What is Adult Grooming?

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.

It may be online or face-to-face, by a stranger, by someone they know – (family members, friends or professionals).

Whilst grooming children (up to age 16) is illegal in the UK, it’s not illegal to groom an adult (although vulnerable adults do have some protection).

The classic stages of grooming can roughly be summarised as:

  • Groomers target/profile the victim(s)
  • Groomers deliberately use words, promises and actions to gain the victim’s trust
  • They identify a need in their victims and fill it – or pretend/seem to do so
  • They desensitise the victim so that their normal guards/filters fail
  • Groomers often then isolate victims (if they’re not already isolated) and/or make them complicit
  • They then usually, but not always, sexualise the relationship. This is often the end game for adult groomers, who then disappear/’ghost’ their targets
  • Groomers establish/maintain control over the situation and/or the victim’s behaviours, often using ‘gaslighting’ techniques to make them doubt their own instincts.

Survivors Manchester  expands this, and identifies the following grooming behaviours:

  • Positive Reinforcement: includes praise, superficial charm, superficial sympathy (crocodile tears), excessive apologising; money, approval, gifts; attention, facial expressions (perhaps a forced laugh or smile); public recognition.
  • Negative Reinforcement: includes nagging, yelling, the silent treatment, intimidation, threats, swearing, emotional blackmail, the guilt trap, sulking, crying, and playing the victim.
  • Intermittent or Partial Reinforcement: Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt, which can encourage the victim to persist.
  • Punishment.
  • Traumatic One-Trial Learning: using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.
  • Normalisation of behaviour.

Grooming is predatory, not loving.  Groomers manoeuvre others into a positions that isolate them. They like their victims dependent/hooked. They build a false trust. And their targets start to behave out of character.

Abusers often use shared secrets to bind their victims to them. They also work hard to break down defences through a mix of behaviours, rewards and reassuring words.

Groomers then go on to manipulate the victim until they are rewarded with whatever it is they are after.  Their tactics include charm, overt attention, flattery, charm, gifts, creation of a secret, private World.

Often echoing back part their target’s own background or story, groomers often claim special connections with their targets. These predators typically employ attentiveness, sensitivity, and empathy and plenty of positive reinforcement to seduce their victims.

Victims are SO sucked in that they overlook or ignore the warning signs. Abusers work patiently to break through their target’s defences, build trust, and then manipulate or coerce the target  into doing what they plan. Often the harder the target is to persuade, the greater their thrill. Their targets then willingly handing part with money or assets, do things they wouldn’t normally do, fight battles for their abuser….

Consequently, victims of groomers often feel shame, remorse and disgust at having participated often leaving them unwilling to expose the groomer.


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3 Replies to “What is Adult Grooming?”

  1. I have been searching for guidance and support for many months as I couldn’t fathom what had happened to me. I now know without doubt that I was groomed into a sexual relationship by someone who was supposedly my healthcare professional.
    There is so little info out there. Childhood grooming yes, sexual assault and rape yes, but adult sexual grooming? I don’t think many people even realise it exists and there is certainly next to no support. Thank you for providing this website.

  2. Thank you. From reading this I now know that I have allowed myself to be groomed by my own mother for the last 30 years. She only contacts me when she wants/needs something she can’t get from anyone else, be it sympathy, pity, or a place to come to away from her home town. Over the years she’s told me she very nearly had me aborted but left the clinic before she was called in, said she only had 6 months to live back in 2014, and then contacted me saying she’d attempted suicide when her husband left. She is manipulative, saw the desperate need I showed for her love, attention and acceptance, and played me for a fool. When I finally felt we were getting closer I learn she has a new partner who she’s told that I am a disappointment, the difficulties I’ve faced since I was 10 are my own doing and I cannot admit to my many faults she’s discribed. She ceased contact 3 years ago and I am determined not to let my guard down again if she ever contacts me. Reading this reinforces the reasons why I don’t need her, when I’ve always felt as if I did, even though she’s only been in my life spirodically for short periods of time.

    1. Hi Ann Marie
      I took your family name off your comment to protect you from any comeback, including your mother using this as an excuse to re-engage
      Congratulations on having created boundaries for yourself.
      This sounds like coercive control, and I hope you have been able to find the emotional support you must have needed to deal with this.

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