What is “Grooming” of Sexual Abuse Victims?

What is “Grooming” of Sexual Abuse Victims?

In general, sexual abuse can be defined as “… sexual behavior or a sexual act forced upon a woman, man or child without their consent.” It is widely recognized that many child sexual abuse victims will undergo a period of psychological “preparation” or behavioral “conditioning” known as grooming prior to their abuse.

In this post, the sexual abuse victims’ lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will explain “grooming” behavior from a legal standpoint and how evidence of such behavior can be used in civil lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse against their abusers.

What is grooming?

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) defines grooming as:

“… a method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him. In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. More common, though, are subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families.

“The offender may assume a caring role, befriend the child or even exploit their position of trust and authority to groom the child and/or the child’s family. These individuals intentionally build relationships with the adults around a child or seek out a child who is less supervised by adults in her/his life. This increases the likelihood that the offender’s time with the child is welcomed and encouraged.”

According to the American Bar Association’s Child Law Practice pages, the purpose of victim grooming by an abuser is to:

  • manipulate the perceptions of other adults around the child

  • manipulate the child into becoming a co-operating participant which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the child will repeatedly return to the offender.

  • reduce the likelihood of the child being believed if they do disclose.

  • reduce the likelihood of the abuse being detected.

Most recognized authorities hold that grooming of both child and adult sexual abuse victims hold that grooming occurs in 6 “stages:”

  • Stage 1: Targeting or selecting a victim.

  • Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust.

  • Stage 3: Filling a social or psychological need of the victim.

  • Stage 4: Isolating the victim.

  • Stage 5: Sexual contact.

  • Stage 6: Maintaining the abuser’s control over the victim.

Is grooming a crime?

The answer to this question depends on the laws of the state or location where the sexual abuse occurred but, again in general, grooming per se (“in and of itself)” is not a crime. However, evidence of grooming may be introduced in criminal cases to establish proof of intent to commit child sexual abuse. In civil lawsuits, where the rules of evidence are not as strict as in criminal cases, evidence of victim grooming is usually allowed since such behavior can be taken as a sign that an abuser was deliberately creating a “mindset” in the victim that would later “enable” the abuser.

Section § 2422 of the United States Criminal Code, also known as the “federal enticement statute,” makes it a federal crime to use interstate commerce, or any electronic device that facilitates interstate commerce (such as the Internet) to “… to attempt or to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce ...” any individual under 18 years of age to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any individual can be charged with a criminal offense under the laws of the state where the sexual abuse occurred.

Contacting a child sexual abuse lawyer

Despite its unfamiliarity to many victims of childhood sexual abuse, evidence of victim grooming by an abuser may be an important factor in demonstrating intent to commit abuse at some point in the future. Furthermore, if an abuser’s employer (such as the Roman Catholic Church) or sponsoring agency (such as the Boy Scouts) knew or should have known that grooming behavior was taking place and failed to investigate an allegation of grooming or to take action if an allegation was found to be true, the abuser’s employer or sponsor could be held liable for the consequences of child sexual abuse.

Many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse are unaware that they may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers, even if the abuse occurred years ago. Unfortunately, each state sets its own rules that govern time limits (“statutes of limitations”) on filing childhood sexual abuse lawsuits as well as its own definition of what constitutes sexual abuse.

If you are an adult who was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, or a parent of a child who was sexually abused, we invite you to contact the childhood sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm to arrange a confidential review of your case and a discussion of the legal options that may be available to assist you in holding the abuser accountable for their abuse.

When you contact our childhood sexual abuse victim’s lawyer your case review and discussion with our staff regarding your legal rights are always free of charge and do not obligate you to hiring us as your legal counsel. Should you later decide that a lawsuit is in your best interest, and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we are prepared to win for you.