The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) is evidence of the extent of child sex abuse that occurred in the past, but how does it even begin to happen? The IICSA are investigating not only what happened but how.
Peter Garsden, Manchester-based Abuse solicitor, explains the true meaning of grooming and what to do if you suspect a child in your life is experiencing it.
What Is Grooming?
Child grooming is when someone makes an effort to build an emotional bond with a child as a method of de-sensitising them to any wrongdoing. If the person carrying out the grooming is successful, it can mean that the child is less likely to reject or report abusive behaviour.
Possible signs of grooming could involve the child:
- Being very secretive, including about their activities online
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Going to unusual or unexpected places to meet friends
- Having new and potentially expensive things, like a mobile phone or clothes
- Having access to drugs and alcohol
- Displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age
- Wetting the bed
- Taking risks
- Missing school
- Obsessive behaviour
- Being withdrawn
The act of grooming involves gaining the child’s trust and the control they have can be strong. It is important to remain vigilant about changes in behaviour and to act quickly if you suspect anything out of the ordinary could be occurring.
How Does Grooming Happen?
The BBC drama, ‘Three Girls’ demonstrates how grooming can happen in person. The girls depicted are based on real-life stories of girls who were groomed and sexually abused in Rochdale. They are depicted to be given free food and alcohol, which is a common method of grooming.
But grooming doesn’t just happen in person. The development of the internet and the popularity of social networks and chat rooms provide a platform for potential predators looking to meet young people.
Groomers will hide their true intentions and often dedicate a long time to gaining a child’s trust. It is also possible that groomer will spend a long time gaining the trust of the child’s family as well, so that they are given opportunities to be alone with them.
Groomers gain trust by:
- Lying about who they really are, particularly online (e.g. their age and sex)
- Being empathetic and offering advice
- Buying gifts and/or taking the child on trips
- Providing attention
- Utilising their professional position
A groomer’s goal is to gain power over the child so that they can ensure the young person won’t tell anyone about the abuse.
Groomers often tell the young people they abuse that:
- They will not be believed if they tell anyone
- They will be the one in trouble and not the abuser, if they tell someone what is happening
What Is Online Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse online is when abusers sexually exploit young people via the internet. When this happens young people are often persuaded to share pictures and videos that are sexually explicit.
After being groomed, a young person might be forced to:
- Send or post images of themselves that are of a sexual nature
- Have sexual conversations or ‘sexting’ either via mobile phone or the internet
- Take part in sexual activities via a webcam, either on their phone or computer
Young people are often blackmailed into taking part in these activities. The groomer will sometimes threaten to send images or copies of conversations to friends and family of the young person unless they do as they are asked.
What Can I Do If I Suspect Grooming Of A Child?
It is highly likely that a child or young person going through sexual exploitation or even the grooming phase will not speak out.
Often young people who are being exploited:
- Feel ashamed
- Feel guilty
- Do not realise they are being abused
- Believe they are in a serious ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ relationship
You should seek support if you suspect a child is being groomed, no matter what your relationship with them. The police should be contacted as a first port of call. If the abuse has occurred online, you can contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command to report your concerns. You can also contact the NSPCC Helpline if you wish to discuss your concerns with someone.
“It is sad that sex abuse continues to be a taboo subject of conversation. If people were to talk more openly about it, it might help to educate young people in how to recognise it and report it.”
“The internet can make it incredibly difficult for parents to spot any wrong-doing, but I would encourage them to be vigilant.”
“If a child does disclose information that suggests they are being groomed or abused, it is incredibly important to listen and believe them. So many cases of abuse tell the story of someone who attempted to tell an adult and was not listened to. This often means the abuser continues their actions.”