Adults can commit violence against children, not only by threatening them and using physical force. Sometimes they use a different strategy: communicate well with the child, build trusting relationships. And then they commit violent acts, but they present it as something normal. This is called grooming. This concept is mentioned in the new podcast by Nastya Krasilnikova “Pupils” about harassment of children in the summer school. We will tell you in more detail what grooming is and how to notice it.
What does the term “grooming” mean?
Grooming (from English grooming, which literally means “care”, “courtship”) is the creation by an adult of a trusting relationship with a child or teenager in order to persuade him to sexual relations.
Grooming consists of a set of manipulative behaviors that an adult uses. He tries to make friends with the child, win him over and establish emotional intimacy, takes care of him. And he does this so that in the future the child or teenager agrees to everything that the adult offers, including sexual interaction. Through grooming, an adult can engage in sexualized violence without fear of harassment. A “good relationship” with a child becomes a guarantee that he will not tell anyone anything.
Grooming is used not only for personal purposes, but also to involve minors in illegal activities: the sale of children and child prostitution, the production of child pornography.
Where does it go
In kindergarten and school, in circles and summer camps, in sports and religious organizations – in circumstances where an adult has the opportunity to be alone with a child without the control of parents or other adults. For example, in 2016, the scandal surrounding the well-known Moscow school No. 57 was widely discussed in Russia, where the teacher for many years started relationships with schoolgirls, taking advantage of extracurricular trips to the country. And at about the same time, the world media wrote about the American closed private school St. Georgeʼs, where for 40 years they hid cases of violence against students.
The actors of violence in such cases are often people who have power over the child, the authority and trust of others: a teacher, curator, coach, doctor. However, a complete stranger, and even a close friend of the family, can enter into the trust of a child. Often these are attractive, charismatic people who know how to be “on the same wavelength” with children and are not serious about subordination.
Grooming is also possible in online communication. For example, a groomer may make up profile information, impersonate a teenager or someone of the opposite sex in order to befriend a child. Such communication can then escalate into online harassment, blackmail with intimate photos and videos, or actual sexualized violence.
How does this happen
Although grooming can occur in a wide variety of situations, the stories of those affected are largely the same. They can be reduced to a general scheme consisting of alarm bells.
The adult chooses the child who seems vulnerable. Often, children and adolescents who do not have friends, but have conflicts with peers and difficulties in the family, fall under grooming. Recall the heroine of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Lolita”: a teenage girl did not have a warm and trusting relationship with her mother, and then she completely remained an orphan, for whom there is no one to take care of except Humbert, who is attracted to her.
An adult can win the attention of a child with gifts, praise, gestures of attention. Emphasize the giftedness and uniqueness of the child, highlight him in the group. Also, an adult can share his secrets, talk about his problems and experiences. This should show the child that there is a strong connection and trust between them, and once again convince him of his own exclusivity.
Isolation of the child from friends and other adults
This is an alarming sign that is also characteristic of classic abusive relationships. The groomer will attempt to physically or emotionally separate his victim from those who protect them. For example, to set up a teenager against his parents, claiming that they do not understand him at all. Or to prove to the child that he is older than his years and much smarter than his peers, so he does not need to waste time communicating with them. However, there is also an opposite strategy: to make friends with the family, to establish oneself as a person who can be trusted with a child.
Touches that become more intimate
At first, these are harmless gestures: pats on the shoulder, long welcome hugs, tickling. Gradually, bodily contact occurs more and more often, and their subtext becomes sexual. An adult can offer to give a massage or take a shower together – to “relax”, “warm up”, “take care of each other”.
Children and even teenagers they do not always understand where their personal boundaries are and what is acceptable in communication with adults and what is not. The actor of violence, as a more mature and experienced person, can convince the child that they are not doing anything wrong, but simply expressing their love and care.
Discussing sexual fantasies
To normalize the idea of sexual contact for the child, the groomer may offer to watch pornography together or take nude pictures of the child. He may talk about his sexual fantasies or experiences under the pretext of preparing a child for adulthood. Often it is in social networks, and not in personal meetings, that the actor of violence can discuss the topic of sex with the child, send him intimate videos or photos.
Intimidation and control
Actor of violence may use blackmail to make the child feel guilty and ashamed of their actions. For example: a child refuses to have sexual intercourse, and an adult accuses him of tormenting him, that he feels bad because of this. It is also possible to accuse a minor of what is happening: “You provoked me (a)”, “You yourself (a) wanted this (a)”. Gradually, this turns into a whole system of punishments and indulgences that control the behavior of the child.
It is important to remember that children and adolescents may not understand what is happening to them. They can experience mixed feelings: admiration, love, and at the same time fear, humiliation, guilt. You can’t blame them for what’s happening.
Consequences of grooming
Grooming allows adults to:
Take advantage of children’s trust and commit sexualized violence.
To commit violence for a long time, maintaining a trusting relationship.
By manipulating a child, enlist his silence and go unpunished.
At first, a child can really be pleased that an adult and interesting person pays attention to him and considers him his equal. But sooner or later, such communication begins to cause discomfort and seem abnormal, although an adult assures otherwise. Because of this, the child may develop eating disorders, anxiety and panic attacks, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.
Grooming victims face severe mental and trust issues as adults. But the people who committed violence against them often go unpunished due to the statute of limitations for the crimes and the lack of evidence. As it happened with the heroes of the podcast “Pupils”.
Why sex education is grooming prevention
Children who have no idea about sex are especially vulnerable. They may not understand what the groomer is offering them, and they may not be able to consciously say “no” to practices that violate their sexual integrity. If intimate topics are openly discussed in the family and at school and personal boundaries are talked about, the child will know what actions in relation to him are acceptable and which are not.
Equally important are trusting relationships in the family. If children are punished for secrets and tabooed on the subject of sex, it will be more difficult for them to seek help, even if they notice that something is wrong. We wrote more about how to talk to children about sex in a separate article.