Curated from: Learn - shy
When one thinks of sexual grooming, you’d be forgiven for picturing the stereotypical scenario of a 40+-year-old male office worker with a younger xiao-mei-mei intern, or the other trope of a Milf type who ends up atttracting a haughty teenage boy.
The dictionary definition of grooming is “the action by a paedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offence”. However, there are more facets and variations to what grooming looks like in the real world, for example, where the victim’s age is in a gray-area. The groomers’ “prey” patterns can still be really similar, leaving a lasting impact on victims.
With the recent influx of news reports on sexual crimes done to minors (like this, this, and this), it is important for us to be equipped with the skills to recognise if this is happening in our lives, or to our younger siblings and people we know. In the first article from our 2-part series on sexual grooming, we’ll start with understanding the problem, a.k.a. the sexual groomers.
What exactly is sexual grooming?
In general, grooming is the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with someone of a lower power level than you with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification, or abuse. Age is always a key determinant of sexual grooming because it creates a huge power imbalance between the victim and groomer.
At the heart of grooming is deception, and when done correctly, deception never waves a red flag. Through the right combination of manipulation tactics that include flattery and appealing to the victim’s emotions, the groomer is able to gain their victim’s trust.
The groomer would first assume a caring role to develop a friendship with the victim, and this exploitation may even extend to the victim’s family and friends so that the groomer’s time with the victim is welcomed and encouraged. When the time comes, those around the victim are less inclined to believe or recognise that this “nice and kind friend” is actually a sexual groomer.
Common patterns and behaviours of sexual groomers
It is important to understand that anyone can be a groomer, regardless of gender, age, or familiarity with you. The behaviour mentioned here is pretty universal, whether or not your “groomer” is much older or if they’re a peer in terms of age.
Stage 1: Targeting
Groomers are clever and calculative individuals, and with all criminal activity, people do not want to get caught. Therefore, before they engage in any grooming activities, a very thorough search is done for the victim.
This information search process has been made much easier with online channels. Groomers are able to scour through countless potential ‘candidates’ and understand their interests and behavioural habits by monitoring their social media and online activity such as gaming platforms.
Acquiring sufficient information allows the groomer to have a strategic plan on how and what to say in order to fill a void in the victim’s life, such as by providing a listening ear or having similar hobbies and interests.
Specific to online settings, groomers are also able to create multiple, curated profiles to trick their victims’, and they can also contact many different people in hope that one will respond. For victims, the impression that they are “safe” due to interactions being behind a screen can easily become a false security, and before they know it, they end up sucked in too deep into a relationship with the groomer.
Stage 2: Building a relationship
The process of grooming is not a quick one, and the groomer tends to put in a sizeable amount of effort before reaching their “end goal”, and this in-between stage includes tactics to gain the victim’s trust. Oftentimes, this can manifest in an overly close friendship or romantic relationship.
Flattery is the employed trick of choice here, and groomers would offer gifts, attention, and build a sense of having a “special” relationship by sharing secrets and confidential information with the victim. In other words, the groomer tends to “love bomb” their victim to paint the picture of being an ideal partner — devoted, loving, and supportive. This influx of romance would naturally feel positive for the victim, leaving them in a vulnerable state where they are more than willing to build a deep, emotional connection with their groomer. This is exactly where the groomer wants the victim to be.
Stage 3: Isolation
“You don’t need your friends/family, I’m more than enough to satisfy your needs 😊”
In order to manipulate the victim even further, groomers often have the goal of creating a state of dependence on them so that it’s harder for the victim to break off the relationship while making it easier for the groomer to get what they want from the victims (which in most cases is sexual gratification).
To do so, the groomer puts themselves between the victim and their loved ones in order to drive a wedge between them. Think phrases that revolve around how the groomer wants to spend all his time with the victim, or things like how the victims’ loved ones are not good for them. This is all in the ploy to get more power from the victim, and also, when the victim is disconnected from others, they are not able to spot any signs of maltreatment or help the victim get out.
Stage 4: Abuse
Once the above stages have been achieved and the victim is most vulnerable towards the groomer, they can begin their true intention, which is the sexualisation of the relationship. Even if the victim is not particularly willing to try out some of the sex acts, the “closeness” they have with the groomer might cause them to relent, due to thoughts of how they need to repay the groomer for their kindness, or even through mild blackmailing by the groomer.
At this point, the victim might even persuade themself that this form of “sexual abuse” is completely normal, even desirable since they are being wanted and it might also give them a sense of belonging.
In the case where the victim is a minor who has very little exposure to sexual activities, the groomer can exploit the minor’s natural curiosity towards sex by taking advantage of the trust they have built. This can be seen when the groomer puts the victim in situations that can lead to sexual activity, such as going swimming or water activities since the body is more exposed, or can be disguised as educational lessons. For example, “Have you ever masturbated? I can show you how.”
Stage 5: Maintaining Control
In order to allow the abuse to persist, the groomer would have to maintain the power imbalance in the relationship. Some common tactics are creating consequences to coerce the victim into continuing, such as threats of “if you report me, then you will no longer have someone that is this close to you in your life”, or if compromising content had been taken of the victim, the groomer can threaten to upload and distribute them online.
Signs that someone is being groomed
These are some common behavioural symptoms of someone that is being groomed, which can help you determine if you’ve been groomed in a relationship or if someone you know has been.
They become withdrawn from their usual friends or activities, and instead, they’re spending most of their time with their new friend or partner. When asked to meetup, they reject your offer. Most of the time, they would not be divulging too much about this new partner.
And in the case where you do meetup, they’re always on their phones, but when you ask who they’re talking to, they are unwilling to answer you.
Their emotions become more volatile, and they may seem a little troubled but unwilling to speak up about it.
They have unexplained gifts, which might even be expensive.
And if they’re still very young (ie: a minor), they seem sexually matured for their age, both in terms of knowledge and experience.
What’s the difference between sexual grooming and ordinary dating?
Sometimes, it’s hard to clearly distinguish between the 2 because of the complexity of relationships and the experience level of each person. Age gap relationships are common and sometimes the younger partner might have more life or relationship experience, there might be an imbalance in terms of relationship or sexual experience between partners of a similar age, or there can also be the case where you’re both young but one person does more to introduce sexual activity in the relationship (ie: throwback to your first boyfriend where you’re both teens, but he’s the one teaching you more about things to do sexually because you’re clueless on all things in that area).
The difference lies in the gradient of power and how that person chooses to utilise it. It’s definitely not wrong, or anyone’s fault, that they might have more experience in terms of age and practice, but it is in whether or not they use this imbalance to exploit their partner. For example, in the context of showing and letting their partner know about their sexual preferences that they’ve acquired from a previous relationship, in ordinary dating, sexual experimentation is accepted and both are willing to try new things (keyword: consent). But in the case of sexual grooming, the groomer would use their knowledge and prior experience to push the right buttons on the victims to get them to do what they want, especially when the victim might not have had an inclination to do it beforehand. Such tactics often include emotional blackmailing, and shame and degradation.
With consensual romance, the feeling you would get is that you both are on an equal playing field, but with grooming, the feeling would be less mutual and you might have been made to feel that you would eventually need to “pay back” your partner for all the physical and emotional gifts they may have given you.
Being sexually groomed is a very serious issue that can have lasting impacts on one’s life development, in terms of emotional wellbeing and future relationships. These should be dealt with delicately and properly, and in the next post, we detail some of the steps you can take to protect yourself after you’ve been sexually groomed.
In the next article, we talk more about how to deal with life after being groomed. In the meantime, check out some of these sexual grooming survivor stories that we found online.