This article was contributed by Lucy Faithfull Foundation

Lucy Faithfull Foundation believes that child sexual abuse is preventable and that we can have a society where children are free from sexual abuse and exploitation. It also runs the Stop It Now! helpline, which is available to anyone concerned about child abuse.

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Grooming: how do abusers do what they do?

criss-crossing railway lines

Photo: Ian Sane

Donald Findlater from The Lucy Faithfull Foundation offers advice to parents on how to spot the signs your child may be being groomed

Abusers operate by getting close to both children and adults – this is what we call the grooming process.

People who abuse children:

  • Often build a relationship with the child and the caring adults who want to protect them.
  • Are good at making ‘friends’ with children and those who are close to them.
  • May befriend parents who are facing difficulties, sometimes on their own.
  • May offer to baby-sit or offer support with childcare and other responsibilities.
  • Seek trusted positions in the community which put them in contact with children, such as in childcare, faith settings, schools, children’s groups and sports teams.
  • May frequent places such as arcades, playgrounds, parks, swimming baths and around schools where they can get to know children.

They are clever at silencing children

In order to keep the abuse secret, abusers may: 

  • Offer a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says ‘no’ or tells someone.
  • Make the child afraid of being hurt physically – although more often the threat is about what may happen if they tell: for example, their family breaking up or the perpetrator going to prison.
  • Play on the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, perhaps convincing them that no one will believe them. 
  • Make the child believe that he or she enjoyed it and wanted it to happen.

There may be other reasons why a child stays silent and doesn’t tell. Very young or disabled children may lack the words or means of communication to let people know what is going on. 

They sometimes develop and make use of a peer network

Perpetrators who seek to sexually abuse and exploit children and young people may seek to draw children into their social network. This may be particularly applicable to older children and teenagers who are subject to less supervision than younger children. Abusers may target children via their friends or may use older children to befriend the victim first.

Some abusers use a range of media to befriend and groom children, including text messages and social networking sites. Children who use these media without age-appropriate restrictions, supervision or monitoring can be especially vulnerable.(See our article on helping your child develop digital resilience.)

If you have concerns, seek help. Confidential help and Information is available from the Stop it Now! Helpline on 0808 1000 900

Worried your child is being groomed?

If you think your child is being groomed, or is a victim of abuse, contact NCA-CEOP immediately to discuss your concerns.

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: May 2018

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