”Grooming works by mixing positive behaviours with elements of abuse. At the beginning, all behaviours are positive. Slowly, abusive elements are added in amounts that surprise the survivor to an extent, but do not push alarm to a high level. Overtime, the inappropriate comes to feel normal.” Michael Samsel
What is Grooming?
Grooming is the predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position that makes them more isolated, dependent, likely to trust, and more vulnerable to abusive behavior. The goal is to prepare the other person for abuse (for example sexual or financial) at a later time. The first step the groomer takes is to establish a friendship and trust.
Adult grooming is correspondent to child grooming and applies to any situation where an adult is primed to allow him or herself to be exploited or abused. It happens online and in real life.
What kind of person practices grooming?
Grooming is practiced by Narcissists, Antisocial predators, con-artists and sexual aggressors, who target and manipulate vulnerable people for exploitation. Grooming has escalated worldwide thanks to the internet because it is so easy for predators to create false profiles. Currently there are more than 500,000 predators are online everyday, world wide.
Cat fishing is defined as: Luring someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
There are 2 kinds of cat-fishing:
- A person is pretending to be me – the person stole your photos and or identity and uses this to trick other people. Example: You discover someone entered your details on an adult website to entice prospective clients, when the clients start calling you. The person illegally published your information and sensitive details like your home address on the site, which puts you in danger from predators. The person can be prosecuted for impersonation and jailed. If this happens to you, contact the site immediately to state you were cat-fished. They will close the catfish down.
- You have been cat-fished – you believe you were speaking to a person, when in fact, you were speaking to someone else entirely. Example: A lady who is lonely enters her details into a dating website. She is cat-fished by a person who created a false profile and who pretends to match her likes and wants 100%. She discovers the fraud once the person starts blackmailing, bullying or extortion tactics in one or the other way to hurt you.
Who are the victims of grooming?
The scary thing is anyone can become a victim of grooming – especially people with soft-boundaries or whose defenses are down. Because there is no prototypical victim, anyone can be vulnerable to grooming.
A young student met a guy more than 12 years her senior, from another country via a dating game site. She played an online game with him that simulated the perfect romantic relationship. She eventually fell in madly love with him – assuming he was exactly the same as her ”online boyfriend”. She invited him to come and visit her. She tended to him hand-and-foot while he visited. The relationship became sexual. He went back to his country and he coerced her to get engaged. He paid for her ticket to visit him. The visit was a disaster – he hurt her emotionally with insults, they spend little time together and she described it as a nightmare. Back home she started getting nightmares about the relationship and broke off the engagement. When she got so far as to start asking for help, she was already so well groomed, she defended his actions with everything she had in her, although she was asking for advice about a relationship that turned into a nightmare..
A mature lady was defrauded of thousands of rand when she met a guy via an online dating site. He told her he worked on an oil-rig in the Atlantic Ocean. He wooed her mercilessly and then told her he wanted to visit her. She had to forward him the money for the flights because his money was tied up somewhere. She was so groomed by that time that she went to the bank and acquired a bank loan for the amount. She transferred the money to him. He bought tickets and gave her his arrival date on the airport. She went to the airport and waited for him. He never arrived. While she was still waiting , he called her. He told her he was abducted in Africa and needed the huge amount to be paid as ransom for his release. Only then it dawned on her she has been conned. She confronted him and he laughed , while telling her he has done this numerous times before. She has been severely traumatized and will have to deal with the trauma and financial loss for years to come.
The bottom line is: Don’t talk to people online that you don’t know!
How does an offender go about grooming another person?
There are firstly 3 primary goals a groomer focuses on to control the environment of a victim:
AFFILIATION: An offender has to gain access to potential adult victims. Predators are masters in positioning themselves in the proximity of a possible victim. They join social groups, participate in group activities or meet potential victims online via for example dating games.
ACCEPTANCE: The next step is to manipulate the perceptions of other people in such a way that the offender is socially accepted to ”the group”. It is important for the predator to be seen as a valuable part of the group and as a good match for the victim. Acceptance lessens the risk of difficult questions being asked by the group. Secondarily, in ongoing abuse situations, the offender will manipulate the environment is such a way, that the victim will withdraw from the group in an acceptable way. The power and charm of a predator over a victim is scary. Groomers are great con men.
ASSURANCE: An offender thirdly has to assure ongoing access to the victim. He ensures that the group or environment perceives him as harmless. By doing this the offender diminishes the ability of the victim to escape it or be believed.
No one can bring themselves to believe ”such a nice guy” could do such a thing. Most offender also possess power – be it political, monetary or absolute power in the case of a husband or parent. Some also have celebrity status for example in media or sports.
The grooming process
A predator will identify and engage a victim and work to gain the target’s trust, break down defenses, and manipulate the victim until they get whatever it is they are after. Overt attention, verbal seduction (flattery / ego stroking), recruitment, physical isolation, charm, gift-giving, normalizing, gas-lighting, secrecy, and threats are all hallmarks of grooming.
