Reader’s question: I’m sure my daughter’s being groomed. What should I do?
Case summary: A worried mother feels her daughter is being groomed by a woman she met online. This woman pretended to be someone else, but when the daughter went to meet her, she was not the person she said she was. (Catfished, but obviously this is now in the open.) The daughter was dealing with a bereavement at the time and her mother feels she was vulnerable. The daughter is now in a relationship with this woman, living in an intimate relationship with her, and supporting her financially.
Alarm bells ring when someone one has met online isn’t the person they pretended to be (‘catfishing’), and this is often a pretty clear sign of some kind of grooming. And the fact that the daughter is now supporting this woman may offer a clue to possible motive.
However, there may have been a legitimate reason for using an alternative identity, and it’s important to maintain a sense of balance and not react immediately.
Signs that this relationship may not be all that it seems include:
- The daughter behaving unusually, perhaps cutting off old friends, family, or giving up activities she previously enjoyed
- Parting with money/goods
- If the daughter normally uses social media and has stopped posting pictures of herself or never includes her partner in those images
Unfortunately each and every one of these could have other, perfectly legitimate, reasons. All a mother can do is watch, encourage, keep and open door and listen.
CAAGe doesn’t pretend to offer legal advice, so I’m hoping that anyone reading this may have something to add.
Sadly, as far as I’m aware, there is nothing that can be done legally at present. It’s two adults having a relationship.
It is small consolation to the mother that often sexual grooming of this nature only lasts for about six months, although we have seen cases, obviously, of far longer periods.
It is , of course, perfectly feasible that the couple are really happy together, but given the alarm bells that the deceit raises, I would be keeping an eye out for:
- signs of coercive control (The link also offers access to help and support)
- signs of financial fraud (at which point, the police can step in)
Make sure any evidence is noted. If necessary, keep a diary, recording any odd behavior, with dates and times.
Supporting the daughter
Our own research shows that families struggle to get it right around support for the people who have been groomed. Sadly there is no template, but its safe to say that the victims need a supportive ear and practical help rather than ‘I told you so’ or ‘I knew something was up’ once the shock of discovery hits.
It’s important to understand that she may not be ready to hear anything bad about her partner, and that by confronting her, the mother may damage the relationship — and leave the daughter with less support going forward.
I’d be inclined to run an online search on the girlfriend’s name.
Key both her name and the alias she used into Google and see what comes up. I’d be looking for inconsistencies in story, reports of wrongdoing, other relationships, commentary. Do the same with her phone number(s).
A reverse picture search on both her real image and any she used when she gave the daughter a false identity may also bring up information: how to do a reverse image search.
Note that there are services that will give you data based on a phone number such as addresses etc, but you run two risks with these:
- You are entering your personal details and account number into a somewhat dodgy site and leaving yourself open to financial fraud;
- Most of these sites are almost certainly illegal.
Screen shot/save anything that suggests grooming, financial abuse, freeloading.
No matter what the temptation, avoid commenting anywhere and leave as little ‘digital footprint’ as possible.
If anything untoward is found, create a dossier, but sleep on it before confronting the girlfriend (who will have a lots of excuses ready, and may already have explained these things away. Groomers are great liars) or telling the daughter.
Decide what you want to achieve before taking any action. Do you want to:
- open the daughter’s eyes to the reality of her partner?
- break up the relationship?
- expose the girlfriend as a groomer/fraud?
The biggest consideration has to be the daughter who has given herself over to a relationship. She may well be ungrateful for any interference, however well intended.
Mum has to think carefully. The absence of digital proof does not mean that there is none. Indeed, it’s pretty unusual to have NO digital presence. Will doing a search and finding nothing leave her more or less concerned? And if the daughter finds out, she doubtless regard this as an act of treachery – how dare mum not trust her to make her own relationships?
IF the girlfriend is up to no good, she has the upper hand at present. Love can blind a person, and a ‘successful’ groomer is great at poisoning their prey against family and friends.
There’s a big ‘BUT’ with this. Be extremely cautious. There is a thin line between investigating and stalking, between concern and obsession. Go too far and mum risks both alienating the daughter and breaking laws.
The big question is whether, armed with the knowledge, to confront the daughter and risk both ruptured relationships and alienation. Moreover, if the daughter then tries to leave the groomer, she is open to both manipulation (verbal) and even physical confrontation.
It is important to plan any disclosure in a calm, protected environment rather than a knee jerk reaction. I’d advise mum to talk this over with a good, trusted friend or family member before doing anything. If telling the daughter, it may help to have a calming influence on hand, perhaps in a public place where emotions are less likely to explode.
The hard truth about grooming is that when it starts, it feels good, sometimes great, sometimes exhilarating. This stage is quite possibly the worst time to approach or confront someone who is being groomed. The victim may need some help adjusting to this new truth, and will almost certainly be shocked.
Often grooming then moves to a ‘gaslighting’ phase, where the target is made to feel bad about themselves in order for the groomer to feel good about themselves and/or establish control. In this phase, the groomer’s target is vulnerable and may not be thinking clearly, even so strongly bonded to the groomer that despite knowing things are wrong will refuse to acknowledge it to themselves, let alone anyone else.
It’s a situation equivalent to telling a friend that their husband/wife is cheating on them. Well-intentioned, but can go horribly wrong for the person trying to help.
CAAGe sources of support hand be found: HERE
Contact CAAGe: CONTACT
NOTE: We focused in the grooming in this response, but are conscious that finding out that your child is same sex attracted can be hard for parents. We found this article, which we feel may be helpful, and suggest that Stonewall may also be a source of further help and advice if needed:Why some parents experience a child’s coming out as loss.