Child sexual exploitation grooming models

Perpetrators ‘groom’ a child for sexual exploitation in a process designed to break down the child’s defences and existing relationships with family and friends to establish control.

‘Grooming’ is like a process of recruitment and the victims are introduced into a lifestyle which they are made to believe is normal, but which is actually abusive. This may take place online or offline and could include violence, lies, blackmail, or threats. Once groomed, the child is expected to participate in sexual activities, often in exchange for something such as alcohol, gifts, money, affection, drugs, or a place to stay.

There are different models of grooming – children might experience exploitation at parties, by groups of older men or (less often) women, as part of a gang, or even by friends their own age.

The following guide aims to help parents identify the particular model of grooming used on their child. However, every situation is different, and your child may have been groomed for sexual exploitation through a variety of tactics.

Peer on peer exploitation

Children are sexually exploited by peers who are known to them at school, in the neighbourhood or through mutual friends.

Exploitation through befriending and grooming

Children are befriended directly by the perpetrator (in person or online) or through other children and young people. This process may begin with a girl (or boy) being targeted and befriended by a young boy or girl usually known to her as an equal, ie a classmate, a friend of a sibling, or a neighbour.

This introductory young person later introduces the child to either one or more older men, whom s/he may describe as an older sibling or cousin. The older men offer the child attention in the form of gifts, flashy cars, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

To the child, it is new and exciting. The older men treat the child as an adult and deliberately portray her/his parents as unreasonable and overly-strict, should they seek to intervene.

The ‘boyfriend’/pimp model of exploitation

Perpetrators target children posing as ‘boyfriends’, showering the child with attention and gifts to cause infatuation. They initiate a sexual relationship with the child, which the child is expected to return as ‘proof’ of her/his love or as a way of returning the initial attention and gifts. The child is effectively told that they owe the perpetrators money for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, car rides etc and that sexual activities are one way of paying it back.

The ‘party’ model

Parties are organised by groups of men to lure young people. Young people are offered drinks, drugs and car rides often for free. They are introduced to an exciting environment and a culture where sexual promiscuity and violence is normalised. Parties are held at various locations and children are persuaded (sometimes financially) to bring their peers along.

Children are also encouraged to associate with others via Facebook, Bebo, ooVoo, etc. The parties may be held some distance from the child’s home, enabling the perpetrators to force the child to have sex in return for a lift home. Drugs and alcohol are used to suppress the children’s resistance. Images may be taken of them without their clothes for purpose of future bribery.

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