 10 children is sexually abused. Sexual abuse does not have to involve force or even touching. It may not always feel like they’re being abused because the grooming process makes it seem like this is a normal behavior.

Different cultural views on boundaries can blur the lines between a healthy adult-child relationship and an unhealthy or potentially harmful adult-child relationship. At The Center for Empowerment and Education (CEE), we want to help educate the community on how to identify grooming or abusive behaviors.

The process of grooming consists of access, trust, desensitization, isolation, and abuse.

Access: Abusers will often hide in plain sight and seek opportunities to be around children either by working in specific environments or being connected to certain communities. These environments can include schools, sports/activities, faith organizations, childcare/daycare, or summer camps. Abusers can be anyone: neighbors, family friends, family members, peers, and other trusted figures in the community. Most people are not abusive; however, those that are, tend to abuse many victims.

Trust: Abusers will work to gain the victim’s trust, and/or the trust of family or friends, in a number of ways, including telling victims secrets or trying to connect emotionally, doing favors for them, paying them exclusive or excessive attention, giving gifts, or sharing similar interests.

Desensitization: De-sensitizing the victim to any abuse or manipulation reduces the risk of the abuser being caught, as it normalizes the abuse for the victim. The grooming process itself can take months to years before the sexual abuse takes place. The abuser may begin by exposing the victim over time to nudity or sexual images, talking about sex or other “mature” topics, touching non-intimate parts of their body – all with the intention to gradually increase their level of comfort with these behaviors so that when the abuse takes place, it seems “normal.”

Isolation: The abuser will make efforts to isolate and alienate the victim from the people they are closest to, but this often comes much later in the process.

Abuse: There aren’t always going to be physical signs of abuse. Signs to look out for include your child coming home with gifts or expensive items that they cannot afford, having inappropriate sexual knowledge or increased sexual behavior, and defending the abuser’s inappropriate behavior or keeping it secret.

Educate your kids about boundaries, listen and believe them if they share that someone has hurt them or crossed a line and made them uncomfortable, and immediately connect to a professional within their school, law enforcement, or CEE.

If you or someone you know needs support, our no-cost confidential hotlines are available 24/7.

Domestic Violence Hotline (203)731-5206

Sexual Assault Hotline (203)731-5204

This article was written by Cara During, Director of Community Impact & Cristina Cabral, Manager of Community-Based Programs.