Grooming is a term used to describe the way in which a (usually non-familial) adult is popularly perceived to flirt with a person under the age of consent. It is therefore a term employed primarily when there are:
- a) Conflicting values between primary and secondary socialization agents
- b) And where simple consent is present from the younger partner
Commonly referred to as "child grooming", theories of it's "exact form" and purportedly prepubescent and passive victims have recently been problematized from within the victimological CSA discourse. This has been followed by widespread abuse of the term by conservative pundits, in which it is used to refer to permissive use of "sexual themes" aimed at young people in the media, and trans-affirmative sex education.
In law, grooming typically refers to adults using the internet to solicit under-age persons or minors for sex.
The theorising and imposition (on to individual "offender" histories) of a set grooming "technique" is itself reliant upon a theorising and imposition of sexual intent in adult-minor interactions. According to CSA theorists, the process of grooming is itself a means to an end - the primary motive of the older partner being (unlike in "non-pathological" rapports) to obtain intimate access to the minor's body and genital anatomy.
As established above, it is claimed that "child grooming techniques" are pathological and unique to pedophiles or child sexual offenders. In reality, even these techniques' theorised forms are situational variants of known techniques, widely encouraged among adult peer groups and media. For example, the product description for a book aimed at same-age attracted heterosexuals claims that:
- "This Book Will Get You Laid" takes the age-old dance between men and women and strips it down to its bare essentials - how to catch the eye of your chosen victim, sorry, loved one; how to make initial contact (or 'Moving in for the Kill'); foolproof mechanisms for persuading them to come back to your place; and, once there, how to make all their clothes fall off as if by accident."
Much like the known, but often denied adult grooming techniques, the theorised forms of child grooming are said to be aimed at gaining the other partner's trust. Again, the implicit message is that bonding between human beings is simply a means to an end, and that the "less powerful" partner has to be deceived as to the true, or intended nature of the relationship. Additionally, it is claimed that the parents of a minor may be groomed and deceived, making them less likely to believe accusations.
Victimologists have at different times theorised, but in no way established that the following techniques are "common" in the "grooming" of minors by adults "for the purpose of abuse":
- Using electronic media to conceal their true identity and impersonate a minor
- Taking an undue interest in a minor (having a "special" friend)
- Giving gifts or money to the minor for no apparent reason
- Showing pornography to the minor
- Talking about sexual topics
- Hugging, kissing, or other physical contact even when the minor doesn't want this attention
- Talking to the minor about problems that would normally be discussed between people of the same age or more commonly, adults (e.g. marital problems)
- Becoming good friends with the minor's parents in order to gain easy access to them (e.g. babysitting)
- Looking for opportunities to have time alone with the minor.
- Inviting the minor over for sleepovers or sleeping in the same room or bed with someone else's child.
Internet prevention measures
Internet technologies have made it possible to at least claim that minors are being protected from the "epidemic" of grooming.
In 2003, MSN implemented restrictions in their chat rooms purportedly intended to help protect children from adults seeking sexual conversations with them. In 2005, Yahoo! chat rooms were investigated by the New York attorney general's office for allowing users to create rooms whose names suggested that 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.
Multiple programs have been developed, that help identify grooming and warn parents. The software studies chat room and other Instant messaging logs for activity that may identify grooming or other potentially suspicious activities. Some of the technologies have been adapted to social networking services and ISPs.
Criticism of theories
Our research review of the internet, minors and "online victimisation" documents some examples of where theories of grooming have been problematised, notably the presumed ages and levels of consent involved.
A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if—
(a) A has met or communicated with another person (B) on at least two occasions and subsequently—
- (i) A intentionally meets B,
- (ii) A travels with the intention of meeting B in any part of the world or arranges to meet B in any part of the world, or
- (iii) B travels with the intention of meeting A in any part of the world,
(b) A intends to do anything to or in respect of B, during or after the meeting mentioned in paragraph (a)(i) to (iii) and in any part of the world, which if done will involve the commission by A of a relevant offence,
(c) B is under 16, and
(d) A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over.
- Wikipedia article - may contain extra legal information.