What are the red flags of grooming behavior?
Grooming is a process by which offenders gradually draw victims into a sexual relationship and maintain that relationship in secrecy. At the same time, offenders may also fill roles within the victims’ families that make them trusted and valued family friends.
One of the scariest things about grooming is that it is highly successful, allowing offenders to slowly overcome natural boundaries long before actual sexual abuse occurs. The key is to recognize red flag behaviors and to minimize opportunity for abuse.
Here are some red flag behaviors to watch for:
- Targeting specific kids for special attention, activities, or gifts. Some offenders show preference for a particular gender, age, or “type.”
- Slowly isolating a kid from family members and friends: physically and emotionally. This could include finding reasons for isolated, one-on-one interactions (sleepovers, camping trips, day activities, etc.), or undermining relationships with parents and friends to show that “no one understands you like I do.”
- Gradually crossing physical boundaries. Full frontal hugs that last too long, making kids sit in their laps, “accidental” touches of private areas – all of these are causes for concern. In some cases, offenders have engaged in partially clothed tickle sessions, showered with kids, or slept in the same bed with them.
- Encouraging a kid to keep secrets from family members. The shame and fear associated with child sexual abuse make it easy for offenders to enforce secrecy in this area as well, keeping abuse “just between us.”
We once heard a great analogy concerning the quote, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” There are many adults who love to interact and play with children. However, adults who seem overly involved in the lives of children, who prefer relationships with children over relationships with adults, and who continually seek out alone time with children should raise red flags with both parents and organizations.
One of the best defenses against grooming behaviors is to start talking to kids early and often about their bodies, sex, and boundaries. Let them know if ANYONE makes them feel uncomfortable, whether it’s a family member, friend, or youth worker, they can come to you any time.