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Grooming And Sexual Abuse

Grooming works by turning an innocent and vulnerable person into a guilty person.  It leads to powerful and destructive feelings of shame and self-loathing becoming sealed up inside the abused victim.  This sense of guilt and secrecy can create a lasting psychological injury, but this may be improved with care and time.

How does grooming work?

An abusive predatory person spots someone who is vulnerable and exploits their vulnerability for their own ends.

The predator spots that the victim is isolated, vulnerable and alone and in need of attention and care.

The predator approaches under the guise of providing the much-needed care and attention, but really the predator is satisfying their own agenda.

The predator will use the victim’s vulnerability as a channel through which they can gain their own sexual pleasure and exploitative ends whilst making the victim feel that they wanted it all along.

Grooming works by disorienting and disordering the victim

It creates a terrible conflict in the mind of the victim.  A conflict that involves, guilt and shame.  These feelings serve to make the experience all the more secretive and hard to bring to light.

Grooming is a wretched abuse of another person’s innocence.

The groomer insidiously starts to give the vulnerable person what they need, at each stage making it clear that they are only doing so because the vulnerable person wants it.

A skilled and well-practiced groomer will be especially good at making the victim feel that everything that happens only does so because the victim wanted it to.  The groomer offloads all of the responsibility onto the victim.

At every stage it appears that the vulnerable person is driving the process.  But really, they are the victim and they are being drawn further into the abusive groomers’ net.

Long term consequences of grooming

In the future it will be almost impossible for the victim to think of themselves as a victim.

This is one of the key issues.  Grooming turns the innocent person into a guilty one. They have been groomed to be sexually abused and made to feel that they are to blame, that they wanted it.  It is very difficult to undo this experience.

Grooming shamefully seals up the trauma of abuse.

Spotting the signs that someone has been groomed

  • An individual who has been groomed may become more secretive.
  • They will carry a burden of shame about their experiences and don’t feel they can tell anyone.
  • They may start to show signs of self-harm, sometimes cutting.
  • Frequently people develop food disorders, so anorexia and bulimia are common.
  • These are all things that the victim uses to express some of their self-loathing.
  • Addictive behaviours; alcohol, drugs, gambling may also be used to the same ends.
  • Personal relationships will be difficult.  Someone who has been groomed and abused will want to develop intimate and lasting relationships but will at the same time struggle with issues of trust.  Sex will probably be a complicated area.
  • They are likely to reject people who are close to them.

Working with people who have been groomed and sexually abused

A key question when working with someone who has been a victim of grooming is whether trust can be developed in the therapy so that the victim may feel like they can speak about what has happened to them.

In my experience this can work on a push-pull axis.  At one moment the therapy will involve a greater degree of commitment and trust, but this can turn on a sixpence and transform into an atmosphere of mistrust which will be followed by missed appointments and possibly the breaking off of the therapy.

A therapist needs to avoid and resist any temptation to retaliate which would only go to prove that they cannot be trusted.

People who have suffered these kinds of insidious traumas may need a great deal of time to start and stop therapy over a number of years while they try to gradually work towards a greater sense of health.

It is possible to repair these kinds of injuries but they take time, patience and care.

If you have suffered these kinds of experiences, don’t give up, try to speak to someone about it.

Even if you have tried before and it didn’t work, try again.

Grooming And Sexual Abuse

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Grooming And Sexual Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jun 2018
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