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Help protect children from sexual abuse: Know the grooming process

When instances of sexual abuse are uncovered in organizations, it’s easy to wonder how such disturbing behavior went unnoticed. But most offenders are skilled at blending in and staying under the radar, regardless of whether they interact with children in virtual or in-person environments. 

Offenders follow a grooming process to select and prepare a child for inappropriate sexual contact. When your staff understands how an abuser’s grooming process works, they will be better equipped to spot warning signs – and intervene. 

1. Gaining access 

In this step, the offender: 

  • Seeks out career or volunteer opportunities related to children. 

  • Gains your staff’s trust by appearing helpful, trustworthy and kind. 

  • Knows what children want and need – often buying them gifts. 

  • Skillfully communicates with them online and offline. 

2. Selecting a child 

Offenders seek out children who exhibit these traits: 

  • Unconnected, on the fringe or in need. 

  • Looking for someone to follow or trust. 

  • From a single-parent home. 

  • Interested in alcohol, drugs or pornography. 

3. Introducing nudity and sexual touch 

Once the offender has been able to isolate the child, these activities often occur to test and erode the child’s barriers: 

  • Sexual discussion and joking. 

  • Playful touch and “accidental nudity.” 

  • Acceptance/encouragement of nudity as “cool.” 

  • Images or videos depicting nudity/sexual activity readily available. 

4. Keeping the victim silent 

Offenders try to prevent their victims from telling others about the abuse through these methods: 

  • Emphasizing secrecy. 

  • Capitalizing on the child’s feelings of shame and embarrassment. 

  • Issuing threats (direct or subtle). 

Sadly, it often takes seven times for a child to tell someone they are being abused before an investigation begins. When a child shares something that indicates potential sexual abuse, report it immediately. 

To learn more about abuse prevention and what your organization can do to proactively reduce this highly sensitive risk, visit