What is Child Sexual Grooming? - How Can Parents Protect Children From Sexual Grooming?

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How Can Parents Protect Children From Sexual Grooming?

How Can Parents Protect Children From Sexual Grooming?

Jul 8, 2021

In recent weeks, multiple area boarding schools have made headlines over decades-old allegations of widespread sexual abuse and misconduct. First, it was The Thacher School in Ojai, California.

In a Special Committee Report, school officials acknowledged allegations related to student sexual misconduct, harassment, and “boundary crossing” by faculty members dating back 40 years. In the report, the authors clarified that the term ‘sexual misconduct’ encompasses a “range of acts,” such as rape, sexual assault, and various forms of unwanted touching and sexual harassment.

Shortly after the Thacher report was revealed, similar allegations dating back over three decades surfaced at Cate School in Carpinteria, California.

Following a mandated reporter tip from outside the school, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a former employee over allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. Authorities stated they believe there may be additional survivors or witnesses that have yet to be located or contacted.

While Thacher and Cate are the latest scandals to emerge in Southern California, over the past year, sexual abuse in schools is a topic we’ve covered extensively on the DLG Blog.

In February, news surfaced confirming that The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, faces over a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct dating back 30 years.

Here in Glendale, three separate incidents involving school/teacher sexual abuse have been reported recently:

  • Brett Mohr, a teacher at Glendale Adventist Academy since 1998, was arrested and charged with multiple felony counts related to inappropriate conduct with students.
  • In 2013, Valerie Jane Gonzales, a private vocal instructor at Glendale Adventist Academy, was sentenced to a year in county jail for allegedly engaging in lewd acts with a male high school student.
  • In 2018, Jacqueline Nicole Muller, a teacher from Salem Lutheran School, was arrested for having unprotected sex on multiple occasions with an underage student.

Cases of teacher or coach sexual abuse are on the rise not just here in California but around the country. A recent study issued by the Education Department confirmed that reports of sexual violence in schools rose more than 50% between the 2015-2016 school year and the 2017-2018 school year. And in 2015, 3.5 million students in 8th-11th grade reported sexual contact with an adult.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), many child sexual abuse cases are preceded by grooming. Through understanding sexual grooming and learning to identify such behaviors on the part of teachers, coaches, clergy, relatives, etc., parents can help protect their children from potential abuse.

Below we’ll review what sexual grooming entails, discuss how to identify the warning signs, and provide information on your family’s legal options in the event of an incident.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

What is Child Sexual Grooming?

What is Child Sexual Grooming?

The ABA defines sexual grooming as “a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive.” When sexual grooming occurs, the victim is typically a child, teen, or vulnerable adult.

Grooming can entail building a relationship, trust, and an emotional connection with a child or young person with the intent to manipulate, exploit, and abuse that individual. Groomers take these steps in an effort to gain access to (and time alone with) children.

In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. In most instances, however, subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families are utilized by the groomer.

The predator may assume a caring role – befriending the child or even exploiting their position of trust and authority to groom him/her (and/or the child’s family). Sexual groomers may attempt to build a relationship with the young person’s family or friends – going to great lengths make themselves seem trustworthy or authoritative. Parents are cautioned to always remain vigilant, understanding that anyone (at any time) can be a sexual predator.

As the ABA notes, sexual predators use grooming to intentionally build relationships with the adults around a child or seek out a child who is less supervised by parents or guardians. This increases the likelihood that the offender’s time with the child is welcomed and encouraged by the adults.

Children and young people who are victims of grooming are often sexually abused, exploited, or trafficked. Anyone can commit sexual grooming – regardless of their age, gender, race, occupation, or social status.

Furthermore, grooming can occur over any period of time. Some predators take weeks to groom a victim, while others will wait years. This is an especially important point for parents, as they may be inclined to leave their guards down once becoming familiar with a teacher or coach.

What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is a form of sex abuse where predators will use their power (physical, financial, or emotional) over a child to sexually or emotionally abuse them.

Sexual exploitation is a serious threat to children and young people of all ages and backgrounds.

In the majority of cases, child sexual exploitation entails situations and relationships where young people will receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money, etc.) in return for participating in sexual acts. Child sexual exploitation can occur in person or online, and in some cases the child or young person may not even realize they are a victim.

What is the Objective of Child Sexual Grooming/Exploitation?

Sexual predators will use grooming tactics in an effort 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

What are the Different Types of Child Sexual Grooming?

In the United Kingdom, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) works to protect children from sexual predators. According to the NSPCC, parents and guardians should be aware of the various types of child sexual grooming.

