Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hey Fletch … In the area of sexual abuse, I heard the term “grooming.” What does this mean?

DRF—That term took me aback when I first heard it. I’m not an expert in this area, so let me call on someone who is. Gregory Love is a nationally-noted attorney who deals with sexual abuse and its prevention. Let me also mention the Sexual Abuse Summit that Greg and Kimberlee host.

Greg—“What is grooming?” Not only is that a good question, it is the right question. In fact, the grooming process is the key to understanding and preventing child sexual abuse.

First, let’s define the term. The “grooming process” is the process through which a preferential abuser prepares the child and the child’s gatekeepers for inappropriate sexual activity. Clearly, it is important to define another term: gatekeeper. A gatekeeper is anyone through whom an abuser must go to gain access to a child, such as a parent, youth minister, coach, teacher or babysitter.  

It is important to note that more than 90% of abused children are victimized by someone they know and trust—not a stranger. We are often fixated on ‘stranger-danger.’ The reality is that the abduction offender, where ‘stranger-danger’ is valuable, represents only a fraction of the problem. The greatest risk is posed by the preferential offender who prepares children and gatekeepers through a process known as the grooming process. The preferential offender is commonly a person known and trusted by the child and gatekeepers. In short, we cannot recognize this risk visually, we must recognize this risk behaviorally—by the grooming.  

At this juncture, a metaphor is valuable: the type of fence you build is driven by what you want to keep out. To protect a garden, the fence is different for keeping out cattle (barbed wire) versus bunnies (chicken wire). Because the church and our society is focused on abduction as the primary risk, the church confidently describes it’s ‘cattle fence’ when the primary risk is bunnies. For example, the church often quickly lists its child check-in system as a deterrent of abuse; the child check-in system, however, has no value in preventing abusive behavior as it relates to the preferential offender or peer-to-peer abuse. Only when the church is acquainted with the grooming behaviors of the preferential offender can the church build the right fence, recognize risky behavior, and intervene before someone has victimized a child.  

Sexual Abuse Awareness Training is a training that provides the following content: facts vs. misconceptions, abuser characteristics, the grooming process, common grooming behaviors, peer sexual abuse, impact of abuse and obligation to report. When leadership has this information, leadership can be about building an effective safety system—the right fence. When everyone who wears a name tag on behalf of the organization (staff and volunteers) has this information, they can effectively operate within the created safety system. Now everyone has eyes to see and ears to hear grooming and the mouth to speak when a report is appropriate.

Given the above, an effective safety system should include the following elements:

  • Sexual Abuse Awareness Training
  • Skillful Screening Process with good forms and training in their use
  • Appropriate Criminal Background Checks
  • Tailored Policies & Procedures that are rooted in the grooming process
  • Systems for Monitoring and Oversight

To learn more about an effective safety system or how to develop one, visit MinistrySafe.com