Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

Information from Darkness to Light

Child grooming is a deliberate process by which offenders gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy.

Grooming allows offenders to slowly overcome natural boundaries long before sexual abuse occurs. On the surface, grooming a child can look like a close relationship between the offending adult, the targeted child and (potentially) the child’s caregivers. The grooming process is often misleading because the offender may be well-known or highly regarded in the community. As a result, it’s easy to trust them.

Survivors discuss grooming & how their offenders gained access to them.



Stage    Description    Example
Targeting the Child   Perpetrators may target and exploit a child’s perceived vulnerabilities including: emotional neediness, isolation, neglect, a chaotic home life, or lack of parental oversight, etc.   The offender will pay special attention to or give preference to a child.
Gaining the Child's & Caregiver's Trust   Perpetrators work to gain the trust of parents/caregivers to lower suspicion and gain access to the child by providing seemingly warm yet calculated attention/support. The perpetrator gains the child’s trust by gathering information about the child, getting to know their needs, and finding ways to fill those needs.   "I saw you reading the new Superman comic. I'm planning to go see the new movie, I can take you if you want to go."
Filling a Need   Once the perpetrator begins to fill the child's needs, they may assume noticeably more importance in the child's life. Perpetrators utilize tactics such as gift giving, flattery, gifting money, and meeting other basic needs. Tactics may also include increased attention and affection towards the targeted child.   "I know you love jewelry so I got you this watch."
Isolating the Child   The perpetrator uses isolation tactics to reinforce their relationship with the child by creating situations in which they are alone together (babysitting, one-on-one coaching, “special” trips). The perpetrator may reinforce the relationship with the child by cultivating a sense that they love and understand the child in a way that others, even their parents, cannot. The adult can start to tell the child that no one cares for them the way they do, not even their parents.   "You can trust me because no one understands you the way I do."
Sexualizing the Relationship   Once emotional dependence and trust have been built, the perpetrator progressively sexualizes the relationship. This occurs through talking, pictures, and creating situations in which both are naked (swimming). The adult exploits the child’s natural curiosity and trust using stimulation to advance the sexual nature of the relationship.   "Have you ever masturbated? I can show you how, it feels really good."
Maintaining Control   Once sexual abuse is occurring, perpetrators commonly use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain the child’s participation and continued silence. In order to maintain control, perpetrators use emotional manipulation; they make the child believe they are the only person who can meet their emotional and material needs. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship, or the consequences of exposing it, will be more damaging and humiliating than continuing the unhealthy relationship.   "If you tell anyone, we both could go to jail, We won't be able to be together." Or "If you tell anyone, something bad could happen to your family."



Now that you understand the basics of child grooming, how do you intervene if you see grooming behaviors or if your gut is telling you something is wrong? Below are red flag behavior examples and actions you can take as an active bystander when a child is vulnerable or uncomfortable.



Offenders are often seen pressing boundaries and breaking rules, but are rarely caught in the act of abusing a child. When you see a boundary being crossed, describe the inappropriate behavior or boundary violation to the person who has crossed it. Have family rules about when and how adults engage with your children. 

Example: “We don’t let Jimmy go to the movies alone without a parent.”


Gift giving of any expense – large or small – is a grooming technique used to flatter children and their families into trusting the individual. Be vigilant. If another adult is overly interested in your child and family, consider this a red flag.

Example: “It is so generous that you gave Chloe this jewelry, but we only allow gifts on birthdays.”


Perpetrators will test the limits by starting to introduce touch into the relationship. They might put their arm around the child or asking for a hug to see how the child reacts. They may do this in front of other adults. If the caregiver does not intervene or object, and the child is uncomfortable, it can confuse the child on what type of touch is appropriate. Teach your kids about body autonomy and let them know it’s OK to say “no” to adults.

Example: “It looks like you are forcing Annie to hug you. She looks uncomfortable, please stop. We let Annie decide if and how she wants to show affection.”


When grooming of a minor takes place, the offender will listen to the child when they are excited or upset. They will start to build barriers between the child and their parents and friends by telling them they care for them more than anyone else. Be open with your kids, let them know that even people they love can hurt them. Tell you children you are there for them and they can tell you anything. Be open and listen to them, even when the days are hectic.

Example:”Surprises make people happy. We don’t want to keep a secret though because secrets can make people upset or unhappy. If anyone wants you to keep a secret, tell Mommy or Daddy. You can tell us anything.”


The individual will offer to do special things or help the caregivers to gain alone time with the child. Be sure to let other adults know that you do not approve of them being alone with your child without your permission or knowledge. Check-in regularly so other adults know you are watching.

Example: Drop in unexpectedly on a babysitter. Stay for the entire soccer practice, even until the last child leaves.


Perpetrators will often pretend to be someone they aren’t to gain access to kids online. They will pretend to share similar interests to gain trust, grooming them online. Know who your kids are talking to online.

Example: Monitor what apps your children use and have limits to when and where they can use their devices. Perhaps at night, tablets, phones, and computers live in the caregiver’s room.