What is Grooming and how can I protect my child?
On 20 March 2023 7-News reported that Bruce and Denise Morcombe’s grandson aged 6 was involved in a possible grooming incident. This report made many people ask what is grooming and how can I protect my child from it? (4),
Grooming can be described as the preparation stage of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The purpose is to gain the trust of the young person. The grooming process further establish secrecy and silence to avoid possible disclosure. Grooming can take place online or face-to-face (3).
Grooming behaviour involves a perpetrator making use of manipulating behaviour to gain the trust of the child and to ultimately exert their power over them. In Australia most states and territories classify grooming as a serious offence that is punishable by law. Vulnerable children are specifically targeted. It is a fact that children who are vulnerable have the tendency to respond to any form of attention.
Targeted children are generally exposed to some of the following risk factors:
- Does not have a strong support system.
- Is a loner.
- Is isolated.
- Family issues for example domestic violence, family violence and divorce (3).
What does the law in Queensland say about grooming?
It is a criminal offence if there is any form of sexual contact between an adult and a child under 16. As from 2020 grooming is a punishable offence in Queensland. The maximum penalty for grooming a child is 5 years and for a child under 12 years it is raised to 10 years (1).
Generally grooming has many forms but follows the same pattern.
- Choice of victim.
A key reason for the choice of victim is due to ease of access and vulnerability.
- Getting access and isolating the child.
They will attempt to isolate the child physically and emotionally from the people who are protecting them and seek reasons they can have contact with the child.
- Build trust and keep secrets.
Giving gifts, attention and sharing secrets are the means they use to build trust with the victim. These actions make the victim feel that they have a caring relationship, and this motivate them to keep the relationship a secret.
- Becoming desensitized to touch and discussion of sexual topics.
Touch generally starts harmless, such as hugging and tickling but with time it escalates to more sexual contact such as massages and showering together. Perpetrators will in most cases show the victim pornographic material and discuss sexual topics, the perpetrator do this so that they can introduce sexual contact (6).
When you are worried that your child is being groomed:
- Trust your instincts if something does not feel right.
- Keep the child away from the person you are worries about till you have more information.
- Watch out for signs your child is being groomed.
- Do not let that person be alone with your child.
- Do not allow the person to do favours for your family.
- Ask families who know the person what their relationship with the person is like.
- Encourage your child to talk by asking questions like “Is anything worrying you?” or “Are you ok?” (7).
Signs of grooming.
It is not easy to tell if a child is being groomed. The signs are not always obvious and with teenager some of the signs may be viewed at “normal” teenage behaviour.
Some of the signs of a child being groomed might include:
- Secrecy how they spent their time, this includes online.
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Having money and /or new things like clothes and technology that they cannot or would not explain.
- Being upset, withdrawn, or distressed.
- Sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that is not appropriate for their age.
- Spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
A child may not know that they are being groomed, if you worry that your child might be groomed, it might be helpful to see a counsellor to help you to have those difficult conversations with your child of let the counsellor speak to the child. In some cases, the child might find it easier to discuss their worries and concerns with a counsellor than a parent (5).
What to say when your child tells you they were groomed?
- Listen to what the child is telling you.
- Praise them for telling you.
- Re-assure them that it is not their fault.
- Tell them that you are taking what they told you very serious.
- Do not confront the alleged perpetrator.
- Explain to the child what you are going to do next.
- Report what the child told you as soon as possible (5).
Who might be involved in grooming?
Anyone can engage in this behaviour. Grooming is not gender specific. Perpetrators can include older children, relatives, family, friends, neighbours, strangers, professionals, people from the family’s place of worship, early childhood educators and teachers (7).
How can a counsellor help?
Counselling gives a person a safe and confidential space to talk about their feelings and emotions. The counsellor will help the client explore how they might have been affected by their experiences. Therapy can help them to understand and deal with upsetting issues, feelings, emotions, and problems (8).
In conclusion, this is a very complex issue that demands attention and action from society. By creating awareness, implementing preventative measures, and offering support to victims we can work towards eradicating grooming and creating a safer environment for everyone in our community.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Aitken Whyte Lawyers, Grooming and Procuring a child online, https://www.awbrisbanelawyers.com.au/
- Australian Catholic University, what is grooming? https://safeguardingchildren.acu.edu.au/understanding-abuse/what-is-grooming
- Bravehearts, what is grooming? https://bravehearts.org.au/about-child-sexual-abuse/what-is-grooming/
- 7News, 20/03/2023, Parents of murdered schoolboy Daniel Morcombe foil potential grooming of grandson, https://7news.com.au/news/qld/parents-of-murdered-schoolboy-daniel-morcombe-foil-potential-grooming-of-grandson-c-10092053
- NSPCC. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/grooming/
- RAINN, 2020, Grooming: know the warning signs. https://www.rainn.org/news/grooming-know-warning-signs
- Raising Children, Grooming: recognising the signs, https://raisingchildren.net.au 8. Rape Crisis, Counselling, https://rapecrisis.org.uk