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Grooming is a term used primarily in conservative culture war politics to describe the way in which a corporation, institution, or (usually non-familial) adult indocrinates a minor or "child" with sexually "degenerate" themes. Commentators such as James Lindsay typically use the term to refer to how young people are supposedly coached towards "postmodern", "queer" pro-pedophile politics by the liberal media, and trans-affirmative sex educators. Up until the late 10s, the term was used in a politically nonpartisan manner and effectively meant flirtation with a person under the age of consent, with a view to engaging in later "sexual" contact. In law (where it is applied), grooming typically refers to adults using the internet to solicit under-age persons or minors for sex. Sometimes referred to as "child grooming", theories of it's "exact form" and purportedly prepubescent and passive victims have been challenged, even by victimological CSA authors.
In either use (populist or professional/legal), "grooming" is a term employed primarily when there are:
- Conflicting values between primary and secondary socialization agents
- And where simple consent is present from the younger person (or partner)
In the 2020s, the most frequently used example of "grooming" is Drag Queen Story Hour - an allegedly politicized event in which children are read a story by a drag actor. In 2022, left-leaning social networking site, Reddit even banned the "groomer" slur from its platform, soon to be followed by Twitter, Meta (Facebook) and TikTok. Twitter then went on to eliminate heavily followed accounts such as "gays against groomers", a suspected radical-feminist media front group which has since been reinstated numerous times after being featured in the right-wing media. MAP related Twitter accounts on the other hand were indiscriminately culled after these events, in an attempt to conceal the growing movement. The "groomer" term was later used in a graffiti attack. Groups of Proud Boys protesting Drag Queen Story Hours have become a common occurence, and a 2022 survey by Data for Progress found that 45% of likely Republican voters think that “teachers and parents that support discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in school are groomers.” Other controversies center on "all ages" drag shows - often provocatively hosted in conservative states. "Backdoor Playhouse" in Tennesee is one such example. Libraries (both school and public) have become a "symbolic" battleground for feminist pedophobes, erotophobes and anti-LGBT conservatives, with numerous laws being passed and some legal actions in response.
As a technique (pre-2020s usage)
The theorizing and imposition (on to individual "offender" histories) of a set grooming "technique" is itself reliant upon a theorizing 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' theorized 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 theorized 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 theorized, but in no way established that the following techniques are particularly 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 victimization" documents some examples of where theories of grooming have been problematized, 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.
Revised modern usage, and examples
As mentioned earlier, the term "grooming" is now largely used by conservatives and radical (i.e. conservative) feminists in reference to the "sexualization" or sexual indoctrination of children by what they see as morally degenerate liberal elements in society, and corporate pedophiles. Commonly used examples of this are the 2010 European early-years sex-education matrixes of the World Health Organization, pole dancing children and some of the following from social media, including Drag Queen Story Hour:
James Lindsay and Libs of Tik Tok were heavy influencers of this topic in the early 20s
Often cited example of Drag Queen Story Hour "grooming"
- Pink News: Reddit bans "groomer" to protect LGBTQ
- Twitter says calling trans and non-binary people ‘groomer’ is hate speech - PinkNews
- Jenna Ellis, Gays Against Groomers, Punished by Twitter Over “Groomer” Term
- Maryland Man Charged With Hate Crimes After Allegedly Spray-Painting ‘Groomer’ On Two Libraries - CBS Baltimore
- Libs of Tiktok is fueling a pogrom against trans youth - Forward
- Tennessee Tech is slammed for putting on campus drag show mocking Christianity with star dressed as a Catholic monk - while children handed him money - Daily Mail
- Students lose access to books amid ‘state-sponsored purging of ideas’
- In rare move, school librarian fights back in court against conservative activists
- Ending Offending Together
- Warning Signs About Child Sexual Abuse
- The 'anti-child grooming' website
- WHO Regional Office for Europe and BZgA Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe
- NYP - Pole Dancing
- Rolling Stone - Pole Dancers Are the Latest Target of Far-Right Grooming Panic
- Reduxx - Pole Dancing For Kids? Pennsylvania Pride Event Scene Sparks Outrage
- Wikipedia article - Covers "grooming" as a conspiracy theory. See also Gay Recruitment for long-standing theory.
- Wikipedia article on Child Grooming - May contain extra legal information about the original concept.
- Twitter should follow Reddit’s lead and take action against the “groomer” smear inciting anti-LGBTQ harassment - From Media Matters - a liberal group who encourage censorship.