This week, a highly respected colleague, Jessica Taylor of Victim Focus, declared that we’ve all been groomed.
Her points are:
- We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow
- Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us
- Professionals are expert groomers
- Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant
- Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect women and children to be able to do this
Although the sentiment is in many ways right ‘on the money’, this is not describing grooming.
And whilst the article is helpful in describing why groomers succeed, it is unhelpful in describing it as “normal”. I hope she’ll understand why I feel the need to write a response.
I personally feel invalidated by the suggestion that grooming is normal. It takes away my right to feel angry, to campaign against grooming. It takes away the validity of what we exist for at CAAGe. It removes the impact that we’ve had and the lives that people have reported we’ve saved. And it challenges our understanding of grooming as a distinct, unusual activity.
I look forward to the discussion.
1. We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow
We are of accord that you can be groomed into anything – cults, handing over money, giving up secrets. This site has a growing body of work referring to these things.
“…the process of grooming is about the manipulation, persuasion and control of humans. It is not specific to sexual offences at all.”
Spot on. Groomers do things that are ‘off’. Groomers leave traces. But if they carried something that said ‘I am a groomer’ we’d all run.
So far so good. Grooming doesn’t only happen to the vulnerable. It often happens because we’re not, because we’re a challenge or have something the groomer wants to reflect on them. If you’re groomed it’s because someone targetted you, not because of some personality failure.
(That said, some victims recognise their need to put up firmer boundaries and deserve help with this if they want it.)
As you can see from this site, grooming can be for all kinds of aims, not all as dramatic as human trafficking, and not all sexual.
2. Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us
Grooming is not normal, not OK. Grooming is deliberate and malevolent.
It’s this definition of grooming that, sadly, fails:
‘Something that someone does to someone else to convince, persuade, manipulate or control them into doing something that they want them to do (either positively or negatively).’
That is simply manipulation. Influence.
The correct definition of grooming is:
“Grooming: when an individual (groomer), or group of people (“Grooming gangs”), builds an emotional connection with someone they’ve targeted to earn trust with the purpose of exploitation for their own motives: sexual abuse, financial, power kicks, even trafficking.”CAAGe.org
The MOTIVE is important. The malevolence is important.
When you went to nursery or school, expected behaviours were socialisation. Socialisation can be used for grooming, but isn’t grooming.
Marketing isn’t grooming, it’s persuasion. You are conscious that you are being sold to and consent to it. Grooming is manufactured consent. If you knew the truth you would never have ‘bought’ the groomer.
We don’t groom children, we nurture them. Unless we groom them. For a malevolent purpose. Different thing to parenting. Some groomers are parents. Not all parents are groomers.
Manipulation, control, subtle and not so subtle silencing and persuasion are tools used by the groomers. But they are not grooming, especially if they are done ‘for the good of the individual.’ (“Don’t stick your hand in the fire.” “Probably better to take the road rather than cutting cross country where there are wolves and cliffs”), Attracting a partner isn’t grooming. It could be love bombing, a typical sexual grooming tactic, but attraction isn’t grooming.
We are used to being persuaded, to listening and understanding. But we should NEVER accept grooming as normal. Grooming is a NOT a common human behaviour, although it’s often a lot more frequent and normalised than we believe. I totally agree that “it is not only sex offenders who can build a rapport, persuade, manipulate and coerce someone into doing something. Most of us are capable of it. Most of us do it every day.”
But persuasion, manipulation, building rapport and even coercion are tactics. Not grooming.
(This argument has been used by other high profile campaigners to suggest that grooming doesn’t even exist. )
Tell that to the victims! Our recent research showed that 90.9% of victims were greatly affected by their grooming – more than 70% were devastated by it. Financial loss. Emotional consequences. Lost homes. Lost children. This is not, and should never be, normal.
3. Professionals are expert groomers
Professionals learn how to build rapport. So do groomers. So do partners. But these are tactics used by groomers, not grooming as such.
To describe them as such does great disservice to people who have genuinely been groomed by professionals.
I remain shocked by the number of doctors, professors, physiotherapists, agents, politicians who groom people. Often groomers are narcissists who seek out high office within their professions. As individuals it is natural for us to give these people trust. They are monitored. They have professional accreditation. They belong to associations that promise to expel them for any wrongdoing. We naturally trust them more than someone we meet on the street to pull out our teeth, run smear tests or police our streets.
