The Grooming process looks like a normal behavior when it starts; the offenders work their way by getting the child’s (and their caregivers) trust so, in the initial stages it is full of attention, light conversations and care. At this point it is the underlying motivation of a behavior that is the issue, as opposed to the overt actions that most people see.
The implementation and development of grooming tactics can be conducted over days, months and even years. It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs are not always obvious and may be hidden.
It is important to remember that children and young people may not understand they are being groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty, admiration, love, as well as fear, distress, and confusion. The other adults and caregivers are also often unaware that they themselves are being groomed.
Abusers often groom friends, family, and others to overlook signs of abuse and cut ties with the victim. On the surface, grooming a child can look like a close relationship between the offending adult, the targeted child and the child's caregivers.
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.”
* Grooming starts with friendship and trust. Kids should have friends that are kids, not adults.
* 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.
* Gift giving to the child and/or the child's family.
* 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.”