As per National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) latest stats about crimes against children in India, it has increased by 16.2% between 2020 and 2021. Among them, sexual offences are the most prevalent ones. Sexual grooming is a social evil which existed for so long but has been getting public attention in the last few years. Digital adoption during the pandemic has made child abuse more severe and has led to a drastic increase in cases of sexual grooming.
What is sexual grooming and why do we have to create awareness around the topic? What does grooming a girl means?
No, it is not what you are thinking. This is not done for someone’s good. In this, a person with wicked intent groom a child to exploit her/him sexually in the future. There are various stages of sexual grooming which parents have to identify and have to help their children.
What Is The Meaning Of Sexual Grooming?
Sexual grooming is a practice of befriending and forming an emotional bond with a child by a person with the objective of sexual abuse. The sexual predator builds an emotional relationship with a child or adult to abuse and exploit them. A groomer will always identify the weaknesses of the victim and use them further to manipulate for sexual advances.
Gillspie gave a definition in 2002 which says, “The process by which a child is befriended by a would-be abuser in an attempt to gain the child’s confidence and trust, enabling them to get the child to acquiesce to abusive activity. It is frequently a pre-requisite for an abuser to gain access to a child.”
Interagency Working Group on Sexual Exploitation of Children (“Terminology Guidelines) released Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in 2016 which defined grooming as “the process of establishing/building a relationship with a child, either in person or through the use of the Internet or other digital technologies, to facilitate either online or offline sexual contact with that person.”
India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in India defines child online grooming as the building of an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. Sexual grooming psychology aims at sexually abusing a child. The predator lure children to use them for child trafficking, child prostitution, cybersex trafficking or the production of child pornography. It is also known as psychological grooming.
The sexual predator builds trust and connects emotionally with a child with the intention to exploit and abuse the victim. The initial actions of the offender aim to socialise or prepare the child for a sexual relationship. Most often, the offender identifies a child’s Achilles heel and then exploit the victim with the same by assuring to be a support.
There are most probably two types of sexual grooming which include physical and online. As pandemic started affecting the world, online grooming also became prevalent in doing the damage.
Stages Of Sexual Grooming
Most of the time, the perpetrator is not a stranger but someone who is close to the victim or the family. When talking about the sexual grooming process, it is not an overnight thing. The offender grooms the victim after gaining the trust and also manipulating the weaknesses. Though grooming can happen in different ways, there are always certain patterns that the sexual predator will follow. The most common stages of sexual grooming include
Targeting The Victim
A sexual predator will scope out a victim by observing them for some time. This can be done offline as well as online. The offender chooses younger kids, teens and vulnerable adults based on ease of access to them and perceived vulnerability. Mostly, the victims are children under the age of 13-14 as they are unaware of the wrong that has been done to them.
Gaining Information And Access
Next, they will try to gain more information about the victim to use that information to have access as well as to manipulate the same in the future to abuse the victim. The information can be gained through observation and conversation with the victim as well as the family.
Gaining Trust And Fulfilling Needs
Then after identifying the Achilles heels, the abuser will work on building a relationship with the victim and gaining trust. As the perpetrator knows about the victim’s vulnerability, he/she will try to fulfill their needs. He/she will try to develop a bond by bribing and flattering the child. There can be different ways through which an offender can gain trust and build a relationship including flattery, giving attention, showing care, giving gifts and fulfilling needs.
Gaining The Trust Of The Family
Reportedly, in most cases, the abuser is either from the family or someone who is known to the family. Therefore, the sexual predator will make sure to gain the trust of the family and caregivers of the victim to gain further access. It helps in establishing a positive reputation. As a result of this relationship-building, it will be difficult for the victim to report the abuse. They will have a fear that no one will believe their accusations.
Isolating The Victim
After that, the offender will start isolating the victim physically as well as emotionally. An abuser will try to convince the victim that he/she understands and cares for him/her the most. Isolating the victim from their support network will also help the offender in maintaining control to begin the grooming process in private.
Initiating Secrecy In Relationship
An abuser will encourage secrecy around their relationship and will also ask the victim to keep secrets from the family and caregivers. In order to have the cooperation, the offender will ask or threaten the victim to stay secretive about their relationship.
Initiating And Normalising Sexual Contact
How do you know if you are being groomed?
In the next step, the abuser will start abusing the victim by making inappropriate comments about their body, making sexual advances, to actually sexually assaulting the person. The offender may start hugging, wrestling and tickling and making sexual contact such as massages or showering together. Also, the perpetrator may show pornography content or talk about sexual topics to convince the victim that this is normal behaviour. After breaking down inhibitions and desensitizing the child, the sexual predator will start introducing more sexualized touching. The other groomer may also start
- Bathing a child.
- Deliberately walking in on a child changing and child toileting.
- Asking a child to watch the adult toileting.
- Tickling and accidentally touching genitalia.
- Indulging in activities that involve removing clothes (massage, swimming).
- Wrestling in underwear.
