|Sex and the law|
(varies by jurisdiction)
|Sex offender registration|
Child grooming refers to actions or behaviors used to establish an emotional connection with a child under the age of consent, and sometimes the child's family, to lower the child's inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. Child grooming can occur in various settings, including online, in person, and through other means of communication. Children who are groomed may experience mental health issues, including "anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal thoughts."
In 2011 in the UK, a number of high-profile child exploitation cases were described as "on-street grooming" or "localized grooming".
Child grooming is also used as a starting place to recruit minor children into various illicit businesses such as child trafficking, child prostitution, cybersex trafficking, or the production of child pornography.
Before the term "grooming" was associated with grooming a child for sexual abuse, it had come to have a meaning of mentorship, coaching, or preparing someone for leadership.
From 1975 to 1985, law enforcement in the United States became increasingly aware of child sexual abuse that happened to children from outside their family, committed by those who were not strangers. Previously, the focus of law enforcement had been on "stranger danger" and those who used threats of violence to ensure compliance from their victims. In these newly recognized sexual abuse cases, children were manipulated with a "combination of attention, affection, kindness, gifts, alcohol, drugs, money, and privileges." While there are examples before this time where the pattern was recognized, it was during this decade that the FBI became aware the pattern and criminal investigations began to be taken seriously in the United States. There was also growing awareness that offenders joined youth-serving organizations to gain access to potential victims.
As an example, a 1977 study used the terminology "pressured sexual contacts" and "forced sex contacts" to distinguish two types of offenders. Sex-pressure offenses had a lack of physical force and behavior that was counter-aggressive, using "persuasion of reward, attention, affection, money, gifts, or entrapment". "Sex-force offenses" used the threat of harm or physical force, such as "intimidation, verbal threat, restraint, manipulation, and physical strength."
Ken Lanning is credited with being one of the first professionals using the term "grooming". He recalls it being used in conversations between law enforcement professionals, and pinpoints the first known written description of the process of child grooming to a 1979 book written by Nicholas Groth, and the first printed use of the word grooming to a 1984 article by Jon Conte. At the beginning of its use, both grooming and seduction were being used to describe this type of non-violent offender, and Lanning recalls using both terms interchangeably.
A January 1984 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin used "seduction" and being "seduced" to describe the activity of non-violent offenders. By 1985, the Chicago Tribune had used the term, reporting "These 'friendly molesters' become acquainted with their targeted victim, gaining their trust while secretly grooming the child as a sexual partner."
In the 1980's, the public in the United States became increasingly aware of child sexual abuse through the nursery school cases and abuse in religious settings.
During the 1990s, the term grooming began to replace seduction as the most commonly used term. However, there was not "one official, legal, mental health, or even lay definition" of grooming. Growing awareness of chat rooms being used by pedophiles to target victims came to public notice, and the use of 'grooming' to mean "To win the confidence of (a victim) in order to a commit sexual assault on him or her" became mainstream. In academia, the description of grooming strategies in online cases became distinct from the descriptions of pre-Internet grooming strategies.
In 2008, a BBC report stated that "grooming" had taken on a pejorative meaning; no longer associated with animal care or mentoring, it had become associated with pedophiles and pedophilia. This caused outrage when the term "groomed" was used to describe the behavior of someone who had obtained leaked documents from a civil servant. The news report mentioned other uses of the term "groom" that also had negative connotation, such as "groomed for terrorism" or "groomed to become suicide bombers".
A 2022 report by the Christian Monitor, reported that the word "grooming" was now seen as "sinister". Instead of meaning "to prepare as a political candidate ... to prepare or coach for a career," the term had shifted in public discourse to mean "to befriend or influence (a child), now esp. via the internet, in preparation for future sexual abuse."
See also: Child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom
In January 2011, The Times ran a sensational story about 'sex gangs', using the term 'on-street grooming' to describe a series of child sexual exploitation cases in the UK. The term 'grooming gangs' became part of both popular and political discourse and is used to describe the Rotherham sex grooming case, the Rochdale sex trafficking gang, and the Halifax child sex abuse ring.
The UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre did an investigation and published a report in 2011 using the term 'localised grooming'. While the report was meant to focus only on a specific form child exploitation; this proved impossible as there was too much overlap of offender's behavior.
Later, the term "localised grooming" was used in a House of Commons, Home Affairs Select Committee 2013 report to describe the on-street grooming of children, usually by a group of abusers. According to the report, after the group's initial contact with the child, offers of treats (takeaway food, cigarettes, drugs) persuade the child to maintain the relationship. One abuser might present himself as the "boyfriend"; this person arranges for the child to be raped by other members of the group. Children may end up being raped by dozens of these group members, and maybe trafficked to connected groups in other towns.
To establish a good relationship with a child and the child's family, child groomers might do several things: They might try to gain the child's or parents' trust by befriending them, with the goal of easy access to the child. A trusting relationship with the family means the child's parents are less likely to believe potential accusations. Child groomers might look for opportunities to have time alone with the child, which can be done by offering to babysit; the groomers may also invite the child for sleepovers, for opportunistic bed sharing. They might give gifts or money to the child in exchange for sexual contact, or for no apparent reason. Commonly, they show pornography to the child, or talk about sexual topics with the child, hoping to make it easy for the child to accept such acts, thus normalizing the behavior. They may also engage in hugging, kissing, or other physical contact, even when the child does not want it.
When grooming techniques are successful, the resulting compliance of the child can be mis-interpreted as consent; and the child treated as if they were not a victim of crime. When the behavior is considered criminal, it can still be perceived as a lesser offense.
Some offenders prefer sexual gratification from from less obvious types of behaviors, and grooming behaviors in and of themselves are the goal as they provide a chance to engage in a paraphilia.
Signs that characterize child groomers include: A person who takes an unusual interest in a child, particularly if the interest is primarily focused on their physical appearance, behavior or activities; A person who tries to communicate with a child online or in person in secret, outside the knowledge of the child's parents or guardians; A person who attempts to isolate a child from their friends or family, or who discourages the child from spending time with others; A person who asks a child to keep secrets or who makes the child feel like they are special or important in a way that is inappropriate.
Sexual grooming of children also occurs on the Internet. Some abusers (sometimes posing as children themselves) chat with children online and make arrangements to meet with them in person. Online grooming of minors is most prevalent in relation to the 13–17 age group (99% of cases), and particularly 13–14 (48%). The majority of targeted children are girls, and most victimization occurs with mobile-phone support. Children and teenagers who are highly curious and high sensation seeking are at higher risk than others.
Facebook has been involved in controversy as to whether it takes enough precautions against the sexual grooming of children. Jim Gamble, leader of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the UK, said in 2010 that his office had received 292 complaints about Facebook users in 2009 but that none of the complaints had come directly from Facebook. A spokesman for Facebook responded to complaints by meeting CEOP directly in person, and said that they take safety issues "very seriously". In 2003, MSN implemented chat room restrictions to help protect children from adults seeking sexual conversations with them. In 2005, Yahoo! chat rooms were investigated by the New York State attorney general's office for allowing users to create rooms whose names suggested they were being used for this purpose; that October, Yahoo! agreed to "implement policies and procedures designed to ensure" that such rooms would not be allowed. Computer programs have been developed to analyse chat rooms and other instant messaging logs for suspicious activity. As this can be prevented not only on platform level but also on the point of entry, it is recommended that parents establish safe environments for their children to use the Internet, with reduced risk of encountering cyber grooming individuals.
Pedophiles and predators use online grooming to carry out cybersex trafficking crimes. After the pedophile gains the trust from a local cybersex trafficker, often a parent or neighbor of the victim, the online sexual exploitation will take place.
