Identifying Grooming Behaviors in Sexual Predators

What is grooming?  A recent Article in Psychology Today by Elizabeth Jeglic, Ph.D, contains important information for parents.

As the author explains, “Grooming” is the  deceptive process sexual predators use to develop trust with a child-victim as well as other adults in the child’s life.  Grooming “desensitizes” the child to sexual content and physical contact. Post-abuse, the offender may engage in  other strategies in order to facilitate future sexual abuse and/or prevent disclosure. One of the difficulties in detecting sexual grooming is that many of the behaviors that perpetrators engage in often mimic normal caring adult-child interactions.

A study cited by Dr. Jeglic  gives the following warning signs:

  1. Selecting a Victim. In this first stage of the grooming process, the offender identifies a potential victim by selecting a minor who is vulnerable, either because of psychological/emotional reasons or because of family circumstances such as a lack of supervision, family discord, or living in a single-parent home.
  2. Gaining Access and Isolating the Minor. The next stage involves gaining access to the minor, either through working or volunteering in youth-serving organizations or by gaining the trust of the minor’s guardians. Once they have access to the minor, the perpetrator often tries to separate the minor from peers and caretaking adults so that they can begin the grooming process in private. This may involve driving them places alone, taking them on outings or overnight stays, and/or emotionally distancing them from family and friends.
  3. Developing Trust with the Minor and Other Adults in the Minor’s Life (e.g., caretakers, community members). In this stage, the perpetrator works to gain the trust and compliance of the minor and significant adults in their lives. It should be noted that in this part of the process the perpetrator is often also grooming the minor’s family, the organizations in which they may be accessing the child, and their community, in order to gain their trust so they can have easy access to the minor without suspicion.
  4. Desensitizing the Child to Sexual Content and Physical Contact. This stage usually happens right before abuse occurs. During this fourth stage, the perpetrator prepares the minor for abuse by desensitizing them to sexual content (such as showing them pornography and nudity) and increasing non-sexual touch.
  5. Maintenance Behaviors Following the Commission of the Abuse. This last and final stage occurs once the abuse has already happened. The purpose of these maintenance behaviors is for the perpetrator to be able to continue the abuse and avoid detection, often by manipulating the minor into feeling guilty or responsible for the abuse or causing them to fear the consequences of disclosure.

The Law Office of Tahira Khan Merritt is a trauma-informed  law firm. We exclusively represent  child and adult  victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault in civil cases. We stand ready to help you with your legal needs. 

For more than  twenty-five years, we have represented victims of sex crimes in civil cases against institutions, including colleges and universities, religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, Baptist Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian Church, among others.

We have also represented victims of sexual abuse in  medical settings,  group homes,  schools,  youth sports organizations,  youth camps, daycares, scouting, and other youth serving organizations.

You may confidentially contact our office at 214-503-7300 or through our website :

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