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. 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.
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.
Who are the victims of grooming?
Men. Women. Children. Young adults. A marital spouse. The middle-aged. The elderly. The lonely and the emotionally compromised. Those whose defenses are down. Anyone with soft boundaries. In short: There is no prototypical victim. Almost 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.
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.
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. 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”. The offender seeks to be seen as a valuable part of the group and as a good match for the victim. If the offender is accepted, it minimizes 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.
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.
The groomer uses his social or personal position to gain access to victims. They usually posses a lot of charm and personality. The offender can be seen as a con-man or great guy. 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
An 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, 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. There may also an overwhelming fear of losing the emotional bond that has been established with an abuser. The victim becomes trapped, depressed or despondent.
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 NOT to Do:
- Don’t trust too soon, or share too much with someone you’ve only just met.
- Don’t fall for false flattery, or verbal seduction.
- Don’t compromise your boundaries.
- 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 if the situation becomes physically, verbally or emotionally unhealthy.
- Don’t go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret.
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.
- 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.
If in doubt, talk to someone. Our helpline is online from Sunday – Thursday 19h00-21h30. You may stay anonymous and counselling is free of charge. LIVE CHAT.