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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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