Saturday, October 05, 2002

"Grooming" or Setting Up Your Victim

by Ken Singer, LCSW

Most offenders do not like to think or admit that they planned their offenses. The idea that you set up a situation to sexually assault a child or vulnerable adult may make you feel worse than you may already feel about yourself. However, it is vital that you recognize that the assault started in your mind before it became a reality.

The bad news about accepting that you planned or set up the assault before you carried it out may be that you have to drop the belief that "it just happened". The good news is that if you spend time thinking about assaulting before you actually do so, you have more time to stop yourself.

(A word or two here about the use of "assault", "abuse" and other terms that you may feel uncomfortable about. You may feel that what you did to your victim(s) was not "rape", "abuse", "assault" or some of the other words used in these articles. While you may believe that you were not forceful, physically hurt or threatened your victim, it is important that you not allow yourself to justify, minimize, rationalize or make excuses for what you did to someone else.

You really do not know what the impact of your behavior is on another person, especially in the long run. Offenders have described their behaviors as "loving", "gentle", "for his/her benefit", and other terms which may appear to be true on the surface, but will have detrimental consequences for the victim.
So, even if you don't believe that you "abused", "assaulted", "offended" or other terms, hold off on your need to deny the label for now.)

Setting Up or "Grooming" These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are similar. What they mean is that you had a conscious or underlying thought to become sexual with another person. If you were doing this with someone your own age, it might be called flirting. When you develop a friendship with a child, or engage him/her in physical contact that seems innocent at first, you are setting up that child for later sexual contact, abuse or assault.

Some of the ways that offenders set up their victims include:
  • Paying attention to a child who appears emotionally needy
  • Talking about sexual issues, showing adult magazines or films, letting the child know s/he can come to you for sexual information or concerns
  • "Accidentally" or purposefully exposing yourself (coming out of the bath, wearing shorts that allow a view of the genitals, openly praising nudity as "normal", etc.)
  • Giving gifts, money, taking the child places, providing alcohol or drugs
  • Telling the child that you need to examine his/her body for some reason
  • Physical contact such as wrestling, tickling, pats on the butt, etc.
  • Intrusive questions about the child's sexual development, fantasies, masturbation habits, or giving the child more information about sex than is appropriate for the child's age or developmental level
  • Bringing yourself down to the child's level of play (becoming the child's "buddy")
  • Sharing inappropriate information about yourself or relationship problems, such as marital difficulties
  • Not respecting the child's boundaries or privacy. This may be "rules" that bedroom or bathroom doors must be open, reading child's mail or diaries, going through their possessions, etc. It may also be verbal, such as intrusive questions about the child's activities or friends beyond what is appropriate for a parent to do. It may also be done by staring at the child or looking at his/her body in a way that makes him/her uncomfortable
There are other ways offenders "groom" a potential victim. While on the surface, these activities may seem innocent enough, they are often the prelude to a sexual contact with the child.

Since you have either crossed over the line from being a parent or friend of the child to assaulting him/her, (or are struggling to keep this from happening), it is important for you to become honest with yourself and with your therapist. Your honestly can reduce the likelihood of re-offending (or offending in the first place.) But remember, even when being honest, prevention of sexual offending requires a lot of soul-searching and hard work.

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