Predators work in the shadows, and have something to hide.
- Predators claim to feel a “special connection” with their targets, even if they’ve only just met.
- Predators recruit co-conspirators (forced teaming) to fight their battles and do their bidding.
- Predators draw their victims in by sharing private information then swearing them to secrecy.
- Predators practice divide and conquer techniques in order to manipulate others
What does it feel like to be groomed?
Grooming can feel exhilarating – at first. The predator employs attentiveness, sensitivity, (false) empathy and plenty of positive reinforcement to seduce their victim. For their part, victims can be so enthralled with, or overwhelmed by the attention they are receiving; they will often overlook or ignore red flags that might alert them that the person who is showering them with that attention is somehow “off”. Little by little, the abuser breaks through a victim’s natural defenses, gains trust, and manipulates or coerces the victim into doing his/her bidding.
The victim finds themselves willingly handing over money or assets, engaging in inappropriate, illegal or morally ambiguous actives ( for example sharing nude photos or videos of themselves), or acting as a proxy for the abuser, fighting the abuser’s battles, and carrying out their will. The victim often feels confusion, shame, guilt, remorse and disgust at his or her own participation. Equally powerful, is the panic that comes with the threat of being exposed for engaging these activities. Often the person on the ”other side” is a con artist with a false profile who makes a living out of extortion of money from his/her ”victims”. There may also an overwhelming fear of losing the emotional bond that has been established with an abuser. The victim becomes trapped, depressed,despondent or anxious and fearful of being exposed.
Note: Skills the offender uses to entrap his victim:
A “groomer” skillfully plays with words, learns to identify what the perceived victim wants to hear, and uses this knowledge, for personal gain, to direct and to keep the focus of her attention exclusively to meeting his emotional and physical needs — at the expense of her own.
A groomer takes pleasure in skillfully causing pain to increase his sense of control in keeping her anxiously focused on not upsetting or angering him.
There are six main stages to grooming:
- Targeting the victim
- Gaining the victims trust
- Filling a need
- Isolating the victim
- Sexualizing the relationship
- Maintaining control
The groomer /offender goes beyond typical pick-up lines and uses language in such a way as to
- Gain the victims complete and unquestioning trust.
- Isolate her from others, so he possesses exclusive rights to her attention.
- Threaten and intimidate her to give in to his demands without questioning him.
- Blame her for any abuse he commits against her, himself or others.
- Treat her as an object that does not have feelings, wants, thoughts. etc., of her own.
- Make her feel like he’s doing her a favor by keeping her around.
- Reinforce his position as “the boss.”
The bad news is that this can even happen in a marriage.
An ”emotional groomer uses some or all of the following tactics to maintain control:
Jealousy and possessiveness – He lets her know she his “territory” and that it is natural for him to ensure no one else is “messing” with her mind or body. This reflects an insatiable neediness to be in control, and to have her attention completely focused on him, his needs, and so on.
Use of insecurity – He vacillates between: (1) acting insecure, seeking pity, or asking for constant reassurance of her love and loyalty; and (2) instilling her with a sense of insecurity, making her think that no one else wants her, that she is stupid, or incapable of caring for herself, and so on.
Anger powered by blame – He uses outbursts of anger to get what he wants and makes her think she’s to blame for his anger outbursts, and that, unless she gives in to his demands, her life will be miserable. (This can be potentially dangerous, if the anger becomes an addictive pattern associated with a “high” or a rush of power, even more so in cases where a pattern forms of first hurting her, then getting sex as a reward.)
Intimidation – Similar to anger, he uses an array of “don’t mess with me or else” tactics, which can be scary words, facial expressions, or physical gestures, or even sexually suggestive behaviors, all of which serve his intention to keep her at a perceived lower status than him, where she fears harm or disapproval.
Accusations – He turns minor or innocent events into occasions to accuse her of betrayal, disloyalty, etc. — and may even make up lies to falsely accuse her just to play with her mind. This again stems from a neediness to have her anxiously focused on him, on his pain, hurts, or need for her to assure him that he is the “only one” that matters to her, etc. (This can put children at risk of neglect, abuse, etc., in cases where the groomer demands that his needs take excessive priority over the children’s.)
Flattery – He knows how to use language to impress, give compliments, appear trustworthy, and so on, providing it serves his purpose. Thus, he knows how to make her think she is the greatest (but only to him). This differs from praise, in that it is shallow, insincere, and often sexually graphic, inappropriate and unwanted. It may also occur only when the goal is to get sex or position himself to keep her dependent on him in a perceived competition with another a source of care and protection, i.e., her family.
Status – He uses his status, i.e., popularity, career or athletic success to lure her into giving sex, and makes it known that, by giving her his time and attention, he is doing her a favor. A groomer also seeks to maintain his status with other males by being sexual, i.e., boasting how sexed up he is, how much sex he gets, how many women are after him, etc.