When we are genuinely groomed by these people, it’s devastating. It’s a breach of faith, of trust, that leaves us questioning our judgement and silences us, because who’s going to believe an upset (usually) woman against the word of an established professional. And that’s before we even start discussing the boys club that grows up around it: “He’s such a nice guy, I play golf with him and can’t believe it”; “She’s just jealous because he rejected her”. (Enablers abound!)
Professionals are expert influencers. Influence and grooming are different things. The semantics matter if we are not to do huge disservice to the women who’ve been groomed at their most vulnerable times – when they’ve gone to a police station to report a crime – by police officers. Who trusted their professors and had THEIR reputations and careers ruined.
Victims of grooming MUST have their abuse recognised as grooming, not as an extension of normal behaviour. To describe grooming as a normal activity is akin to describing rape as ‘unwanted sex’ or ‘slag, gagging for it’.
Often professionals CAN spot the signs of grooming – but not nearly often enough. ( CAAGe is preparing some courses for counsellors and other professionals, and bringing aboard some counsellors from more diverse backgrounds/ranges of experience.) In some of the worst cases, both they and social workers have been the ones to report to the police.
- 34% were warned by people who know the groomer (21% of them were groomers’ victims themselves)
- 21% were told by the police, social services or another authority
- 13% were warned by their own families, friends or colleagues (which supports Jess’ assertion that we can rarely see it)
- 2 people reported that the groomer themselves confessed to their behaviour!
- 1 reported that a church leader (pastor) had raised concerns
- 1 hired a private detective
- 11% found information that helped either by media coverage or information online
- 21% of respondents had their eyes opened by a counsellor or psychologist
So let’s not tar all professionals with the same brush. Persuasion tactics are NOT grooming.
This rhetoric, which is becoming increasingly common amongst campaigners (one of whom completely denies the existence of grooming at all) is toxic for grooming’s victims.Grooming exists. It happens. It is NOT normal!
4. Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant
No we don’t! We want to know that this isn’t normal, that it’s NOT certain to happen again.
I agree with Jess wholeheartedly, however, that it was never our fault. The tactics groomers use are normal. (This is Jess’ great strength, noting that victims are not to be blamed.) The tactics groomers use are so normal that 68% of the victims of grooming that helped us with our research knew something was off, but for the most part successful groomers are accomplished liars and will go out of their way to make the victim feel bad about doubting them, or about themselves. (Gaslighting.)
The tactics are common and constant. NOT the grooming.
We need the confidence to not be polite. To follow our own gut. We cannot automatically spot groomers, but there are often all sorts of things we can do to expose them, to stop the abuse. We need some help sometimes to do that.
That’s why CAAGe (The Campaign Against Adult Grooming) exists. To validate people’s experiences. To assure them that grooming is wrong. To show them they are not alone. To help them work out whether what they experienced was grooming or something else. Or both. (Something else may be illegal. In the UK at least, sexual grooming is considered consensual from the day you turn 16.)
And we must acknowledge that grooming is wrong. Not common or constant or normal, but perpetrated by abhorrent individuals, whether working in a group (7%) or alone (84%).
5. Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect children and women to be able to do this
Perhaps this will sound like nitpicking, but socialisation and persuasion are common. Grooming isn’t.
However, I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiment that it is unfair to expect children and women around to be able to spot the signs of grooming – often we don’t know until we ‘ve been caught out.
(NOTE: around 7% of the victims who reported to us were male. We suspect that it’s because men who are groomed by women often accept it as normal.)
I value Jessica’s eloquence in explaining that victims of grooming are NOT to blame for their abuse. They were targeted, deliberately singled out for the abuse, whatever it was, and had their personal barriers eroded.
I applaud her for the recognition that not all grooming is sexual.
But we need to recognise that grooming is much more complex than simple manipulation, influencing or coercion, which are no more than tactics used to enable grooming.
Victims of grooming have experienced something that goes way beyond a single act, something that makes us question our judgement, our sanity (94% of grooming victims said they felt they suffered ‘mental health’ consequences) and our ability. This is often a very deliberate ploy of the groomer.
I call for a better understanding of grooming, in the same way as Jess’ work has influenced me to spot the signs of victim blaming.
From Claire, with the very best of intentions,with love and with the hope that we can all pursue justice and relief for the victims of grooming.
If you have been groomed, please help us in our fight and answer some anonymous questions on grooming.
Update July 5, 2020
- The original version of this article incorrectly named the organisation at Victims First rather than Victim Focus. Jessica Taylor tweeted us to ask that we change the name, which we have done
- She also asked us to get her name right, but it appears to be correct. Jessica was given an email address for her to clarify anything she feels is wrong