As a personal injury attorney, it is more common to hear the inside cases of Catholic, homosexual priests targeting young boys, for example, than as a member of the public at large. But the priest, pre-school, or elementary school teacher example is the model that a serial predator of children most often desires. The physical and mental disability that can result from a predator/prey relationship such as this can mean sexual identity problems and mental disorders that follow the child into his or her adult life.
Sexual grooming is often the precursor to most of the cases where children are abused by adults. Sexual grooming is the process in which the perpetrator follows a certain method or ritualized pattern before committing a sexual crime in order to win the trust of his or her victim, and other people around the victim.
In most cases, children become the victims but victims can also be adult people who are vulnerable. This preparatory process that most child abusers will follow needs to be understood in detail for parents and children to be prepared for any bad event coming in their way.
Introduction To Sexual Grooming
For parents and professionals to be able to prevent such crimes from taking place, the process of sexual grooming must be understood in detail. Such deep knowledge and analysis of the whole process can help prove intentions of future sexual activity and the crime of sexual grooming (in jurisdictions where it is considered a crime) where the testimony given by the victim is not very clear. Let us have a look at the common aspects of sexual grooming that most perpetrators will reflect during the process.
- They will always target their victim.
- Making it possible to have access to their victim and creating opportunities to be alone with them.
- Winning the trust of the victim and people around the victim.
- Keeping the relationship secret.
Sexual grooming can take place in the following settings:
- On a personal level i.e. when the offender meets the victim in person.
- Through phone calls or cyber relation.
- Institutional setups.
Sexual grooming has been defined in many ways. The definition of the process given by SMART – the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking – is along the lines given under:
In a grooming process, the offender would do efforts to win child’s trust and the people around that child so he/she can have access to the child in loneliness. There are some cases in which threats and intimidation is used by the offender to make it possible and keep the child quiet. In most cases, the offender will go by building a relationship of trust with the child and his/her family.
The offender will do this by introducing him/herself to the family as a very caring and useful person. During this process, the offender will get closer to the child while all the time building more trust with the adults. By winning trust of the adults around the child the offender is in a good position to be alone with the child without anyone doubting offender’s ill intentions.
The reason why the offender goes through the grooming process is because of the offender:
- Wants to take advantage of the trust of the adults.
- Wins trust of the child so the child would not resist offender’s obscene moves and rather become a participant in the act.
- Prevents the child from disclosing the facts.
- Makes it difficult for adults to believe the child if the child takes the step of informing the family about offender’s acts.
- Makes it nearly impossible for people to know about his intent and acts.
There are some common aspects associated with the behavior of a child abuser. Most of these common factors can be detected in the behavior of the offender when he/she is preparing the child for sexual activity and abuse. The common behavioral factors to detect and identify the ill intents of a child abuser are as follows:
- You’ll notice this adult taking too much interest in a child.
- The adult tries to find ways to have lone time with the child.
- The adult doesn’t remove his eyes from the child.
- The adult in question has special treatment for the kid.
- Even though the adult will have relationship with the family, he/she will be more interested in talking to the child.
- The adult in question will buy gifts for the child and also practice favoritism in the favor of the child.
- The offender might also give extra favors that would make parents and the child have trust in the offender.
- Preferences on gender and age might also be noticed.
These are the general behaviors that most child abusers will possess and are quite un-doubtable in nature. However, these offenders might also take a different route wherein they do activities that are directly explicit and arousing for the children.
Such activities can include but are not limited to:
- Giving the child a bath.
- Entering the room where the child is changing clothes.
- Entering the toilet when the child is inside.
- Compelling the child to see the offender in the toilet.
- Playing tickling games and pretending to accidentally touching genitalia.
- Taking part in activities where all or some clothes have to be removed.
- Playing “doctor” or other games where there are excuses of feeling the genitalia.
- Playing games while wearing only underwear.
- Talking about genitals in front of the child.
- Telling jokes that are related to sex and similar stuff.
- Bringing up sexually arousing topics while pretending to do it for education purposes.
- Bringing nude and sexually arousing pictures in front of the child.
- Asking the child to pose for pictures while wearing very little or no clothes.
These are some of the many things that such offenders will do in order to stimulate the sexual organs of the children in such a way that children won’t be able to notice the ill intent.
Protection Of Children From Such Abusers
It is important for the people to understand what sexual grooming really means. It is their responsibility to bring it in the notice of authorities when they notice such acts in their surroundings. Keeping the law enforcement departments informed is the only way to put an end to such a practice. Furthermore, many people might think that such preparatory methods adopted by sex offenders are only preliminary acts before they commit the crime. The truth is that in many jurisdictions in certain circumstances such sexual grooming is a crime per se.
- Federal Take On Sexual Grooming
The code dealing with this matter in the law is called the federal enticement statute. The contents of the code mentioned under section 2422 bring into to account the use of interstate commerce by any individual to for enticing, coercing and persuading an underage child (under 18) to do any activity that can be considered illegal and calls it an offense.
