What Is Grooming and How Can It Be Prevented?

Grooming refers to an ever more common form of pedophilia. This new type of internet child abuse is raising concern and fear among many parents. Discover more about grooming and how to prevent it in today's article.
What Is Grooming and How Can It Be Prevented?
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 19 July, 2018

Grooming is a new form of abuse in which person uses predatory behavior to gain a child’s trust over the internet. The predator’s ultimate goal is to take advantage of the child for sexual purposes. 
This type of abuse occurs through any type of digital media – especially social media – that allows two or more people to interact.

The predator is a master at manipulation and gives off a friendly and helpful demeanor at first. Contact with the child begins via internet, with the idea of obtaining sexual content.

In some cases, the child may engage in a real life meeting with the predator. This places the child at extreme risk of sexual abuse and physical harm.

However, there are certain signs that parents – and their children – should be aware of to prevent grooming. The modus operandi includes stages of preparation. These red flags refer to what the child experiences during this new class of sexual assault.

What is grooming?

First of all, one of the factors of grooming that stands out the most is the communication with children via internet. Predators use this means to establish an emotional connection with the minor.

In these cases, the delinquent tries to develop trust with the child. For example, he or she may use the technique of sharing feelings and secrets. Once this relationship has been established, then begins the phase of control and abuse.

In general, the aggressor works to instill the sensation that the child is special to him or her. Furthermore, he or she tries to provide a sort of affection in order to gain the child’s trust.

In some cases, the predator may pretend to be a child as well in order to gain trust faster. All of these tactics are ultimately aimed at obtaining compromising material from the child.

In order to detect cases of grooming, there are some basic characteristics that you need to keep in mind:

  • Any child can be a victim of grooming.
  • Grooming begins with friendship.
  • These predators use favors, promises and gifts to build a relationship of trust.
  • Aggressors will eventually try to obtain graphic images and videos of the child over the internet.
  • Secrets are a common ingredient in grooming.
  • Setting limits regarding internet use is key in preventing cases of grooming. Maintaining good communication is also fundamental.
What Is Grooming and How Can It Be Prevented?

What are the stages of grooming?

Below are the stages, in chronological order, that victims of grooming suffer on behalf of pedophiles:

1. Contacting the victim

The delinquent attacks the child, evaluating his or her vulnerability. This occurs through different social media, as there is no sort of filter that impedes contact.

2. Gaining the victim’s trust

The delinquent then goes on to gain the child’s trust by observing and compiling information from him or her. The aggressor gets to know the child’s needs and looks for ways to meet him or her.

In this sense, sexual predators can appear to be responsible and trustworthy. They have the ability to provide the sort of warmth and attention that make the child feel special.

“If your child seems withdrawn and irritable… If he or she turns off the screen when you walk into the room… If your child displays a strange attitude while using social media… These may all be signs of a possible case of grooming”

3. Filling the void

Once the sexual predator begins to satisfy the child’s needs, he or she begins to play an important role in the minor’s life. If your child receives gifts or extra attention, then you should be concerned, and increase your vigilance.

What Is Grooming and How Can It Be Prevented?

4. Sexualization of the relationship

Once the abuser gains sufficient trust and emotional dependence, he or she will attempt to take advantage of the child sexually. The aggressor uses the child’s vulnerability to obtain compromising images and videos.

5. Maintaining control

Once the relationship takes on a sexual nature, the abuser seeks to maintain control over the child. He or she uses secrets and guilt to guarantee the child’s continuing participation and silence. 

Abusers know that the transfer of files containing sexual content can cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.

Keep in mind that once abuse occurs, the aggressor will stop at no means to stay in control. Abusers will manipulate their victims using secrets, guilt and even threats to keep them from telling others.

If your child seems withdrawn and irritable… If he or she turns off the screen when you walk into the room… If your child displays a strange attitude while using social media…

These may all be signs of a possible case of grooming. Only good communication with your child will give you the means to combat this new form of sexual abuse.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.