Grooming Signs and Support
“He was someone who was always on my side. When I would get in trouble with my parents, he would tell them that I should come over to his house for the night. My parents could sense something was off—it seemed odd that I was spending so much time alone with an adult. They even asked me about it, but I told them that everything was fine. I now realize that this was all an effect of grooming.” - Survivor story from the National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Loved Ones.
Victims of sexual abuse not only have to work through the trauma that comes with being violated physically, but also have to navigate the complicated feelings that come from being hurt by someone who claimed to care about them. That pain can become even more intense because of the way abusers build trust with family members or other loved ones in the victims life, creating an environment where the victim is less likely to be believed (e.g. "Oh, that's just Uncle so-and-so. He doesn't mean anything by it."). This is why it’s so important that we create a culture of awareness around grooming behaviors and know the signs to look out for.
Grooming is a term used to describe the behaviors used by one person to gain trust and manipulate a more vulnerable person with the intention of perpetrating abuse or exploitation. It’s important to be able to understand the early warning signs of grooming. People who use grooming behaviors are often well liked and use their charm to gain access to, and build trust with, vulnerable young people.
When we use the term “vulnerable” we mean that a perpetrator is looking for people who may be easier targets than others. This could look like:
Having a lack of resources and/or support because of poverty or homelessness
Being a child or young adult
Having physical or mental disabilities, or having a trauma history
Having a racial, sexual or gender identity that is marginalized or dehumanized in our culture
Abusers may also choose a target simply because they have easy access to that person through their professional role (coach, tutor, supervisor) or personal position (neighbor, family friend, family member).
Grooming can happen peer to peer. In domestic violence or dating violence situations grooming behaviors are often used early on to build trust.
Some early signs of grooming that may not be obvious are: the abuser spends more alone time with a person than with others, gives them special treatment, offers many gifts and solicits secrets. Later, as trust is built, the abuser will increase risky behavior, maybe offering alcohol or drugs, sharing intimate details about their sex lives, or exposing the other person to pornagraphic content, which normalizes inappropriate sexual behavior and creates a dynamic of secrecy and unhealthy intimacy. This can happen online as well as in person. As this manipulation increases, the abuser may use fear and shame to keep the other person quiet (using their secrets or risky behavior against them). Final escalation can result in control or manipulation, sexual assault, and molestation.
Grooming can happen between people that know each other in day to day life and can happen in purely online spaces. Usually online groomers create false identities to build relationships with people, creating stories that create a false sense of connection.
Anyone who has come forward and shared their experience with being groomed is incredibly brave. Too often, we do not hold abusers accountable and further perpetuate a culture of silence by doing so. Most sexual assaults go unreported and children are especially prone to not reporting because of fear and shame. If you, or someone you know is experiencing any of the above mentioned issues please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Room One or The Support Center.
For more on this topic, including links to additional resources see RAINN: Grooming Know the Warning Signs and resources about online stalking, grooming, and abuse check out the National Sexual Violence Awareness Center's postings in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April).
You can also access their confidential National Assault Hotline if you’d prefer to talk to someone outside of Okanogan County. 800. 656. 4673.
For those people wanting a more in depth exploration of the impacts of Grooming and the road to recovery for victims or even people who cared for the Groomer the book Predator Next Door may be a useful resource.
And as always, please reach out to Room One if you need additional support in navigating resources or difficult situations. We're here for you.