Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grooming: It's not Just for Pets and Children

My brother and his partner do not have children but they have two rescue dogs who hit the jackpot when they became part of the family.  These dogs have their own masseuse, trainer, sitter and groomer.   Their food is prepared fresh and the nanny cam connects them to their dads 100% of the time.  I do not have a pet but I understand more than I ever wanted to about grooming, and I am not speaking of styling my hair, putting my make-up on or caring for a pet.  I am understanding grooming in a very new and devastating way.

One definition of "groom" is action intended "to prepare or train someone for a particular purpose or activity" (New Oxford American Dictionary).  We understand child grooming as that subtle, gradual but escalating process that a perpetrator uses to exploit a child for sexual purposes.  The process consists of identifiable steps or stages:

Stages of Grooming:
  1. Targeting and befriending the victim; sizing up vulnerabilities and areas to exploit.
  2. Gaining the victim's trust; collecting information about the victim.
  3. Filling a need the victim or her family may have; testing boundaries.
  4. Isolating the victim; lowering the victim's inhibitions.
  5. Sexualizing the relationship.
  6. Maintaining control over victim; includes making the victim feel responsible for the abuse as well as using threats and coercion to maintain the secrecy.
Recognizing that the subtle but powerful process of grooming leads to child sexual abuse, many states are beginning to enact legislation that makes grooming a felony.  Parents are warned to watch for individuals who are showing undue attention to their child, both inside and outside of their family and friend circles.

But the grooming process is not confined to child predators only.  Inmates target, befriend and test correctional officers and staff (termed "ducks" by the prison population). Downing a Duck describes the inmates' grooming process with correctional staff. 
And Dr. Phil describes the process in his Life Code book.  He identifies toxic people who are intent on exploiting us in romantic relationships, friendships and even in the workplace and houses of worship.  His list of the exploiter's playbook, called The Nefarious 15 is amazingly similar to the stages of grooming listed above.  Women who have been in violent romantic relationships may also recognize a pattern in the wooing process they experienced with their violent partner.

But as the former partner of a pedophile, I am realizing that my groom groomed me before I said "I do."  As I look at these lists and think back to the days just prior and just after we started dating, I see the pattern and it is startling.  Questions I am asking myself include:
  • What vulnerability did he see in me?
  • How did he use that vulnerability to gain my trust?
  • What information did he learn about me and then use to make himself more attractive to me?
  • What boundaries did he push?  
  • How did he test my willingness to tolerate boundary violation or rule-breaking?
  • What tools did he use to lower my inhibitions?
  • How was it that I bought into his "truth" and believed his lies?
And, the most important question:
  • How can I change, grow and heal so that my vulnerabilities are decreased? 
Socrates believed that "An unexamined life is not worth living."  His bold statement challenges the Pollyanna encouragement I have so often received in recent months--to forget the past and forge ahead.  But if I want to learn from the past, then I must examine it--I must boldly look at the choices and mistakes I have made, the times I have been targeted, deceived, manipulated and betrayed.  I must learn how to spot a groomer both for myself and for those I love.  Because one thing I have learned for sure and for certain:  grooming is not just for pets and children.  It happens to adults as well.  It happened to me.


  1. This is just what I needed to hear today. I have been having myself a pity party. I am feeling so alone. My husband is in jail for his sexual abuse of young girls. He has been there for just over a year and still has me captive. He still is "grooming" me for his release in 4 yrs. He had almost convinced me of his "rehabilitation" his healing. He has been promising me how he is looking forward to this and that. It breaks my heart because I still have this compassionate heart. I still have this heart that does not want to hurt anyone. Thank you for waking me up.

  2. Oh Lily, I am so sorry. It is brutal to see the truth of our own grooming--to realize and accept that the person we loved has deceived, manipulated and used us. It is hard to stop caring--to stop loving, to stop rescuing and to stop believing that they are now "cured." Of course your heart is broken, of course you feel compassion for him. You pledged your life to him. But he is banking on your compassion and tender heart and he will use it against you if given the opportunity. I'm glad you stopped by! Holding you gently,