The Disturbing Art of Grooming

Monday, January 29th, 2018

If you look up the term “grooming” on a dictionary website, you’ll find a definition that sounds like this: “to get into readiness for a specific objective.”

As it applies to those who prey on children and youth, you’ll find that word to be particularly disturbing.

What exactly does grooming mean when it comes to the process of preying on the vulnerable? If you are working with children or youth, it’s important that you recognize its multiple layers:


  • Grooming is gradual. It generally occurs over a long period of time: weeks, months, or even years.
  • Grooming is calculated. In the early stages, the predator may befriend the child, pretending to be interested in similar topics or activities. In later stages, the person tests boundaries through inappropriate behavior such as jokes, backrubs, or tickling.
  • Grooming is smart. Predators recognize and learn tactics to fill a child or youth’s need for affection and attention.
  • Grooming escalates. After an initial period, the behavior of the predator goes to a new level. Examples include encouraging the child or youth to break rules and participate in risky behavior such as drugs and alcohol or viewing pornography; exchanging risqué photos; and moving from non-sexual touching to “accidental” sexual touching.
  • Grooming uses fear. In the process of grooming, the abuser may use a child’s fear, embarrassment, or guilt about what has happened to continue the abuse and/or make sure it remains a secret. The abuser may threaten the child with potential harm to family members or friends as a tactic to instill that fear.

For the predator, the objective is abuse. Grooming—no matter how long it takes—is the vehicle to achieve that abuse.

As predators prefer to work behind the scenes, it’s important to call them out and stop them in their tracks. Staff and volunteers need to be equipped to recognize and help prevent abuse in their organization.