In her article “Limited protection” (Community Care, 19
December) Barbara Starns suggests that in cases of child sexual
abuse the concept of grooming in itself does not come within the
realms of “significant harm”. This fails to recognise not only the
complexities of grooming, but also other aspects of sex offending
and the impact they can have on a child or young person who is
“Grooming” refers to the manipulative tactics used by a perpetrator
to gain a child’s compliance and prevent them from telling.
Grooming is not uniform; it comes in many different guises. It may
be practical, psychological, emotional or a combination of these
things. Different grooming tactics can have different impacts. This
can help explain, for example, why a child who experiences less
physically severe sexual assault may be as traumatised as a child
who is raped, or why two siblings who experience the same sexual
assault by the same offender can have different responses.
In our clinical work at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation we have found
that grooming can have as great an impact on the child as sexual
assault. Grooming also affects the child’s relationship with
significant others, especially their immediate protective carer(s).
The person the offender is most likely to fear is the child’s
protective parent, who must be groomed into trusting and believing
the offender at the expense of the child. This aspect of grooming
is intended to drive a wedge between the parent and child.
We should not only consider the impact of grooming on the child.
Most sex offenders are aware to a greater or lesser extent that
what they are doing is wrong. They therefore develop distorted
thinking in order to legitimise their behaviour. This may be
incidental or a deliberate ploy on the part of the offender,
because a child who is made to feel in some way responsible for
their own abuse will find it harder to tell. Either way, the result
is that the offender can distort the child’s own thinking, damaging
their cognitive learning and development.
The question “when did the abuse start?” should not mean when was
the first sexual assault or convictable offence. Instead it should
mean at what age did the child or young person become exposed to
the influence of the offender’s distorted attitudes, beliefs and
manipulative behaviour, over how long a period of time and through
what developmental stages.
Jenny Still is principal therapist, Lucy Faithfull