Signs of grooming

When an adult or adolescent attempts to befriend a child with the intention to abuse, it is called grooming. Here are some tips and information about grooming.

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The Center for Child Protection writes that 9 out of 10 victims of abuse knew and trusted their abuser. The most common is that a child is abused by a person whom the child already knows. Besides, strangers may seek “friendship” with children online with the intention to abuse.

The organization refers to six steps of grooming:

  1. The abuser contacts the child.
  2. The abuser pretends to have common interests.
  3. The abuser fills a need in the child.
  4. The abuser isolates the child.
  5. The abuser introduces something sexual.
  6. The abuser tries to retain power over the child via intimidation.

The organization’s partner, Darkness to Light, writes that abusers can actually engage in a kind of grooming against the parents first, in order to win them over as a trustworthy friend, so the parents will, for example, accept that the abuser chats with the child.

The abuser can thus appear as a good friend who helps the family. He can proceed slowly and test the child. Perhaps the abuser tells some sexualized jokes. Perhaps the abuser shares an innocent secret and checks whether the child is telling the parents.

Reading news like how abusers coldly manipulate both adults and children, you may end up not trusting anyone and becoming overcautious when it comes to your own children. It is difficult to advise on how careful one should be. The world is basically a dangerous place, but it will be wrong for the children if the family locks themselves in completely.

Possible signs of grooming

Several organizations have created lists of signs that parents can take as a possible warning that their child is prone to grooming. We have merged several such lists here:

  • The child receives gifts, special attention, and offers of activities.
  • The child is slowly isolated from the rest of the family and friends.
  • The child says that only a particular friend (the abuser) understands the child.
  • The child withdraws from the family and does not want to talk about what is wrong.
  • Your child has put on clothes that you have not bought.
  • The child will not tell who he/she is chatting with or visiting.
  • The child is gradually exposed to more physical contact, from a hug to a teddy bear hug, to sitting on the lap, to sleeping in the same bed. Or that an adult friend “accidentally” touches private body parts or comes out of the bathroom naked.
  • The child keeps secrets with a friend (the abuser).
  • The child says he/she has a boy/girlfriend, but you have no idea who it is or where they meet.
  • The child has relationships with an adult, and you don’t understand why.
  • The child has changed the language and is using new words.
  • The child is preoccupied with sexuality in a way that is not normal for their age.
  • The child more often asks for more money.
  • The child has a behavioural or mood change.
  • The child is always exhausted.
  • The child often comes home far too late.
  • The child skips school.
  • The child has started using drugs.

Some of the points have been taken from the organization ACCCE, Australia. For others, see the links at the bottom.

As a parent, you can be terrified by such lists. There is, of course, a risk of misinterpretation. What if the withdrawal is about the child reaching puberty or struggling with a difficult student in class? What if the adult is just a kind person trying to help and is not at all an abuser? What if the child is environmentally conscious and simply swaps clothes with a friend and has not been given a new jacket by an abuser? What if the fatigue is caused by your child playing games with classmates throughout the night?

Confront with kindness

The organization Saprea writes that if you feel uncomfortable with a person’s behaviour over your child, you can take three steps:

  1. Start with something positive. Tell the person that you are grateful for what the person has done.
  2. Explain your concern. “I know you’ve said you can help my child with homework at your house, but I’d love to be in the loop when my child is with other adults.”
  3. Clearly tell what you want to happen. “It’s great that my daughter is at football practice, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have separate training classes alone with you as a coach. But if there’s anything I can do to help her out at home, let me know. I’m happy to practice with her.”

Saprea calls this “confront with kindness.” The organization writes that a natural reaction of the person will be to support you, because the natural thing will be to have the same goal as you, namely, to protect the child.

However, if you know or strongly suspect that the person is an abuser,  you should contact the police.

Some tips you can give to your child

  • Secrets: If an adult says, “Don’t tell your mom,” you need to tell your mom. This also applies if the adult says that mom won’t understand or that mom will punish you, or that things will go badly with mom or the adults.
  • Gifts: Tell your parents about gifts you receive from adults or adolescents.
  • Alone: Don’t go to private chat without asking your parents’ permission.
  • Topics: Tell parents if grown-ups start talking about adult topics with you, such as sexuality, substance abuse, etc.
  • Crying: Tell parents if adults talk about horrible situations and maybe cry when they talk to you.
  • Threats: Tell your parents if someone scares you and says someone will die or something like that if you don’t.
  • Speak up: Let your parents know if you experience something disgusting, unpleasant, or scary online.

Sources: Ann Craft TrustCenter for Child ProtectionCrowe Arnolds & MajorsInsider.

(Translated from Norwegian by Ratan Samadder)