The relationship a groomer builds with a child can take many different forms, such as:

  • A romantic relationship
  • A mentor
  • An authority figure
  • A dominant and persistent figure

A groomer will often use the same sites, games, and apps as young people, taking time to learn about a young person’s interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Children can be groomed online through:

  • Social media networks
  • Text messages and messaging apps (like Whatsapp)
  • Email
  • Text, voice, and video chats (through forums, games, and apps)

What Tactics Will a Sexual Groomer Use?

Whether online or in person, groomers frequently use specific tactics, such as:

  • Pretending to be younger
  • Giving advice or showing understanding
  • Buying gifts
  • Giving attention
  • Taking children on trips, outings, or holidays

Sexual Groomers Can Come in Many Forms

While children and young people can be groomed online, in person, or both, sexual grooming can be committed by either a stranger or someone the child knows well.

A child sexual groomer could be a family member, a friend, or person in a position of authority who has specifically targeted the child – like a teacher, sports coach, or clergy member. When a child is groomed online, a groomer may attempt to conceal their identity by sending photos or videos of other people. These photos/videos can be of someone younger than them in an effort to gain the trust of a “peer,” according to the NSPCC. Moreover, groomers might target one child online or contact multiple children very quickly and wait for them to respond.

Groomers are also known to make efforts to isolate children from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them (which gives the groomer power and control). Child sexual groomers might use blackmail to make a victim feel guilt and shame, or introduce the idea of ‘secrets’ to control, frighten, and intimidate.

As the NSPCC notes, it’s important – particularly for parents – to remember that children and young people may not understand they’ve been groomed (or are being groomed). Children may have complicated feelings, such as loyalty, admiration, and love for the adult groomer. Additionally, feelings of fear, distress, and confusion on the part of the child victim can complicate the situation (again giving power and control to the groomer).

Understanding Sexual Grooming Behaviors

According to the ABA, the key to understanding the concept of sexual grooming is recognizing common behaviors that predators utilize while applying these tactics on victims for sexual abuse. Common sexual grooming behaviors are often subtle and may not appear inappropriate to the untrained eye.

These behaviors may include:

  • An adult seeming overly interested in a child
  • An adult frequently initiating or creating opportunities to be alone with a child (or multiple children)
  • An adult becoming fixated on a child
  • An adult giving special privileges to a child (e.g. rides to and from practices, etc.)
  • An adult befriending a family and showing more interest in building a relationship with the child than with the adults
  • An adult displaying favoritism towards one child within a family
  • An adult finding opportunities to buy a child gifts
  • An adult catering to the interests of the child, so a child or the parent may initiate contact with the offender
  • An adult displaying age and gender preferences

As DLG’s in-house Chief Investigator and retired LAPD sex crimes detective, Moses Castillo, noted in an interview for a previous blog, parents need to remember that sexual groomers aren’t typically strangers.

“The majority of sexual predators aren’t strangers, but someone close to the child and the child’s family. Whether it’s a coach, teacher, clergy member, family friend, or even a close relative, most childhood sexual abuse is committed by a familiar face,” says Detective Castillo.

Castillo also notes that the grooming behaviors outlined by the ABA should be red flags for concerned parents.

“If an adult makes regular efforts to spend more time (typically alone) with your child than you do as their parent, that’s a red flag. Premeditated attempts to get a child alone – whether to go out for ice cream, take a trip to an amusement park, the movies, etc. – are situations that can be conducive to sexual abuse.”

Furthermore, Castillo notes that parents need to be cognizant of the fact that sexual predators will often attempt to groom them when they’re most vulnerable.

“Not only do predators groom children to earn trust, they also groom parents/guardians – oftentimes they will target kids who come from broken homes, without established support networks, and do their best to fill that void in the child’s life,” Castillo says.

“They’ll shower the child with gifts, praise, etc. And it’s a methodical process that can span weeks, months, or even years. Once there’s a mutual comfort level established, and a sense of trust, that’s when the predator will likely make a move. And it won’t necessarily be a sexual act initially. Predators often test the waters slowly – it might be a massage or a hug at first, and then progress into viewing pornographic images or videos. Once that behavior becomes normalized, the predator will move on to more aggressive acts.”

What Are the Warning Signs of Sexual Grooming in Children?

According to the NSPCC, it can often be difficult for parents to tell if a child is being groomed. The signs aren’t always obvious, and groomers go to great lengths to keep them hidden. Moreover, older children might behave in ways that appear to be “normal” teenage behavior, further masking underlying problems.

