What is grooming?
Grooming is the method by which a perpetrator lures a young girl into a sexual relationship and continues that relationship in secrecy.
Grooming is a subtle, gradual and an escalating process of building trust with the girl. It is deliberate and purposeful. Hiding the relationship is an important element of grooming.
Grooming can take place in the real world or online through means of social media and gaming websites. A perpetrator will try to form a relationship with the girl by pretending to be her friend, and as he gathers more information about the girl’s social and family network, he then tries to isolate the victim by flattering her or making promises of gifts.
Girls can be groomed by a stranger or by someone they already know, such as a family member or a professional.
Abusers may groom their victims for weeks, months or even years before any sexual abuse actually takes place. It usually begins with behaviours that may not even seem to be inappropriate.
It is not just young girls that are groomed. Abusers also work hard to gain the trust of the adults around the girl (e.g. parents, guardians, other family members and teachers). Techniques used may include:
- Befriending the parents or other caregivers
- Looking for opportunities to have time alone with the girl (e.g. offering to babysit or inviting the girl for a sleepover)
- Showing excessive love and showering the girl with unnecessary gifts
Know the significant adults in your daughter’s life. Pay attention. Ask questions. Stay involved.
Stage 1: Targeting the victim
The perpetrator targets a girl by sizing up her vulnerability – emotional neediness, isolation and low self-confidence.
Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust
The perpetrator then gains the girl’s trust by watching and gathering information about her, getting to know her needs and learning how to fulfil them.
Stage 3: Filling a need
Once the perpetrator begins to fill the girl’s needs, he may assume noticeably more importance in the girl’s life and may even become idolised by her.
Stage 4: Isolating the victim
The perpetrator uses the developing relationship to create situations in which they are alone together.
Stage 5: Sexualising the relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the perpetrator progressively sexualises the relationship.
Stage 6: Maintaining control
Once the sexual abuse is occurring, perpetrators commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the victim’s continued participation and silence.
The girl at this stage is trapped, as she usually feels that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render her even more unwanted.
The signs of grooming aren’t always obvious, especially as groomers will go to great lengths not to be identified and to convince the girl to keep the relationship a secret. However, victims may show signs of abuse, such as emotional or behavioural changes, problems at school or withdrawing from friends. They may also:
- Be very secretive
- Have older boyfriends
- Go to unusual places to meet friends
- Have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- Spend a lot of time alone in their room
- Do not participate in family gatherings and activities
- Have mood swings and generally be temperamental
- Have a sudden increased level of vanity
In older girls, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age.
Signs of online grooming can include:
- Becoming secretive about her online activities
- Becoming obsessive about going online and getting angry if anyone says she can’t go online
- Receiving packages and mail from people unknown to her family
- Turning off computer or changing the screen when someone enters the room
- Receiving or making calls to numbers not recognised by family members
We actually don’t know how common grooming is because often girls don’t tell anyone what is happening to them.
Grooming happens more often than most people think. Research shows that 1 out of 4 girls will be sexually abused before her 18th birthday.
Girls usually choose not to speak out because they are:
- Feeling guilty
- Unaware that they’re being abused
- In a relationship with someone that they believe to be their ‘boyfriend’
It’s important for parents to have conversations with their daughters to help them understand what the risks of grooming are, how to keep safe online and offline and what to do if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable of anyone or an incident that has occurred.
The Underwear Rule
A girl should not be touched by others on parts of the body usually covered by her underwear and she should not touch others in those areas either.
Fathers in particular need to play an active role in their daughters’ lives by giving them quality time and making them feel special. Talk to your daughters about healthy relationships and the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets. Teach younger girls the underwear rule to help them keep themselves safe. For example, encourage them to report any incident with a neighbour, cousin, uncle and even older brothers that is concerning them even slightly.
As parents you should let your daughters know that you are always here to support them and they can talk to you if they ever feel worried or scared. Reassure them that whatever has happened, you will be supportive and understanding and that they will not be blamed.
Never leave your daughter with someone you are not sure about.
If your daughter tells you that she has been groomed or sexually abused, you must contact the local social services team and the police immediately.
Under no circumstances should you challenge the abuser, as this may give them an opportunity to silence or threaten the victim.
It could also place the victim in danger, as well as give the abuser the opportunity to destroy any vital evidence.
For urgent assistance, please call the police without any delay or hesitation.
The police in the UK can be reached by dialling 999.