So.. What is Grooming?

Shiloh Connor
4 min readApr 6, 2023

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Photo by Diego San on Unsplash

So, over the past year or so, the term grooming has become incredibly vague and ubiquitous. It’s used as an accusation against drag queens who read to kids, against teachers who educate kids, and against doctors who provide medically lifesaving care. And this widespread misuse of the word appears in leftist communities as well- accusing problematic youtubers of ‘grooming’ their audience en masse, which.. Isn’t how that works.

But if that’s not what grooming is.. Then what is grooming? How does it work? What does it look like?

Let’s talk about it.

Sexual grooming is a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. The victim is usually a child, teen, or Vulnerable Adult.

What is considered a Vulnerable Adult?

Well, let’s try using the Oregon State law as an example Here in the good old PNW, a Vulnerable Person is defined as the following-

  • An elderly person, ages 65 or older
  • A “financially incapable” person — as defined by ORS 125.005 as: “a condition in which a person is unable to manage financial resources of the person effectively for reasons including, but not limited to, mental illness, mental retardation, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs or controlled substances, chronic intoxication, confinement, detention by a foreign power or disappearance.”
  • An “incapacitated” person — as defined by ORS 125.005 as: “a condition in which a person’s ability to receive and evaluate information effectively or to communicate decisions is impaired to such an extent that the person presently lacks the capacity to meet the essential requirements for the person’s physical health or safety.”
  • A “person with a disability” who is susceptible to force, threat, duress, coercion, persuasion or physical or emotional injury because of the person’s physical or mental impairment

Or, to dispense with the legalese? A disabled, mentally ill, impoverished, elderly, and or otherwise socially disadvantaged person.

This is an important thing to remember- adults can be groomed too. Not as easily as children and teens are- after all, younger victims are undeveloped, and are therefore far more malleable to the manipulations of abusers. But adults are not immune to this either.

Understanding sexual grooming can help professionals prevent sexual abuse before it occurs. Evidence of sexual grooming can be used to convict offenders and substantiate allegations of sexual abuse where a victim’s testimony is unclear.This was why in 2021, the ABA validated something called the Sexual Grooming Model, which helps detail and articulate the different aspects and stages of sexual grooming.

Aspects of sexual grooming often include:

  • Victim Selection
  • Gaining private social access to the victim
  • Isolating the victim
  • Developing trust
  • Desensitizing the victim to the sexual preferences of the groomer
  • Mid-Abuse and Post-Abuse Maintenance

The purpose of grooming is:

  • To manipulate the perceptions of other adults around the victim.
  • To manipulate the victim into becoming a co-operating participant.
  • To reduce the likelihood of the victim being believed.
  • To reduce the likelihood of the abuse being detected.

Grooming may take place in numerous settings:

  • In-person
  • via the Internet
  • In institutional settings like schools, mental hospitals, or the workplace.
  • Anywhere that a power dynamic can be established, can be a place where grooming can take place.

In cases of child sexual abuse, an adult will show favoritism to a child in order to abuse them later in the relationship. In some situations, an abuser may also groom the victim’s family or friends for the purposes of more frequent access. With adult victims, however, this involves inserting oneself into the victim’s social circles, or drawing the victim into the abuser’s core social space.

Grooming typically takes place before any abuse occurs. However, abusers may continue to use grooming tactics to further manipulate the victim while abusing them- a way of maintaining the control over their target.

Sexual predators often groom and exploit children. They may give their victims gifts, drugs, money, status and affection. In return, they demand sex acts. As part of their exploitation, victims are often tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship. That the dynamic is normal, healthy, and even important.

Additionally, a victim may use the trust gained during grooming to rationalize their abuse. For example, a victim may view the relationship as romantic rather than abusive. Even adult survivors may struggle to recognize their childhood experiences as abuse.

Today, many abusers use technology to make their process easier. Common platforms used for grooming include:
- Social media apps
- Texting or messaging apps
- Online forums or chat rooms
- Email
- Chat features in video games

Technology offers abusers anonymity. Abusers can easily hide behind the mask of a phone number, email address, or online profile. They may pretend to be younger, or lie about their identity to build trust with a victim. Once trust is established, they can escalate the abuse. Online groomers target children on sites and platforms popular with young people. On social media, online groomers will often target a number of young or vulnerable people at any one time by sending out friend requests to see who responds.

Through online forums and online games, they may strike up a conversation to build a relationship with a victim and ask them to continue talking on another platform or chat privately.

Key to understanding the concept of sexual grooming is recognizing common behaviors that predators use while grooming victims for sexual abuse. Common sexual grooming behaviors are often subtle and may not appear inappropriate. These often include displays of favoritism, getting close with the victim’s loved ones in order to appear safer, and especially with children can involve catering to the child’s interests- but will always involve isolating the victim from their peers at some point in the process.

Learning to understand grooming is an incredibly important part of protecting ourselves and eachother from predators.

Let’s educate ourselves, and eachother.

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Shiloh Connor

Freelance Artist, Writer, and Activist looking to start a conversation!