Some possible signs of child sexual grooming that parents should be aware of include:

  • Being very secretive about how they’re spending their time, including when online
  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
  • Underage drinking or drug taking
  • Spending more or less time online or on their devices
  • Being upset, withdrawn, or distressed
  • Sexualized behavior, language, or an understanding of sex that’s not appropriate for their age
  • Spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time

It is unlikely that a child will know that they’re being groomed. However, if parents explain the process and educate children to the fact that grooming not only exists but is quite prevalent, they’ll be less likely to fall victim to these tactics.

When grooming occurs, a child might be worried or confused, and therefore less likely to speak to an adult they trust. For parents who are concerned but not sure of how to talk to their children, we’ve outlined some possible recommendations.

How to Talk to Children About Grooming

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is proud to be a member of RAINN’s (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) National Leadership Council. The following preventative steps outlined by RAINN can be helpful in reducing child sexual grooming:

  • Show interest in your children’s daily lives. Ask about what they do during the day, who they sit with at lunch, and what they do after school.
  • Get to know the people who influence your children. Find out who they spend time with, who their friends’ parents are, and what they think about their teammates and coaches.
  • Screen caregivers carefully. This includes, for example, babysitters and those in charge of after-school activities.
  • Talk about sexual violence portrayed and discussed in the media. Ask children whether they have ever heard about an act of sexual abuse happening to someone else, and what they would do if they found themselves in a compromising situation.
  • Teach children about boundaries. Clearly explain that no one – including relatives – has the right to touch their private parts or otherwise make them feel sexually uncomfortable.
  • Teach children how to talk about their bodies. Children should learn the correct names for all body parts at an early age, which will encourage them to speak up if something happens.
  • Make yourself available to talk AND listen. Let children know they can come to you without fear of punishment if they have questions or someone is making them uncomfortable.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Questions like “Is there anything else you want to talk about?” are more likely to prompt discussion than yes/no questions like “did you have a good time?”

As DLG’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, notes, parents need to understand that child sexual groomers often purposefully seek out certain positions.

“It’s important to remember that sexual predators are notorious for seeking out positions (whether as a professional or volunteer) that allow them access to children. Granted, 95% of coaches, teachers, clergy, volunteers at religious institutions, etc. are likely upstanding citizens. But parents need to be aware that there’s no standard model for a sexual predator. A predator can be any of age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.,” says Dordulian.

Additionally, Dordulian advises that parents should always remain vigilant and never allow a person’s position of authority skew perspective.

“One major problem I consistently encounter with parents is their tendency to automatically view these individuals as sort of noble citizens. They don’t appreciate the potential predator instinct any random coach, teacher, clergy member, or even close friend or relative could have. I often tell parents about a case I was involved in as a Deputy District Attorney, where a teacher openly admitted that he chose the profession in order to have unlimited access to children. So, it’s important for parents to be aware that any professional who has direct private access to their children could potentially be a predator. Without encouraging paranoia, you do, in a sense, almost have to be on constant alert, because it can impact any child of any age/gender at any time. It’s not by accident that these people became teachers or coaches or clergy, it’s by design,” says Dordulian.

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Getting Justice After a Child Sexual Grooming Incident

If your child has been the victim of sexual grooming, you and your family deserve swift justice. A sexual abuse civil lawsuit serves as a means for children and their families to obtain justice by recovering financial compensation from the offender.

At Dordulian Law Group (DLG), we offer a unique and multi-faceted form of legal expertise that can’t be found elsewhere. Founded by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, DLG is California’s top-rated and award-winning firm with the experience and proven results that provide children and their families peace of mind and confidence throughout the stressful legal process.

As a Deputy District Attorney, Dordulian helped obtain life sentences against some of the community’s most dangerous sexual predators. Today, he uses that experience – including over 100 jury trial victories – to help survivors of sexual abuse secure the maximum financial compensation they deserve.

In addition to unparalleled expert legal representation, DLG provides survivors with an investigative team led by a retired LAPD sex crimes detective, as well as a support team featuring a licensed clinical therapist with over 15 years of experience and two nationally accredited victim advocates who have dedicated their lives to helping survivors in need.

DLG’s SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts) provides a unique and all-encompassing type of legal representation offering access to multiple resources and advantages.

When searching for a sexual abuse attorney to secure justice against a grooming predator, families should be selective and conduct extensive research to ensure their claim is only in the very best hands. DLG’s 98% success record and history of recovering more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts are indications of the kind of dedication and personalized commitment we make to each and every client.

If your family has endured a tragic sexual grooming incident, don’t settle for just any firm. Choose the leading child sex crime attorneys in the Los Angeles, California-area – choose DLG and all of our added resources and advantages.

Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for a free consultation. We’ll fight to secure the justice you deserve and recover a maximum financial damages award.

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