We can see clearly that the state has taken a very clear stance not only on sexual exploitation of the child but also the preparatory procedure followed by the child abusers – referred to here as sexual grooming. An important point to note in the federal statement about the act is that it puts focus on the effects of such activities on the future actions of the child rather than putting all the emphasis on the intentions of the perpetrator.
We can see that the section 2422(b) is not putting focus on what the intentions of the offender will be while trying to arouse, entice or persuade a child. It is emphasizing the fact that if such arousal and persuasion results in pushing a child towards an activity that is considered illegal by law, the offender will be in violation with the code and apprehended.
There is a good example for us in the United States v. Chambers case where Chambers had presented an argument that he cannot be convicted because he never had any intentions of meeting the girl. The girl in this particular case was actually an FBI agent. However, The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree with Chambers and stated that his behavior in the case had already violated the code. His steps were named as substantial steps towards sexual abuse. The court referred to the definition of grooming and stated that his actions were already in violation with the law and reflection of pure form of sexual grooming.
The verdict was given that Chambers had taken the steps that were enough to prove his ill intent and despite the intent not getting materialized, his actions were already in violation with 2422(b), which was enough to have him arrested for the charges. It must be noted here that Chambers had a connection with the female child over the internet where he continuously talked to the 14-year old about sexual stuff, showed her sexually arousing content, urged her to feel her genitalia and also got her ready to have intercourse with him by explaining the whole process to her.
- Enactment Of Enticement Statues In Several States
Statues in several states are quite concurrent to the enticement statute of the federal offices. We can take the example of Illinois in this particular case where the sexual grooming is proved when a person takes steps on the internet or local bulletin board service etc. to arouse or entice a child or people taking care of the child in order to prepare them for an offenses that have been mentioned under section 2 of the Sex Offender Registration Act. While civil liberties advocates and child welfare advocates are often found face to face due to such enactments, the strict law against such abusers is fully in force in the state.
- Importance Of Expert Testimony
We have to admit that many of the behaviors associated with child abusers would seem common in other non-abusing people as well. For example, a child abuser would give gifts to a child, but a normal person with good intent might do the same too. In this scenario, courts where preparatory procedures by an abuser are considered a standalone crime can use expert testimony on the behavior of child abuser and take help from this testimony in reaching the conclusion of the case. It is thought that such analyses by an expert help greatly in understanding the offender’s modus operandi.
United States v. Hitt is a great example of a case where such expert testimony was used to reach the conclusion of the case. In this particular case Hitt was the offender and was alleged of having intentions of having sexual intercourse with a child by enticing the child beyond state borders. Hitt was interested too much in the child and went to several places with the child such as movies, ice skating etc. and had the intentions of involving in illicit sex with the child. The expert testimony was given in the light of behaviors that most child abusers would follow as sexual grooming process.
Hitt stated that such a testimony still did not prove what he would have done and that the analyses were done generically. However, government did not agree with Hitt in this case and it was stated that many other courts where such grooming process was considered a standalone crime had accepted such testimonies so there was no issue in accepting such a testimony in his case too.
Expert Testimony As Grooming Evidence
It must also be mentioned here that expert testimony can be taken as grooming evidence and such cases have taken place in courts already. This step is often taken when the victim is not clear with his/her evidence and narration of the entire event. Light v. Martel was such a case where expert testimony was accepted as evidence even though this testimony was not given directly against the offender. Instead, the testimony taken in the court was an expert giving full details of grooming behavior and explaining what methods are used by abusers when they are sexually grooming a child for abuse.
The behavioral aspects mentioned in the testimony were quite similar to what Light had been doing with young victims. Giving gifts to little girls, getting them interested in him by showing them cartoons etc. were some of the things he did. In this particular case the testimony was accepted by the court and it was stated that the process that was being discussed in the court was very complex and only through such testimony was it easier for court to solve the matter and so the testimony was helpful and fully relevant to the case.
Training And Advocacy On The Matter
It is extremely important for the society to know the details of sexual grooming so the members of the society can take timely measures when they see such activities. The legal community should also be given proper training about these subjects so they can better take care of the matters. Lawyers should also be provided with the right material that contains information about sexual grooming so they can better serve their clients and reach the decision-making process in a better and well-informed way.
What We Conclude
Child abuse cases are not rare. Parents need to be on the lookout for people in positions of authority over their kids and not simply have blind faith that the government is the protector. CPS is just as likely to remove your children from your custody for not being vigilant, as the prosecutor would be in going after the predator you negligently trusted. The stories are on TV almost all the time. If you haven’t seen anything near you, something must have happened in a town a little far away.
Some abuser might be grooming a child while you read these lines. We cannot compete with such evil of the society unless we have the right knowledge and we are ready to spread this knowledge further and stop such happenings as soon as we come across them. Better ways should be devised in order to inform communities of child abuse, sexual grooming and the ways to prevent child abuse.