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).

There are essentially two elements to grooming

  1. Intent – the groomer enters a relationship, be that caring, sexual, friendship or in a position of trust or authority, with an intention other than that stated. For example, they enter into a relationship claiming that they are looking for love and a long term relationship, where their actual intent is sexual conquest, marriage for money, or access to something that they couldn’t other wise have.
  2. Consent – Had their target known what the truth was, if they wouldn’t have consented to whatever it was they did, they are very likely to have been groomed. So a man cheating on his wife with someone he honestly wishes to start a new life with is not likely to be a groomer, but a woman who enters into a sexual relationship with a man in order to gain access to his children for abuse, or to clear out his bank account, is a groomer.

Groomers do not always self identify as groomers, and are often deluding themselves as well as their targets.

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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Adult Grooming Stories and Histories

Get involved: Ways to be involved.

Contact CAAGe: contact us

12 thoughts on “What is Adult Grooming?

  1. Further to my previous comment as I mixed up my own wording! doh! So, to add, obviously ‘intent’ might be key, but it seems that “grooming” (I assume another word might be ‘coercion’?), is an umbrella term that encompasses a group of offences, such fraud, assault etc. You write, that the main element of grooming is intent, but further down, you state, “are often deluding themselves as well as their targets.” So, do such ‘deluded’ individuals intend to groom their victims? and if not, by your own definition herein, they are not groomers…

    With respect to legal definitions, I wonder if ‘adult grooming’ might be similar to ‘domestic abuse’ which is also an umbrella term to encompass various offences under that theme….

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    1. Can it really be OK for someone to manufacture consent, ie deceive someone to get laid?
      Unfortunately we have all grown up with this passive sexism, which is at it’s most evident in role models like James Bond. A bit old fashioned really, as both men and women now take back their agency. (We are contacted regularly by men, for example, who have fallen victim to bridal/dating scams.)
      Grooming is broad, but then so is rape, murder, child abuse. It’s not unique.
      I don’t know how many groomers even know the term. Or how many coercive controllers know the term. I suspect in their own minds some of them don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong or even think about the harm they cause. IT’s an incredibly hard thing to study.
      However, they do intend to deceive, claiming they are entering into a relationship (sexual, financial, business, whatever…) that someone would not have consented to had they known the truth. As definitions of consent are now enshrined in law for the first time (GDPR) we are getting closer to being able to argue a legal position that hasn’t been available until now, relying on other offences to pursue any kind of legal restitution, as Rape by Deception is pretty much obsolete now (until challenged, which I understand there are plans to do)
      Thanks for the discussion – it’s important.

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  2. In response to your definitions above, it appears, that in regard to grooming (coercion), that the main element might be ‘control’, rather than ‘intent’. For example,there is a distinction between intending to use a person for sex and the pathological, often sadistic intentions of a sexual predator. I suspect most would agree that the deceit ‘ladies men’ employ to bed women, are not enough to warrant changes to Law. If it did, then there might be a lot of innocent men, who had simply had a change of heart, being pursued through the courts by jilted exes! However, when such behaviour is extended to inciting ‘fear of harm and/or distress’, with significant control over aspects of the victims life or behaviour, such individuals may then be deemed to be sexual offenders.

    I understand little about Law, but perhaps the key to obtaining any kind of reform might be to seek experts agreement to what constitutes the key definitions of adult grooming. This certainly means there’s lots of research to be done and collaboration must be sought between experts from healthcare and legal fields.

    (Edited to fix a typo)

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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    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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  5. Pingback: What is grooming?

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