As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of trauma and PTSD, I have worked with many survivors who have unfortunately experienced sexual abuse in childhood. Today I wanted to focus on the topic of grooming which is often present in ongoing childhood sexual abuse. Sometimes survivors of childhood sexual abuse report having conflictual feelings about the abuse. I’ve had survivors share how bad they feel for the perpetrator, typically because the perpetrator instilled a sense of guilt in the survivor in order to gain power and control over them.
What is Grooming?
Grooming involves a process where a perpetrator gradually gains a child’s trust with the intention in being sexually abusive. Often, grooming may include the following:
- isolating the child
- creating secrecy around the relationship
- making the child feel guilt
- threatening a child with physical harm in order to keep them from telling.
Often grooming begins very subtly. Sometimes the perpetrator may shower the child with gifts and make them feel special and cared for. This can create confusion among children because there are often good times that go along with the abuse. Children may have be given special privileges by their abuser or feel that they are treated with favoritism. Grooming tactics can also be used on a child’s caregiver in order to gain alone time with the child. Grooming is deceptive by nature which often leads the abuse to continue.
Often perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are individuals who are close to their families. They may be a sports coach, a doctor, a relative, or a trusted friend. Abusers are able to exploit children due to holding the power in relationships. Children are often smaller and less experienced than adults and perpetrators often use those power differentials to gain power and control.
Often after the stage of emotional dependence and trust occurs, the perpetrator will introduce sexualizing the relationship. This may include introducing sexualized photos or videos, creating situations where both victim and perpetrator are unclothed, or attempting to use stimulation. Once the child is entangled in the abuse, perpetrators will often use blame and manipulation to keep the child in the abusive cycle.
Effects of Grooming
Like childhood sexual abuse, grooming can create both short and long term effects on children. Children who are being abused may act out in anger more or become withdrawn and depressed. Below are some effects children may experience after being groomed:
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Drug and alcohol problems
- Difficulty coping with stress
- Guilt and shame
- Relationship problems with friends or family
What Do I Do If A Child Mentions Being Groomed?
If a child comes to a trusted adult and mentions being groomed, it is important to know how to respond appropriately. Below are some important responses to finding out a child has been groomed:
- Let them know it is not their fault
- Let them know you believe them
- Listen to what they are saying
- Report what the child has told you to law enforcement as soon as possible
- Reinforce that they did the right thing by telling
If you are struggling with childhood sexual abuse or grooming and would like to know more about Shannon’s services, please reach out today for a free consultation.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.