7 Signs of Grooming

Have you ever felt like something wasn’t quite right in a relationship? Or that someone who should seem perfectly friendly was making you feel uncomfortable? If you’re a minor and these are things you’ve felt about an adult in your life, it may be your intuition’s way of warning you. It’s possible you were experiencing the early stages of grooming.

Grooming is the manipulative process of normalizing sexual and inappropriate behavior between minors and adults. It allows the adult to subtly or overtly assert inappropriate control and power over the child, in which the ultimate goal is abuse. 

It can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. The groomer may be a family member, “friend”, or professional. It’s a chilling reality, but understanding its stages and recognizing its signs is crucial for safeguarding ourselves and our loved ones. With that said, here are 7 warning signs of grooming to be on the lookout for, according to experts:

Excessive Secrecy

Is there an older person in your life that messages or calls you often, but asks you to keep it a secret? Do they call you their friend (or maybe more) in private but then act like strangers with you in public? Groomers rely on secrecy to maintain control over their victims and avoid scrutiny from others. They might pressure you into keeping your interactions with them private, using excuses like, “Our relationship is special, and others wouldn’t understand,” or “It’s our little secret.” Otherwise, they risk exposing their true intentions and manipulative tactics. 

Unexplained Gifts

While receiving gifts or favors from someone can feel nice, be cautious if these gestures come with hidden expectations attached. Groomers may use gifts and favors as a way to create a sense of indebtedness and make it harder for you to say no when they ask for favors. This might also be a tactic for them to gain your trust and get you to lower your guard with them by making you like them more.

Special Treatment or Attention

Ever had a teacher give you special treatment? Or felt that your boss seems overly interested in you? Be careful not to let it get to your head. Groomers know just how to stroke your ego, making you feel like the most special person in the room. But here’s the catch: this special treatment isn’t about making you feel good. It’s about gaining your trust and dependence so they control and exploit you. 

Spending Time Alone

Beware of adults who insist on spending excessive one-on-one time with you. Predators often seek opportunities to isolate their targets, away from the watchful eyes of others. This could mean insisting on spending time with you away from friends, family, or other trusted individuals. For instance, a coach who constantly offers private training sessions outside of regular practice hours might be crossing boundaries into potentially dangerous territory.

Allowing Things Your Parents Forbid

Say your parents forbid you going out past midnight or watching graphic movies, but you had an adult “friend” who’d let you get away with it. They’d probably seem really cool to you, right? But it’s actually a major red flag when someone encourages you to engage in activities or behaviors that your parents have expressly forbidden. They do this not only to gain your trust but also to undermine your parents’ authority, and coax you into doing more and more dangerous things like smoking, drinking, or having sex. Instead, respectful individuals will honor your family’s rules and boundaries, rather than encouraging you to defy them.

Excessive Physical Touching

Pay attention to how someone respects your personal boundaries and comfort level with physical contact. Are they constantly trying to get in your personal space or touch you without permission? Maybe they pass it off as a friendly hug, an accidental touch, or something like a shoulder massage. No matter how “harmless” it might seem at first, groomers will always try to escalate these types of behaviors to sexualize your relationship and maybe even use your natural curiosity against you. For example, they might proposition you with things like, “Do you need someone to teach you how to kiss? Let’s practice then.” 

Minimizing Others’ Concerns

If anyone else has ever expressed concern about your relationship with an “older friend” or relative, a groomer will always try to downplay or dismiss their concerns (“They don’t know what they’re talking about” or “Everyone else is just so judgmental and malicious”). They’ll probably try to convince you that those other people are just overreacting or misunderstanding things between you, or even gaslight you into questioning your own instincts

Grooming is a complex and insidious process, but awareness is your first line of defense. And by educating yourself on the common tactics and warning signs, you’ll be better able to protect yourself and your loved ones. If something feels off or uncomfortable, don’t ignore it. Establish clear boundaries in your relationships, even with adults, and don’t hesitate to speak out if you witness grooming behavior or suspect someone is being targeted. Your voice can make a difference in preventing harm.


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