- Playing games that include touching genitalia (playing doctor).
- Telling a child sexually explicit jokes.
- Teasing a child about breast and genital development.
- Discussing sexually explicit information under the guise of education.
- Showing the child sexually explicit images.
- Taking pictures of children in underwear, bathing suits, dance wear or while they are bathing.
Maintaining Control Through Threats And Blackmailing
Sadly, the abuse doesn’t just end with one incident. It continues. The abuser will remain determined to maintain the victim’s trust, isolation, and infatuation for further abuse. In case the offender will sense that the victim is slipping away and has gathered the courage to report the abuse to someone, he/she will start resorting to shame, blame, or threats. Groomers will manipulate and threaten the victim by telling them that they’ll not be believed or it is the victim’s behaviour which led to this abuse.
How To Identify Sexual Grooming Signs?
Most of child abuse cases go unreported and that trauma stays with the person throughout their life. In the majority of child abuse cases, the abuser is someone in the family or is known to the family who is trusted by the child as well as the caregivers. Therefore, there is very less chance of suspicion in such matters. But the parents or guardians have to be cautious to protect children from such abuse.
Signs Of Sexual Grooming In Abusers
The abuse can be stopped at the very initial stage if the caregivers of the victim are attentive. A groomer will always show some behaviour patterns which seem inappropriate. As a guardian, these are some of the signs of sexual grooming in a groomer that can help you identify the bad intentions and stop the abuse.
- A CRIMINAL DOESN’T HAVE A GENDER. The very first thing you need to be clear as a parent is that a male can also abuse your son or a female can also abuse your daughter. Keep your eyes and mind open while assessing a person’s inappropriate behaviour.
- A groomer comes across as very “fond of” or interested in a certain child.
- These offenders often look for opportunities to be alone with the child.
- They get involved in normal daily routines and pitch in to help the victim, such as giving rides to school or tutoring them.
- The groomers will become friendly with a family but show special interest in only bonding with your child rather than with adults in the family.]
- They play favorites with one child in the family.
- They flatter or bribe the children by buying them gifts or treats.
- These offenders gain the trust of the family so that the child stays in contact with them.
- They may have a pattern of age and gender preference when they pick out victims.
Warning Signs Of Sexual Grooming In Children/Victims
Children or teens might not understand that they are being groomed and are being abused. So, parents have to be extra attentive towards their children and people who are involved in their life in some or the other way. In order to identify the warning signs of sexual grooming in children, below mentioned are some red flags.
- Regular absences from school, missing training, work or other activities
- Going missing for long periods or appearing at school extremely fatigued
- Being dishonest about where they’ve been and whom they’ve been with
- Developing an unusually close connection with an older person
- Displaying mood changes (hyperactive, secretive, hostile, aggressive, impatient, resentful, anxious, withdrawn, depressed)
- Using street or different language or copying the way a new friend may speak
- Talking about new friends who don’t belong to their normal social circle
- Presenting at school with gifts or money given by new friends
- Having large amounts of money, which they cannot account for
- Using a new mobile phone (possibly given to them by a new friend), excessively making calls, videos or sending text messages
- Being very secretive about their phone, internet and social media use, using drugs (physical evidence includes spoons, aluminum foil, ‘tabs’, ‘rocks’ or pieces of ripped cardboard)
- Assuming a new name, being in possession of false identification, a stolen passport or driver’s licence
- Being picked up by an older or new friend from school, or down the street
- Threats to humiliate or share sexual images of victims if they don’t carry out sexual acts.
What Is Online Grooming And How Is It Different?
As per Internet Watch Foundation, 1 in 4 teenagers receives unwanted sexual messages online. The Foundation says that the amount of self-generated child abuse imagery has increased with the start of Covid. It confirmed 68,000 cases in 2020. Sexual predators groom, deceive or extort children into producing and sharing sexual images or videos of themselves. In 80% of such cases, the victims are between the age of 11-13 years.
As per NSPCC, online grooming crimes rose by one-third between 2017 and 2019.
“Of all the child sexual abuse material identified by IWF in 2020, nearly half (44%) was created by offenders grooming and encouraging the children to behave sexually over a webcam or live stream. This is a 77% increase compared to the year before,” stated IWF.
Digital adoption has made it easier for sexual predators to groom their victims. This has helped them stay anonymous while harassing children and women online. An abuser can use different online platforms like social media apps, texting or messaging apps, online forums or chat rooms, mail, chat features in video games, etc.
In cyberbullying, an offender uses different ways like games, social media, live streaming platforms and chatrooms to come in contact with the victims. He/she may pretend to be younger, of different gender and/or sexual orientation to gain trust and build relationships. Any private information shared by the victim may later be leveraged to blackmail to stay silent or sexual advances.
Legal Framework Against Sexual Grooming In India
Is grooming illegal in India? Are there any laws against sexual grooming in India?
As per World Health Organization, “Child Sexual Abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.”
