The issue is … grooming
The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) defines grooming as “a method used by offenders, involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him. In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child”.
Defining this action from the beginning is the first step in identifying and preventing this from taking place. While equally sinister, this act used to only take place within the vicinity of the child such as at school, practice, or tragically in their own home. But social media and the internet expanded the overall access of groomers and opened even the safest home to the risk.
WHAT ARE THE EXPERTS SAYING
Circle graph illustrating the statistic: "Of all victims under 18, 2 out of 3 are ages 12-17."This issue is unfortunately widespread. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every nine minutes Child Protective Services substantiates child sexual abuse sexual abuse allegations. 34% of these cases are heartbreakingly under the age of 12.
Reports have found that 93% of groomers know the victim and 34% of known groomers are family members.
Grooming and sexual assault can have lifelong effects. Victims are four times more likely to develop drug abuse and PTSD than non-victims. This data is tragic.
WHAT ARE THE VICTIMS SAYING
The stories range from a cool uncle, to a teacher, to an online friend – survivors' stories are beginning to be told. Many survivors claimed they didn’t know anything was wrong until later in life, or that they didn’t want their parents to be mad at them or they simply didn’t want anyone to get into trouble. All survivors collectively discuss the negative effects their experiences had on them including the inability to get into relationships, depression, anxiousness and various negative coping.
A GROWING DISCUSSION
The concept of grooming has made its way into the mainstream thanks to chilling documentaries such as Abducted in Plain Sight and Surviving R. Kelly, both on Netflix, as well as the new documentary on Hulu, Keep This Between Us.
The director of Keep This Between Us is a survivor of grooming. In an interview, she explains “I started this process out by myself. I've held onto this information for a long time. I felt really alone for many, many years. As [I] moved forward, and started discovering how big this problem was, and how many other [people] this had happened to, I realized how I was not unique in my experience. That feeling, for me, was comforting because it allowed me to reframe the things that had happened to me in a way that was more about me being out of control of the situation, rather than being responsible for the situation.”
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS
Understanding sexual grooming can help people prevent sexual abuse before it occurs. Aspects of sexual grooming may include:
- Targeting the victim by finding similarities or exploiting insecurities
- Complimenting the victim
- Securing access then slowly asks for more and more seductive pictures/videos/comments and isolating the victim
- Gaining the victim’s trust, and
- Controlling and concealing the relationship
Another key to understanding the concept of sexual grooming is recognizing common behaviors that predators use while grooming victims for sexual abuse. Common sexual grooming behaviors are often subtle and may not appear inappropriate.
These behaviors include:
- An adult seems overly interested in a child
- An adult frequently initiates or creates opportunities to be alone with a child (or multiple children)
- An adult becomes fixated on a child
- An adult gives special privileges to a child (e.g., rides to and from practices, extra dessert etc.)
- An adult befriends a family and shows more interest in building a relationship with the child than with the adults
- An adult displays favoritism towards one child within a family
- An adult finds opportunities to buy a child gifts
- An adult caters to the interests of the child, so a child or the parent may initiate contact with the offender
It’s not always easy to spot sexual abuse because perpetrators often take steps to hide their actions. Some signs are easier to spot than others. Listen to your instincts. If you notice something that isn’t right or someone in a child’s life is making you uncomfortable—even if you can’t put your finger on why—it’s important to trust your gut, continue to watch for signs of abuse, and talk to the child who may be experiencing abuse in age-appropriate ways.
Warning signs from the victims can include:
- Excessive talk or knowledge of sexual topics
- Keeping secrets
- Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
- Change in eating habits Self-harming behavior
- Drinking or drug use Changes in hygiene and appearance
- Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
The Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center of Placer County was founded in 1993 through a joint program with the District Attorney's Office and Placer County Health and Human Services, partnering with law enforcement, child protective services, medical professionals, mental health and advocacy to establish a child-friendly forensic interview center for children who may have been abused or witnessed a crime. Through trauma informed services, MDIC seeks to address issues such as grooming in a judgement-free environment with the goal of getting a victim and their family, the help they need.
SAFETY TIPS FOR ONLINE
A lot of grooming can start online. That is why a family internet safety plan is critical.
- Discuss internet safety and develop an online safety plan with children before they engage in online activity.
- Establish clear guidelines, teach children to spot red flags, and encourage children to have open communication with you. Supervise young children’s use of the internet, including periodically checking their profiles and posts.
- Keep electronic devices in open, common areas of the home and consider setting time limits for their use.
- Review games, apps, and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children.
- Pay particular attention to apps and sites that feature end-to-end encryption, direct messaging, video chats, file uploads, and user anonymity, which are frequently relied upon by online child predators.
- Adjust privacy settings and use parental controls for online games, apps, social medial sites, and electronic devices.
- Tell children to avoid sharing personal information, photos, and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life.
- Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the internet.
- Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying ‘no’ to inappropriate requests both in the physical world and the virtual world.
- Be alert to potential signs of abuse, including changes in children’s use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, and depression.
- Encourage children to tell a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult if anyone asks them to engage in sexual activity or other inappropriate behavior.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you or a loved one is experiencing grooming in any way, you are not alone.
If you believe a crime has been committed, we urge you to call local law enforcement or child protective services.
If you have general questions or want to know resources available – please call Placer 211 or Stand Up Placer’s 24-hour helpline 800-575-5352.