Warning Signs and Stages of Sexual Grooming

What is sexual grooming?

Sexual grooming is a process whereby predators initiate a connection with children either online or in-person to earn their trust. Once a relationship is established, sexual groomers will then exploit, manipulate and abuse children. Perpetrators of this crime target the perceived vulnerabilities of children: emotional neediness, isolation, neglect, an unstable home life, or lack of parental supervision, etc. Groomers can be of any age, gender, race and in most cases already know the child; statistics have demonstrated that 90% of sexual abuse victims are already acquainted with their abuser. A lot of the time groomers don’t lurk in the shadows driving a white van; groomers come in the form of family friends, football coaches, neighbours, etc. Sexual grooming can take place over a long period (months or years) or can occur over a short period of just a few weeks. In most cases, there are several stages of sexual grooming.

Warning signs of sexual grooming & child grooming stages

The warning signs of sexual grooming are not always obvious. Often, sexual grooming goes undetected as children do not realise what is happening to them. However, parents or guardians should lookout for the following indicators of sexual grooming:

  • Having a boyfriend or girlfriend who is much older than them.
  • Being secretive about how they’re spending their time, including when online.
  • Having new clothes and expensive items such as a mobile phone.
  • Not wanting to talk about where their new stuff has come from.
  • Skips school or sporting activities.
  • Substance abuse (underage drinking or drug-taking).
  • Spending more or less time on their phone, laptop, tablet etc.
  • Being upset, withdrawn, or anxious.
  • No longer talking to you about their feelings.
  • Using inappropriate language or showing an understanding of sex that’s not appropriate for their age
  • Disappearing for long periods with no explanation as to where they have been.

The following section outlines the stages of sexual grooming.

The 5 Stages of Sexual Grooming

Stage 1 – Targeting a child

One of the first stages of sexual grooming is choosing a child to prey upon. Sexual grooming can take place online and in-person and predators may not always pursue a romantic connection at first. These criminals may be operating on multiple platforms to have access to as many children as possible. Groomers use the same social media websites, games, and apps as young people and study the profiles of the children they wish to sexually groom. This ensures that the predator can learn more about the young individual and use this information to form a connection.

Once a sexual groomer has targeted a child, they often disguise their identity by hiding behind photos or videos of other people. They can use various forms of communication such as email and messaging apps such as WhatsApp as well as social media websites to maximize their chances of sexually grooming children. In most cases, however, sexual groomers are already acquainted with their victims and which means that it is easier for these predators to access their targets.

Stage 2 – Filling a need

The second stage of sexual grooming is filling a need. Groomers who operate either online or in-person may employ tactics such as giving advice or attention to especially vulnerable children who may lack a leader figure in their lives. They may choose to present themselves as an authority figure, mentor, or a young person to who the child can relate.

Sexual groomers endeavour to be the provider of something the child wants or needs, such as:

  • A mobile phone
  • Somewhere to stay
  • An expensive outing
  • Money
  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Friendship and attention
  • Emotional support
  • A sense of love and value

Stage 3 – Gaining the trust of the parent/caregiver

Groomers do not only target children; perpetrators work to gain the trust of parents/caregivers to lower suspicion and gain access to the child by providing seemingly friendly support. The following signs might indicate that someone is grooming you or your family with the intention of sexually abusing your child or the child you’re caring for:

  • They offer to babysit your child.
  • They offer to take the child on excursions/trips away.
  • They buy the family gifts.
  • Plays with your child and touches them in a non-sexual way as a means of getting you and your child used to physical contact.
  • They often compliment your family and your style of parenting.
  • They try to initiate a romantic relationship with you.
  • They offer to mentor / individually coach your child.

Stage 4 – Isolating the child

One of the last stages of sexual grooming is to isolate the child from their family and friends so they are more susceptible to the perpetrator’s power and control. Sexual groomers may try to emotionally isolate the child against their family. For example, predators may turn the child against their parents so that the child is more likely to confide in them and perceive the groomer as the sole supporter. Additionally, groomers can physically isolate the child by offering to take the child on excursions or days out. This is especially common when the groomer and the child already know each-other.

Stage 5 – Sexual Contact

Once a predator has completed the stages of sexual grooming, the final stage is achieving sexual contact with the child. Sexual contact can come in many forms – from physical penetration to indecent exposure to a child. Regardless if the sexual contact is physical or non-physical, it is still a crime. An abuser who is close to the family may use caregiving experiences, such as changing nappies, toilet training, bathing, or putting the child to bed at night, to initiate sexualised actions as a part of a “routine of care.” Sexual groomers may also lead the child to perceive “cuddling” as a normal activity between adults and children who have “a special relationship.”

What you can do

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual grooming that led to sexual abuse, you may be able to seek compensation. Alternatively, if you recognise any of these stages of sexual grooming call us on 0151 242 5111 for more information or for free, confidential advice from our experienced team of solicitors.

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