6 Perpetrator Grooming Behaviors Every Parent Needs to Know

Most often sexual predators are not those scary men who lurk around playgrounds looking for opportunities. In fact, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 90% of children who are sexually abused know their perpetrator.

Sexual predators are anywhere and everywhere. They are charismatic every day people who easily earn the trust of others. They could be a staff member at your child’s school. They could be your child’s coach or music instructor. They could be at your church.  They could be the nanny. They could be your very own family member.

The truth is that sexual predators look and act like normal people. It can be difficult to pick them out of a group of people. However, all is not lost.

There is one thing that almost every sexual predators have in common: They often use certain behaviors to groom a child for abuse. These behaviors are always methodical, subtle, gradual, and escalating (meaning they intensify as time goes by).  We typically refer to these behaviors as grooming behaviors.

While this might seem frightening to think about, knowing these grooming patterns will tell you how to identify grooming behavior, strengthen your parenting intuition, and help significantly lower the risk of your child being sexually abused.

Six common features of perpetrator’s grooming behaviors that every parent needs to know:

  1. Forming Relationships

    Sexual perpetrators seek to form relationships with children. They usually spend their spare time with children and tend to be more interested in forming relationships with children than adults.

    Many times they will single out one child as “special” and give him or her extra attention and gifts as a way to form a bond between them. They will take a special interest in a child’s look and dress and may take excessive pictures of the child.

  2. Testing Boundaries

    Sexual predators will try to test the boundaries of your child’s comfort levels. Sometimes they will say off-colored or sexualized jokes to see how the child will respond. They may try to play sexualized games such as pants-ing, truth or dare or strip games.

    Many times they will see how the child reacts when the perpetrator enters a child’s room or normal places where children are expected to have privacy, such as the restroom.

    Perpetrators thrive in secrecy, and testing boundaries helps him/her know if they can continue without being caught.

  3. Touching

    Perpetrators try to test the boundaries of touch with your child. They usually begin with non-sexual touches such as hand-fives and hugging. Then they may slowly progress to inappropriate touching such as accidentally grazing a private part of the body to see how the child will react. Many times, they will kiss and have the child sit on their lap.

    The thing to note is they will move from very innocent touching and progress to more sexual touching in order to test the reaction of the child.

  4. Intimidating

    Perpetrators use intimidation in order to keep the child from telling another person about the abuse. They will begin by testing the child’s reaction to being blamed for something simple. They will observe to see if the child pushes back or tells an adult. Then they will progress to threatening the child or causing a child to feel a sense of guilt.

    Perpetrators often use fear or embarrassment to keep a child from telling another person about the abuse. They may use statements such as, “No one will believe you,” or threaten them with danger to keep them from telling.

  5. Sharing Material

    Sexual predators often share sexualized material in order to normalize sex. They will use sexual terms freely in the presence of children. They will show sexualized pictures or videos. Several times they will send off-colored texts or begin a sexualized relationship through messaging or texting first.

  6. Communicating Secretly

    Perpetrators will look for any communication channel to communicate with a child secretly. Often these interactions begin online.

    Perpetrators also test secret keeping. They will tell a child a secret and see if they tell. They will play secret keeping games. They often encourage texting, emailing and all calls to be secret. Remember predators thrive in darkness and secrets, so they will always encourage the child to keep everything silent.

A Disclaimer

It is common to read these common grooming behaviors and identify people who do some of these things, but that doesn’t automatically make them a perpetrator. It would be terrible for you to start accusing every person you see. The goal of talking and being informed about abuser grooming signs is to strengthen your intuition and help you be on alert.

With that said, if you ever see these perpetrator behaviors, you can use a strategy we call confronting with kindness to help protect your child. Confronting with kindness includes a couple of steps:

  1. Pull the person you want to confront aside and explain the boundaries you have established for your child and why you have them.
  2. Ask them to support you in those boundaries.

If the individual did the behavior innocently, they will likely be very apologetic and in the future keep those boundaries. If the individual is, in fact, a perpetrator, they will be put on high alert, and it is rare that they would continue to groom your child. If perpetrators know you are watching, they will usually stop targeting your child.

The number one thing to remember is that you are responsible to stay informed, and also take an active part in your child’s life.

You can do this. The simple actions you take to stay informed can be the very things that protect your child from danger.