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Child Grooming

Child Grooming

Written by Sheri Lopez

Human Trafficking Survivor and founder of the non-profit – ‘Pearl at the Mailbox’ in honor of the woman who rescued her from a 7-year journey of being trafficked starting at the age of 15.

 

Pearl at the Mailbox is on a mission to educate about the child grooming process, what it is, how it happens and what to do if you suspect it.

 

 

Child Grooming

Child grooming is a form of child abuse with a deliberate and methodical process of exploitation. The goal of the groomer is to build a trusting and emotional relationship with a child which leads to the final goal of abusing and exploiting the child. The grooming process can take weeks to months to accomplish.


Often a child that is being groomed does not realize what is happening, because child grooming follows the normal process of building a relationship, just like a friendship.


Parents have primary responsibility to protect their children from all forms of harm, however, when a child is being groomed it is easy for parents to not notice changes with their child in the initial stages of grooming.


Unfortunately, child grooming is one of the most distressing experiences a child can endure, and sadly is on the rise in today’s world. 


Children are mainly groomed for sexual exploitation; however, they can also be groomed for free labor, drug trafficking, pan-handling, stealing and more.


Children can be groomed online or in person. An online grooming relationship will often turn into an in person one. However, some children are trafficked right from their own home without being touched by another person. This form of trafficking is done through pictures and online streaming of the child stripping or performing sexual acts while pedophiles watch.

 

Risk:

All children are at risk for child grooming. However, child groomers tend to look for children with the following vulnerabilities.

  • Children who lack self-confidence or come across as insecure, shy, or lack friends.

  • Children whose parents are always busy or do not play a key role in their lives.

  • Children who have chaotic home environments, including physical or emotional abuse or lack of supervision.

  • Children with disabilities or unable to understand appropriate affection and touch.

  • Children who feel neglected or invisible at home or seek emotional support and understanding through others.

  • Children that come from a stable home but feel disconnected from their parents and siblings.

  • Children who are depressed, lonely or seek validation from others.

  • Children who are looking for a group to belong to.

  • Young children who have not established personal boundaries.

  • Lack of supervision online, apps, phones.

  • Socially isolated children with little interaction with peers.

 

Stages of grooming: 

Often the grooming process follows a step-by-step process, however not all steps listed have to occur for your child to be groomed or trafficked.

 

Victim selection: a groomer will take their time looking for the child that will be easier to “mold” and create a seemingly caring relationship with.

 

Filling a need: a groomer is looking for a child that they can meet a need or want that the child has and fill that vulnerability. Whether it be attention, affection, material items, popularity, freedom, validation of worth or seeking love and belonging.

 

Building a relationship: a groomer is like a chameleon. They usually have charming personalities that make a child feel comfortable around them in most environments and situations. The groomer will spend money on the child and do what they need to do to make the child believe that they are in a caring and loving relationship.

 

Isolation: eventually the groomer will start to remove the child emotionally from their base support system and become the one person they trust most. The groomer will do all they can to become their one source of trust and create the narrative that the child’s parents do not care for them, love them, or understand them the way the groomer does.

 

Desensitization: throughout the entire grooming process the groomer is doing what is needed to desensitize the child to sex, touch, and self-respect.

 

Selling: The end goal of the groomer is to sell the child for money and that is what they will do.

 

Warning Signs:

·       Child spends a lot of time on their online devices.

·       Child does not want to talk about or show you what they do online.

·       Child uses online devices in their room or private spaces only.

·       Child has new gifts and won’t tell you where they got them.

·       Child becomes secretive and disrespectful.

·       Child changes the way they dress, uses more makeup to look older or dresses inappropriate for their age.

·       Child may have a second phone.

·       Child may constantly text.

·       Child does not follow curfew.

·       Child lies often and gets caught but won’t tell you the truth.

·       Child may tell you they are going to be one place but then go somewhere else.

·       Child seeks constant attention and validation.

·       Child no longer abides by the household rules.

·       Child appears depressed or emotionally withdrawn.

·       Child’s personality drastically changes over time.

·       Younger children or those with disabilities that are not able to share what is happening may start wetting their bed, having outbursts of anger, sadness, self-harm, depression or become withdrawn.


What to do: 

Listen to what your child shares:

Understand and be patient with your child, as sharing something so traumatic is very difficult. Thank them for coming to you and letting them know that they are safe and that you love them.

 

Never shame or blame them:

Remember, your child is a victim. They did not want this to happen to them. They were most likely so deep into the grooming or trafficking process before they even realized what was happening to them.

 

Keep your cool:

It is natural to want to get upset when your child tells you what’s been happening, however, displaying dramatic emotions will often cause the child to pull back into a self-protection mode and can possibly stop sharing.

 

Ask for details:

It is important to write down as many details your child shares with you. Allow your child to lead the conversation and don’t force details out of them. They are in a vulnerable place sharing with you what has been happening and it takes a lot of courage for them to share. Keep in mind that not all details of the abuse will be revealed at one time. Therefore, be patient and continue to enforce the fact that they are safe and loved.

 

Remove the child:

Once you know who the groomer is, you must ensure that your child has no further interaction with the person. This means taking all social media devices away so the groomer cannot contact the child. If the groomer is associated with the child’s school, social events, or sporting events, unenroll your child immediately.

 

Report the Abuse:

Contact your local police department and let them do the investigation. Never contact the perpetrator yourself.

 

 

Prevention:

Teach proper names for body parts.

 

Establish an open line of communication with your child at an early age.

 

Make sure you spend a minimum of 30 minutes with your child just talking about their day and listening to what they say. That means putting phones down.

 

If your child likes to spend a lot of time alone in their room, establish required family time and go to dinner or play games without distractions.

 

Teach your child what a healthy relationship looks like.

 

Teach your child what an unhealthy relationship looks like and if they think they are in one help them get out.

 

Meet your child’s friends and their parents and get their phone numbers.

 

Never hesitate to follow up on your child.

 

Be the parent and enforce your home rules. You can be your child’s friend when they become adults.

 

Know your child’s principal, teachers, coaches, etc. and have contact information.

 

Educate yourself and your child about grooming so you can spot it.

 

Child grooming is an uncomfortable conversation to have but is a necessary one, as there are predators out there constantly on the lookout for the next child to groom and sell. Remember, no child is immune, so don’t give yourself a false sense of confidence that your child will never be groomed because you have a stable home, with rules, your child behaves and doesn’t appear to be in trouble.

 

Everyone has heard about ‘Stranger Danger’ in public. Now we must teach our children about ‘Stranger Danger online’ and learn and understand what groomers are and how they operate to stop grooming if suspected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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