There is no particular definition and law against sexual grooming in India but it is punishable under different provisions under different Indian laws. Here are three major laws under which abusers in sexual grooming can be punished.
Protection Of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act
A person is said to commit sexual harassment upon a child when a such person with sexual intent,–
(i) utters any word or makes any sound, or makes any gesture or exhibits any object or part of the body with the intention that such word or sound shall be heard, or such gesture or object or part of the body shall be seen by the child; or
(ii) makes a child exhibit his body or any part of his body so as it is seen by such person or any other person; or
(iii) shows any object to a child in any form or media for pornographic purposes; or
(iv) repeatedly or constantly follows or watches or contacts a child either directly or through electronic, digital or any other means; or
(v) threatens to use, in any form of media, a real or fabricated depiction through electronic, film or digital or any other mode, of any part of the body of the child or the involvement of the child in a sexual act; or
(vi) entices a child for pornographic purposes or gives gratification therefor.
Whoever commits sexual harassment upon a child shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 366A Of the Indian Penal Code
Procuration of minor girl.—Whoever, by any means whatsoever, induces any minor girl under the age of eighteen years to go from any place or to do any act with the intent that such girl maybe, or knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 67B Of The Information Technology Act
Punishment for publishing or transmitting material depicting children in a sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form
(a) Publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted material in any electronic form which depicts children engaged in a sexually explicit act or conduct; or
(b) Creates text or digital images, collects, seeks, browses, downloads, advertises, promotes, exchanges or distributes material in any electronic form depicting children in obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner; or
(c) Cultivates, entices or induces children to online relationship with one or more children for and on a sexually explicit act or in a manner that may offend a reasonable adult on the computer resource; or
(d) Facilitates abusing children online, or
(e) Records in any electronic form of own abuse or that of others pertaining to sexually explicit act with children, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with a fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees:
Provided that provisions of section 67, section 67A and this section do not extend to any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting representation or figure in electronic form-
(i) The publication of which is proved to be justified as being for the public good on the ground that such book, pamphlet, paper, writing drawing, painting representation or figure is in the interest of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern; or
(ii) Which is kept or used for bona fide heritage or religious purposes.
Explanation. -For the purposes of this section “children” means a person who has not completed the age of 18 years.
International Laws Against Sexual Grooming
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the primary legal instrument which deals with child rights protection issues but doesn’t explicitly address the grooming of children physically or online. In 2011’s General Comment No. 13, CRC Committee stated that children in contact with others through ICT, may be bullied, harassed or stalked (child “luring”) and/or coerced, tricked or persuaded into meeting strangers off-line, being “groomed” for involvement in sexual activities.
The only legal international legal instrument is the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention which defines online grooming. Article 23 of this Convention provides for the offence of grooming as “Solicitation of children for sexual purposes”. It requires each party to criminalise the intentional proposal through information and communication technologies of an adult to meet a child who has not reached the age below which it is prohibited to engage in sexual activities with a child for the purposes of engaging in sexual activities or producing child pornography and where this proposal has been followed by material acts leading to such a meeting.
Another legal instrument against sexual grooming is the EU Directive on Combating the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography. Article 6(1) of the Directive criminalises the solicitation of children for sexual purposes.
Call For Introducing A Clause In POCSO Act To Address Grooming
Adhoc Committee submitted a report in Rajya Sabha in 2020. The report was related to the study of the Alarming Issue of Pornography on Social Media and its Effect on Children and Society as a Whole. It recommended the inclusion of an explicit new provision on ‘cyber-grooming’ in the POCSO Act to tackle the problem of grooming.
The report suggested the introduction of the new provision under Section 11 after clause (vi), which reads as,
“(vii) knowingly persuades, coerces, entices, grooms, communicates, arranges a meeting with a child for oneself or another person and/or meets with a child with the intent of sexually abusing the child, and even if the actor thinks he/she is communicating with a child but is actually talking to an adult.”
The report suggested that the definition of cyber-grooming be included in the POCSO Act as well for specificity and referred to the definition given in the Terminology Guidelines.
What Can Be The Long-Term Effects Of Sexual Grooming On Victim?
- Eating disorder
- Sleeping problems
- Post-traumatic stress
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Feeling of shame and guilt
- Drug and alcohol problems
- Suicidal thoughts
How To Prevent Sexual Grooming And Help The Victim?
- Educate your child about good and bad touch.
- Tell your child not to keep secrets.
- Talk to your child everyday.
- Listen carefully to what your children are saying
- Assure your child that they are doing the right thing by telling you about the abuse.
- Tell your child that it is not their fault.
- Don’t confront the abuser.
- Report the abuse to the concerned authorities.
Child abuse cases in India are increasing at an alarming rate. It has become prevalent after the beginning of the pandemic. In order to avoid these incidents, parents have to be cautious and need to be there for their children. Hopefully, this article about sexual grooming signs, stages, and ways to help the victim.
This article is written by Varsha. You can reach out to the author via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.