This blog article is not an easy post to write. It’s something I never thought would happen to my family, but it has. As a result, I feel it’s imperative that I share this personal experience with you in order to educate other mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties, uncles, family friends etc about the grooming of children. What to look for, to break the myths and to follow your gut; because parents always know best.
A couple of months ago Finlee, Chloe and I had the opportunity to hang out with 12 of our closest friends for the weekend down at the Gold Coast. It was a wonderful chance to catch up with our friends as we hadn’t seen them in ages and Finlee & Chloe were missing their friends so much.
When we arrived at the campsite, I was introduced to Colby, a friend that my friends had brought with them for the weekend. Instantly when I met Colby my gut said somethings not right about this guy. He made little eye contact, had this creepy look about him and asked the kids right away to go and jump on the trampoline vs hanging out with the adults. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why my gut was saying somethings not right, but it was. I also didn’t want to be that judgemental person who wasn’t willing to give someone a chance, so I agreed in my head to be nice to Colby, but to keep a close eye on the kids.
Over the next 24 hours my gut instinct was still up, but this time I had confirmation that my gut was right. The following are some examples of things I noticed:
- Colby would only play with the younger children (1 year old, 3 year old, 4 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old and a 10 year old).
- Colby never hung out with the adults, he only hung out with the kids.
- Colby always wanted to take the kids away from the adults. For example, he would take them on the trampoline and say thing like “fall on me or tickle me.” I thought this was odd as I don’t even do this with my own kids.
- Colby also took the kids on golf cart rides, but without any adults and away from the campsite.
- When we were playing a family game of Pie Face and Colby got whip cream on his face, he looked at one of the kids and asked the child to “lick it off.”
- Colby also rubbed one of the children’s’ shoulders, kissed another child’s back and was also seeking some level of touch.
As you can imagine, I was a wreck. I was on constant watch of my children but also all the kids. Not only was my gut picking up on things, but as a mental health clinician of 13 years I’ve seen to many individuals who have suffered child abuse and I was not prepared for my kids or my friends kids to be compromised in anyway.
I could go into the details of what happened next between all the friends but that would take forever. However, in a nutshell I and another friend brought it to the attention of all the families what was going on and Colby was eventually asked to leave.
Even after all these weeks since this incident took place, I still feel sick in the guts talking about it or even thinking about what “could” have happened if I wasn’t educated about grooming of children or followed my gut instincts.
What is Grooming of Children Mean?
The act of grooming a child may include activities that are legal, but later lead to sexual contact. The grooming is done to gain the child’s trust, and the trust of those responsible for the child. Children are less likely to report a crime if it involves someone the child knows, trusts, and cares about. Also, a relationship with the family means the child’s parents will be less likely to believe any accusations.
It is important to note, that children can be groomed by male or females and this grooming can happen online or in the real world. The grooming can happen by someone a child knows (friend/family member) or by a complete stranger.
How Does Grooming of Children Happen?
Grooming typically starts by a person simply being nice to a child, giving the child more attention and in some instances buying the child gifts. All of these tactics are for the child to start building trust with the offender. Once that trust is built, the offender will abuse the trust that has been built and take advantage of the child.
If the offender is not able to gain direct access to the child, they may groom the adults first and build a relationship with the adults in order to gain access to the child
With technology taking over the world, there is an increase of grooming online. Similar to building trust with a child face to face, offenders online will try to spark up friendships with children through different social media networks (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc). They typically use fake profile pictures in order to hide their identity and often pretend to be someone else.
Signs An Adult May Be Grooming a Child
The Network of Community Activities have put together a very comprehensive list of signs an adults may be grooming a child for sexual abuse.
- Exhibit frequent physical affection such as kissing, hugging, stroking hair or wrestling even when the child clearly does not want it or it is not required.
- Encourage child or particular children to sit on their lap and offer regular physical comfort or reassurance to a particular child without a recognised cause.
- Seek out opportunities to be alone with a child with no interruptions.
- Spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with people their own age.
- Solicit invitations to sports, events or parties where a child will be.
- Frequently arrive uninvited to places where the child or their family will be in a series of ‘coincidences’.
- Spend a lot of time around places like arcades, playgrounds, parks and sports venues to get to know children so they are not seen as strangers.
- Regularly offer support to the family members of the child such as offering to babysit children for free, transport children to events, help out at social occasions involving the child or take children on outings alone.
- Offer to drive children home or collect children from events on a regular basis.
- Frequently walk in on children in the bathroom or their bedrooms.
- Treat a particular child or group of children as favoured, making them feel special compared with others in a group.
- Find out as much as possible about the child and use that information to engage the child and drive a wedge between the child and any protective adults, eg parents, teachers or coaches.
- Purchase gifts or collect items of interest regularly for a specific child or group of children.
- Tell secrets to a child and encourage the keeping of secrets.
- Display ambiguous sexual behaviour, eg showing the child pictures of other children wearing swimsuits or less.
- Display clearly inappropriate sexual behaviour, eg showing the child pornographic pictures, using explicit sexual language around children.
Follow Your Gut
This blog post is not to scare anyone, but rather I hope by sharing my experience with you, educating you about grooming of children that it will at least help protect one child and family from having to go through any child abuse.
Most importantly, please follow your gut and always be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to sit down, have a few drinks and not even take much notice of your friends, friend playing with your children because you trust them. But it’s times like this (when you let your guard down) that give the offender prime opportunity to do something. Remember oChild abuse and neglect in the UK today.)of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew (Source: Radford, L. et al (2011)
About the Author
Angela Henderson is an author, entrepreneur, blogger, mental health clinician and most importantly a mother. She explores various topics related to parenting/children on her blog and also in her three books: 30 Days, 30 Ways for Mothers to Take Care of Themselves, 30 Days, 30 Ways for Connecting with Your Child and Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and her website Finlee and Me.