Bribery – He buys material things with the expectation that he is then entitled to get sex as “pay back” for spending “his” money on her.
These thought control tactics are part of the grooming process, designed to shape her beliefs so that they conform to promoting his personal aims for her to make him ‘feel’ that he is superior, entitled, and in possession of her emotional needs for his own. The beliefs he seeks to instill include, that:
- Sex is proof of or equates to love.
- It is normal to have a sustained, intense sexual desire.
- She is defective or inferior to the extent that she wants less sex than he does.
- Sexual behavior is woman’s “duty” or “responsibility” to men.
- Sex is the ultimate proof of her love or “loyalty and devotion.”
- It’s normal for him to be in charge of her wants, body and activities as he knows better.
- His possessiveness is evidence of his love, care, protection (thus, she should feel grateful, beholden).
- It’s her “job” to make him “feel” that he is superior to others, more entitled, and that she makes this, and him, her focus.
Looking over these tactics, and the beliefs that drive them, it is evident that, to a great extent, they have been widely regarded, in varying degrees, among men in particular, as “normal” ways that men (or the ones with “status” or “power”) are expected to relate to women to get sex and to keep women “in their place.” This is especially true for men who consider themselves as having “traditional family” values.
What if the grooming happened online?
How to spot a cat- fish:
The following maybe signs that a person is a creep or online predator:
- A person who refuses to Skype, do face-time chats or voice chats.
- A person who’s story changes as time goes along
- A person’s story who sounds to good to be true – it usually is!
- A person who tell you they want to meet, set up the meeting and then cancels at the last moment.
Can a person be criminally charged for online grooming and extortion?
Depending on the nature of the acts of cyber bullying the perpetrator maybe criminally charged with the following criminal offences:
Crimen injuria consists of the unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity or privacy of another person. This crime can also be committed by communicating to somebody else a message containing, expressly or implicitly, an invitation to or a suggestion of sexual immorality or impropriety, or by sending indecent photos.
Assault is defined as any unlawful and intentional act or omission:
- which results in another person’s bodily integrity being directly or indirectly impaired, or
- which inspires belief or fear in another person that such impairment of his or her bodily integrity is immediately to take place.
Cyber bullying whereby the perpetrator threatens the victim with personal violence and his conduct inspires fear or a belief in the victim that such personal violence is to take place, may therefore fall within the ambit of the definition of assault.
Criminal defamation is defined as the unlawful and intentional publication of a matter concerning another, which tends to seriously injure his or her reputation. Criminal defamation includes both verbal and written defamation. It is a requirement the defamatory words must have come to the notice of someone other than the victim. If not, the perpetrator can only be charged with crimen injuria. Defamatory remarks in chat rooms, on social networking sites, e-mails, text messages or instant messages to third parties are some of the methods of committing cyber bullying that will fall within the ambit of this criminal offence.
Extortion is committed when a person unlawfully and intentionally obtains some advantage, which may be of either a patrimonial or non-patrimonial nature, from another by subjecting the latter to pressure, which induces him or her to hand over the advantage. With reference to cyber bullying, extortion may be committed where a person intentionally and unlawfully threatens to electronically distribute images about another person unless the victim hand the perpetrator the advantage.
What NOT to Do:
- Don’t trust too soon, or share too much with someone you’ve only just met. Remember the 500 000 online predators….?
- Don’t fall for false flattery, or verbal seduction. Even though you feel you have met your perfect match, the truth is no one matches you 100%. It is a red flag.
- Don’t compromise your boundaries.
- Never ever take nude photos of yourself. You never know where it will end up. The moment it is saved on your phone, it might also be saved in a cloud. Anyone can hack that. The second most stupid thing you can do is to send them to another person online.
- Don’t allow yourself to be isolated from others against your own better judgment.
- Don’t blame yourself for how the other person is behaving.
- Don’t stay in the room with another person, if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy.
- Never keep who you are talking to online a secret. Secrets are red flags. Always share with someone you trust.
What to do:
- Use caution around someone you may have only just met, who pays you too many compliments, gives you too much attention, demands too much of your time, shares too much information, or tries to swear you to secrecy.
- Don’t engage in online dating games. Predators frequent these sites, because they know vulnerable, lonely people surf there.
- Question motives. If it is to good t be true, it usually is. Block the person immediately.
- Be vigilant. Learn to pay attention to your gut, and trust those feelings to guide you.
- Remind yourself you are not to blame for what a predator is attempting to do to you.
- Learn to say no, and mean it.
- Block the person/s on your cell phone if you feel threatened.
- If the situation is serious, talk to the police. Online bullying is illegal. You can lay a criminal charge against such a person.
- Remember – any crime committed via the internet or cell phone is traceable.
If in doubt, talk to someone. Our helpline is online from Sundays: 18h00-20h00; Mondays – Thursdays 19h00-21h00. You may stay anonymous and counselling is free of charge. LIVE CHAT.