The Grooming Process – How Sexual Predators Con You and Your Child

May 6, 2014


In most child sexual abuse cases, the abuser ‘grooms’ their victims and the victim’s parents before the abuse, so that disclosure of the abuse is less likely and/or less believable.  Here are some ways that you can identify grooming tendencies and prevent child sexual abuse.

Sexual predators have several tools at their disposal to carry out their sickening abuses on children; fear, isolation, power, and silence are major tactics used by molesters.  Perhaps the most effective and deceptive tool predators’ use is the grooming process to prepare their victims for an eventual abuse.   Specifically, grooming is the tactic of gradually and methodically building trust with a child – and the adults around them – to gain increased access and alone time with their future victim.  This can come in several forms; the offender may assume a caring role in the child’s life – behaviors such as favoritism, granting special privileges are just a couple forms that the ‘caring’ role is assumed by the predator.

The question to ask is not “how” a person could do this – sexual predators are very similar to con-artists, and will look for any advantage to increase their chances of successfully abusing a child.  The real question is “what” the sexual predator gains by grooming their future victim.  They can gain significant advantages, such as reducing disclosure, reducing the likelihood of the child being believed, reducing detection, manipulate adult perception of the child, and convince the child into being a cooperative participant.  In each element of the grooming process, the predator will also use their ability to charm and be likeable; it’s the most effective way to get a child to trust them, and also the easiest way for adults to be unassuming at first, and possibly even support the molester during allegations.  It’s important to recognize that grooming is an incremental process, with noticeable stages prior to the abuse from occurring.  One of the better representations of this cycle is:

  1. Targeting the victim: In this phase, the predator will ‘size up’ their prey.  Specifically, the predator is looking for vulnerabilities such as physical or mental disabilities, single-parent families, low self-confidence, or emotional neediness.  They will look in places with high concentrations of children – schools, malls, playgrounds etc.
  2. Gain trust: After a predator has selected their victim, they will begin to gather information about them and place themselves in areas where they can give their future victim attention.
  3. Fill a need: Once a predator gains initial access to a child, they can look for gaps in supervision to exploit, and ‘be there’ for the child when the parent is unable to (e.g. give the child a ride home).
  4. Isolation: Now that the predator has found a way to maintain a routine relationship with the victim (and parents), they will seek ways to spend alone time with the child (e.g. babysitting, special trips).
  5. Make the relationship sexual: The predator makes their move on their victim when they are able to isolate them, and does so by preying on the child’s natural curiosity to advance their sexual agendas.
  6. Maintain control: Once the abuse occurs, the predator will do all they can to keep the victim silent and available for continued abuse.  This control can come in the form of verbal threats (e.g. nobody will believe you), or physical threats (e.g. I will kill you and your family if you tell).


Remember also there is no typical description of a sexual predator; they come from all genders, races, occupations, and relation to the child.  Here are some statements from convicted child molesters – experts in their own right – that explain just “how” they operated:

  • “Parents are naive; they worried about strangers…they should be worried about their brother-in-law.”
  • “I was disabled, and groomed the parents into having their children help me.  No one thought a disabled person could be an abuser.”
  • “Parents are to blame if they don’t teach their children about sex.  I used that to my advantage by teaching them myself.”

As you can tell, the predator’s tactics are deceitful in nature, tricky to separate from a genuine relationship, and often without the ability to confront the predator in person.  What can a parent do then, to prevent their child from becoming the next abuse statistic?

  • Early Education: All conversations about how to prevent child sexual must start with educating children at a young age about their ‘private’ parts, the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, and what to do when a predator attempts to cross the line.  Having this conversation will make your child a much harder target for a would-be predator.
  • Maximize Supervision: As much as possible, try to personally supervise your child’s time away from school; if your child is slated to attend a field trip and if you can afford to, volunteer to chaperone the trip.  In the event you are unable to personally supervise your child, ensure a trusted family member or friend does.
  • Identify Sex Offenders Near You: Megan’s Law is enacted in all 50 states; in California, it allows you to use several online databases and applications to locate sex offenders near your home, your child’s school, or extracurricular activities.
  • Love Your Child: This is second nature to most of us; however, a predator can sniff out when a child hasn’t received enough attention from their parents, and will act to fill that void for you.  Take time out of your busy schedule to be there for your child, let him or her know that you love them, and spend time with them – even if their idea of fun seems silly.  Spending time with your child is more important than that project you’ve been working on, or that video game you’re playing with your friends, or that TV show on your DVR.
  • Know the Warning Signs: Knowing the mood shifts or irregular behaviors associated a child’s sexualized relationship with the predator is crucial to putting a stop to further abuse, and might prevent it altogether.

In conclusion, early and consistent engagement by parents is the best method to preventing children from being groomed by a sexual predator.  These tips and methods are useful to identify where the child might be in the grooming process, and also allow somebody to step in and stop an abuse from happening.

If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it.  To find out more about the victim’s legal rights, contact Estey & Bomberger today to get a free consultation at (800) 925-0723 or via email at


U.S. Department of Justice: Common Questions

Laurel House: Sexual Offender Tactics and Grooming

Child Sexual Abuse: 6 Stages of Grooming

Grooming Children for Sexual Molestation

National Center for Victims of Crime