Suspected offenders have used the so-called "fantasy defense", the argument that they were only expressing fantasies and not plans of future behavior, to defend actions such as online communication. In the U.S., case law draws a distinction between those two and some people accused of "grooming" have successfully used this defense.
In the US, an online privacy law, Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, has been misattributed as a measure to prevent online child grooming and protect children from child predators.
Children who are groomed may feel they are to blame for their abuse, and have difficulty placing blame on the perpetrator.
See also: Laws regarding child sexual abuse
In its report Protection of Children Against Abuse Through New Technologies, the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention Committee addressed the emerging issues of violence against children through the use of new technologies (the issue of child pornography on the Internet is already covered by Article 9 Convention) with particular reference to grooming both through the internet and by mobile telephones.
Some nations have already criminalized grooming in their national legislation. Analysis of these laws suggests some may be redundant with existing legislation and/or practices.
Australian Criminal Code Act 1995 section 474.26 and 474.27 prohibits the use of a "carrier service" to communicate with the intent to procure a person under the age of 16, or expose such a person to any indecent matter for grooming. The various states and territories have similar laws, some of which use a different ages (for example the victim only has to be under 16 in Queensland). Such laws across Australia were recently[when?] strengthened in the wake of the murder of Carly Ryan.
In Canada, Criminal Code section 172.1 makes it an offence to communicate with a child through a computer system to commit a sexual offence (termed "luring a child").
In Costa Rica, since April 2013, the Criminal Code section 167 bis, makes it an offence to seduce a child by electronic means. With penalties from one to 3 years of imprisonment for a person that, by any means attempts to establish an erotic or sexual communication with a child under 15 years old.
In Germany, under § 176 of the Strafgesetzbuch (Criminal Code) it is a criminal offence to entice a child (14 or younger) into sexual actions or to use telecommunications to try to entice them into sexual actions or child pornography. In January 2020, the law was extended to include cases of attempted cyber grooming in which perpetrators "groomed" investigators or parents, believing them to be a child.
On 1 January 2010, section 248e was added to the Dutch Criminal Code making it an offence to arrange online or by telephone a meeting with someone he knows or reasonably should assume to be a child under 16, with the intent of sexually abusing the child, as soon as any preparation for this meeting is made. The maximum punishment is 2 years of imprisonment or a fine of the fourth category.
The law in New Zealand states that it is a crime to meet up or intend to meet up to perform an unlawful sexual act with a person under 16 years. This is recorded in Section 131B of the Crimes Act 1961. This section is labelled ‘Meeting Young Person Following Sexual Grooming, etc’. Any person charged is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years.
In England and Wales, sections 14 and 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make it an offence to arrange a meeting with a child under 16, for oneself or someone else, with the intent of sexually abusing the child. The meeting itself is also an offence in its own right. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and automatic barring of the offender from working with children or vulnerable adults.
The Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 introduced a similar provision for Scotland.
Thus, a crime may be committed even without the actual meeting taking place and without the child being involved in the meeting (for example, if a police officer has taken over the contact and pretends to be that child). In R v T (2005) EWCA Crim 2681, the appellant, aged 43, had pretended to befriend a nine-year-old girl but had done very little with her before she became suspicious and reported his approaches. He had many previous convictions (including one for rape) and was described as a "relentless, predatory pedophile". The Court of Appeal upheld a sentence of eight years' imprisonment with an extended license period of two years.
In the United States,makes it a federal offence to use the mail, interstate commerce, etc. to entice a minor to sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offence. 18 U.S.C. § 2425 makes it a federal offence to transmit information about a person below the age of 16 for this purpose.
Some states have additional statutes covering seducing a child online, such as the Florida law that makes "Use of a Computer to Seduce a Child" a felony.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006has provisions to prevent the distribution of pornography to children for the purpose of persuading them to engage in illegal activity. It was first enforced federally against Alabamian Jerry Alan Penton in 2009. Penton received 20 years in prison for that action coupled with another 20 for his distribution and possession of child pornography.