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Signs of Grooming in Child Sexual Abuse

What is grooming? Grooming is a deliberate process used by a perpetrator to establish a relationship with a child for the purpose of gaining the child’s trust and cooperation in order to accomplish a desired sexual act or acts. Grooming usually happens over a period of time, can involve the family as well as the child, and may take place in person or online.

Here are some common signs of grooming behaviors:

  • Any child can be a target for grooming. However, some children do make easier targets. Children without knowledge about sexual matters make easier targets as the perpetrators can offer the child information they are lacking and may be curious about.
  • Predators look for children and families with a void in their lives and in their family unit and seek to fill that void for the parent(s) and child. For example, they may look for a family with a single mother and offer to practice sports with her child.
  • Predators use a variety of tactics to engage children. Some use tricks, bribes, and force, others use a child’s natural curiosity to engage children. They may engage them in sexual conversations or show them pornography and use the child’s curiosity to initiate a conversation; this may then lead to other sexual behaviors and actions between the perpetrator and victim.
  • Secrecy is often a way of bonding with children to ensure their privacy about the sexual behavior. They will give the child something or get the child to do something and then either blame the child or get the child to agree it is important to keep their actions a secret. This bonds the perpetrator to the child and enables the behavior to progress even further.
  • Nonsexual touches are generally introduced first to desensitize children before later sexual touches are introduced. Usually, by the time sexual touch is used by the predator, the child has been sufficiently groomed and will often cooperate and not tell an adult.

Here’s what parents and adults need to know and do:

  • Be alert to any unusually attentive behavior by an adult toward your child. Trust your gut on this. If an adult is overly attentive or overly friendly, it is most likely a red flag you should pay attention to.
  • Do not allow your child to be alone with other adults in one-adult or one-child situations. If they must be in one on one situations, make sure the adult knows you can and will drop in unannounced and that you or another adult are watching the situation. Also, make sure they understand what your expectations are regarding boundaries with your child.
  • Talk to your child about grooming behaviors and what is and is not appropriate behavior for an adult to do with a child.
  • Ask your child questions about how adults interact with them, talk to them, and treat them, and respond to any red flags.
  • Use available programs to become better educated yourself and also to better educate and empower your children to protect themselves.

MBF Prevention Education Programs educate and empower youth (K-12th grade) with Safety Rules and strategies to prevent, recognize, and respond to abuse, bullying, digital dangers, exploitation, human trafficking, and other types of victimization. By using MBF programs to educate and empower children and teens, you are taking a crucial step to secure their safety. Adults can also become better educated and empowered with Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program, a prevention training program that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The program is designed for youth-serving organizations and adults concerned about the safety of children. It is the only nationally distributed, evidence-based program proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes, and change child-protective behaviors.

Be prepared by knowing the signs of grooming behavior so your child does not become a victim. Your best protection is prevention!

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