Grooming is a nice name for harmful behavior. Often, an abusive relationship doesn’t begin that way. Violence or coercive control in a relationship typically develops over time. At first, abusers intentionally come across as charming, thoughtful, and charismatic. Abusers may begin a relationship by making their future victims feel special, showing them attention, and flattering them with gifts and special gestures. Abusers work to build a strong emotional connection by pretending to be intensely interested and affectionate. They may try to meet their victim’s emotional needs, while isolating their victims from other relationships. This aims to make victims more dependent and reliant on their abusers.
Slowly, abusers begin introducing elements of abuse or coercive control. These elements may include outbursts of anger or expressions of jealousy, something to show the abuser’s dominance without scaring the victim away. Abusers may blame victims for increasing conflict and tension in the relationship, forcing victims to apologize and appease the abuser. Abusers may use secrets their victims have shared or blemishes from their past to threaten them into staying silent and submissive. Abusers often blame victims for their anger, making their victims submit to the abuser to avoid conflict and violence. Over time, these abusive or coercive elements become normal to victims as they increase in frequency, intensity, or both. This begins to desensitize the victim to the abuse.
Abusers also use this time to isolate their victims. Abusers may try to shame their victims, accusing them of spending more time with other people. By doing so, abusers demand more of their victim’s time, preventing them from seeing others. Abusers may also try to ensure their victims are financially dependent on them. This may involve paying for their victim’s phone or making their victim quit his or her job. In some situations, its a demand that the victim spend all of their free time in the abusers’ company, often in a mutual activity such as church or school. Abusers’ isolation tactics may go as far as requiring the victim to move to a new state away from his or her friends, family and support system, or forbidding the victim from contacting them. Abusers do this to leave their victims without support and strengthen the victim’s dependence on them.
This process is called grooming. Grooming is the process over time that deliberately manipulates someone until they can be victimized. Anyone can be a victim of grooming.
Grooming occurs in many sexual assault relationships, domestic abuse relationships, as well as in situations of human trafficking.
Abusers may also groom the community. When around the victim’s family and friends, abusers may try to charm them by acting helpful and affectionate. This is to build the abuser’s reputation so that if a victim does disclose the abuse, he or she is less likely to be believed. Abusers of children and young adults will build a relationship with the victim’s parents, being particularly helpful or flattering to the family. Simultaneously, abusers may try to ruin their victim’s reputation by spreading rumors or causing the victim’s community members to question his or her character.
This process can be confusing and overwhelming for victims. Victims may struggle to see the abuser as the primary aggressor and may blame themselves for the dissolution of the relationship. The grooming process may also contribute to a victim’s shame and guilt about not leaving the relationship sooner. Grooming also contributes to victims’ reluctance to report abuse, because they may still see the abuser as the loving and romantic character he initially portrayed.
Understanding the grooming process helps people avoid finding themselves the victim of an abuser’s grooming tactics. It also helps people understand why victims may stay with their abusers and might push away their friends and family in the process. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault, contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.
Authored by Rachel Gessourourn and Laurie Koller