Grooming can be defined as the process that an abuser uses to desensitise someone – to make them less like to reject or report abusive behaviour.
Grooming can happen when there is a power differential within a relationship, which the abuser exploits for their own gratification.
This is most commonly recognised as a tactic used by paedophiles, both on children and parents. However, adults can also be groomed.
Age difference is one example of a power differential. Children are taught to respect older children and adults – many abusers take advantage of this.
Someone who was groomed as a child might find it hard to accept that what happened to them was ‘abuse’. The abuser may have taken an interest in them in a way that other adults did not, have allowed them to do things other adults did not.
Whether consciously or not, the abuser does this as a way of gaining a child’s trust and make it less likely that they will risk losing the ‘special relationship’ by talking to others about the sexual abuse.
While grooming is most associated with child sexual abuse, it is also possible for adults to be groomed – or prepared – for abuse.
This is again most common in situations where there is a power differential – men can be groomed by older men, physically stronger men or professionals who have a measure of control over them, such as doctors or therapists.
For example, many gay men arrive in London having fled homophobia in other environments. Often they throw themselves into the gay scene. Some are then coerced into doing things they feel uncomfortable with – they meet often older people who assure them that it is the norm, that it’s just what happens in the gay world, something like a rite of passage.
Grooming can also happen in domestic and relationship settings where the abusive partner, over time, introduces abusive acts that become accepted though they remain unwanted.
In these situations, consent has technically been given, but something abusive may still have been happening.
The effects of grooming
One of the key results of grooming is that the victim is left carrying the shame of the events, often represented in a sense of complicity – that they let it happen.
This self blame once again makes the abuse difficult to talk about. The survivor might fear that the blame he places on himself would be replicated in the responses of others.
Grooming blurs the lines around abuse – makes it more difficult to identify when it is happening, and more difficult to identify and talk about in retrospect.