What Does Grooming Look Like?

It is important for us to be aware of this form of grooming and trafficking because it is the larger culprit for most US cities, and chances are you will encounter this form of trafficking more than any other.

Written By: Christie A.

Many of us on social media have seen the panic-driven posts going around with headlines like “I
was almost trafficked at the store.” While this does happen, often these articles do more to
spread fear and misinformation then accomplishing good. We can be conditioned to view human
trafficking through a Hollywood lens, which can leave us blind to how trafficking so often
actually happens. This makes an unseen group of people even more unseen in the presence of
false information and hype, because people don’t know what to look for.

You know how passionate we are here at SOS about stopping trafficking. Working in multiple
countries we see many different faces of what trafficking looks like and how it happens. Yes,
there are kidnappings, organized crime, black markets for children…all those things exist in the
world, but the larger readership on this blog is in the US, and most of the time that’s not what
trafficking looks like in the US. In the US, trafficking often looks like young people being
groomed and exploited; led down a path towards trafficking that they don’t even recognize as

We’ve talked about Adverse Childhood Experiences, and how that leads to trafficking
vulnerabilities, but we haven’t talked much about grooming. So, what is grooming? Grooming is
“manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to
agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.” Grooming happens in homes and
communities, and it is a series of behaviors that creates vulnerability that is then exploited or
manipulated. We find this grooming behavior leads to abuse, and then that abuse often leads to
selling the victim to others. One definition of trafficking is “coercing someone to benefit from
their work,” and in this context, if sold by someone that groomed them, it becomes a trafficking

So what methods are used to groom victims?

1. Isolation. They often isolate their intended victim. They seek to gain access to them
while no one is around.

2. Desensitization. They desensitize them to touch and inappropriate behavior. This is done
slowly, over time.

3. Control. They build misplaced trust and loyalty. They are in relationship with these
victims, often looking to make them dependent upon them or something they
have/provide. (Drugs, alcohol, clothes, shoes, purses…all freely supplied at first as they
get to know that person and their life.) to control and manipulate.

Additionally, grooming isn’t limited to in-person means. Today we find that groomers meet their
potential victim through online means such as video games and social media.
It is important for us to be aware of this form of grooming and trafficking because it is the larger
culprit for most US cities, and chances are you will encounter this form of trafficking more than
any other.

So, what can you do?

1. Be aware. It is estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the US is a victim of sex abuse. Just
because someone is a victim of abuse doesn’t mean that they are a trafficking victim, but
chances are if they are still in regular contact with their abuser than there is a higher
likeliness that that abuser will “sell them to a friend,” or try and make money off them.

2. Build Community. Just like isolation is a tool that groomers use, community is a tool we
use to bring freedom and healing. There is a role for all of us to play in building safe
communities, and through the context of healthy relationships, healing and safety come.

3. Ask hard questions and be a safe person. This involves putting on your poker face,
especially for the young people in your life, and not reacting but rather responding. Be a
safe place for the young people around you. Build into relationship with them and push
them to have healthy boundaries and healthy relationships.

4. Know what’s going on. Stay relevant, read the articles, be on the platforms. Be aware of
things like sugar babies and only fans and be educated enough that you can have honest
conversations around why those things lead to grooming and exploitation.

5. Speak up. You have opportunities every day to influence worldview and to be a
compassionate advocate for girls that are unseen and unheard. Use your voice wisely,
don’t get caught up in hype and fear, but take a fierce stand for building community
and walking along side vulnerable girls.

In this fight to end trafficking there is a place for all of us. It takes each of us doing our part,
committed to healthy relationships and places, and fighting to make our communities safe for
every member! We are so honored to walk with you in the fight!

Until All are Free!

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