| Content Warning | This FAQ article discusses sensitive topics that may be upsetting to read about. Please read with care! You can text us at 514 700 4411 if you have any questions, or call Tel-Jeunes if you need to talk to someone in real time. You can also check below this post for more resources!
When talking about relationships, grooming is when an older person in a relationship with someone younger uses manipulation to get access to the younger person and make them do what they want. Someone who grooms another person is trying to make them more vulnerable to abuse. This abuse can be sexual, but it isn’t always! It can also be emotional, verbal, social, or involve neglect or breaking child labour laws.
Grooming can look like a lot of different things. But, understanding how it works can go a long way to helping people identify the warning signs and get out of situations where grooming might happen!
Abuse and power
Abuse can happen in any kind of relationship. It can happen in families, between friends, at school or work, and between romantic or sexual partners. Sometimes, it’s not obvious to people who see it from outside of the relationship. Sometimes it is.
A common part of abuse involves one person gaining and exploiting power over another person. Power dynamics, like abuse, can exist in any kind of relationship. Think about the kinds of things that give someone influence or authority over another person. Some relationships where one person might have more power than the other person include:
- A boss and their employee
- A parent or guardian and child
- A teacher or coach and their student
- A doctor, therapist, etc and their patient
- A romantic relationship where one person is financially dependent on the other, or relies on them for housing or other basic needs
- A friendship or romantic relationship where one person is older and more established than the other
It’s important to know that just having a power dynamic doesn’t make relationships “bad” or wrong. Almost everyone has relationships like this in their life! And, when those relationships are healthy, they can be fulfilling and good for everyone. But when they’re not, they can be really harmful! Groomers use these power dynamics against younger people in order to make them more vulnerable.
How does grooming make someone more vulnerable to abuse?
A common way that people explain how grooming works is the frog metaphor. If you try to put a live frog in a pot of boiling water, it will hop out and get away. But if you put a live frog in a pot of cool water and slowly raise the temperature over time, it won’t notice the danger until it’s too late.
You can think of grooming as someone slowly raising the temperature in a relationship over time. The relationship might seem okay at first. Sometimes there’s a phase early on where everything seems “too good to be true”, or like a fairytale. The older person might give the younger person gifts, shower them with praise, and make them feel special. Then, when they start treating the younger person badly, they’ll remind them of how good things were early on.
Someone can be less likely to leave an abusive relationship if they think it’s “normal” for someone to treat them that way. Grooming makes it harder for someone to tell how a relationship is affecting them, or whether or not their partner’s behavior towards them is okay. It can also make them feel dependent on their older partner. Or, they might feel like they’d be the one to get in trouble if they tried to make it stop.
Warning signs of grooming
Abusive relationships can look different depending on the people involved. Just because someone is acting differently from how they usually act doesn’t automatically mean they’re being groomed. Someone changing their appearance, taking up new hobbies or interests, or even changing their gender can all be common and healthy changes for people to go through! Lots of young people go through changes like this as they’re figuring out who they are.
If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, here are some common signs to look for. It might be a good idea to think about the situation and talk to someone you trust if you recognize any of these!
- Someone being secretive, and hiding things from people they trust
- Sexualized behavior that’s inappropriate for someone’s age or the situations they’re in (like being at school, around young children, etc)
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend, especially one who doesn’t want the relationship to be public
- Underage drinking or drug-taking, especially if it feels like the person doing it can’t stop or needs to do it to deal with their feelings
- Self-harm and other self-destructive behaviors
- Hypervigilance and other symptoms of trauma
You can also look at how the older person in the relationship acts for warning signs. These can include:
- Talking down to the younger person, insulting them, and making them feel “stupid” or “weak”
- Telling the younger person that they’re “special”, or different from people their own age
- Discouraging the younger person from doing things that they enjoy or spending time around people they trust
- Giving younger people access to alcohol or drugs that are illegal for them to have, especially in secret or as a condition of spending time with them
- Not having any friends or ex-partners their own age
- Asking a younger partner not to tell anyone about their relationship, especially adults
If you or someone you know is experiencing these things, you’re not alone. There are people who can understand what’s going on and help.
If you or someone you know has been groomed
It’s important to know that grooming, like other types of abuse, is never the victim’s fault. People who target others for grooming do it on purpose.
What someone who’s experienced grooming needs can vary a lot from person to person. Everyone is different, and everyone experiences trauma differently! People who have been groomed might feel betrayed, hurt, angry, or confused. They might love the person who groomed them, or they might hate them.
If you or someone you know has been groomed and you’re not sure what to do, it can help to talk to someone you trust. Talking to someone who you feel safe with can help you figure out your next steps. No matter what the person doing the grooming says, only they will get in trouble for what they’ve done.
A word about grooming allegations against gay and trans communities
Recently, there’s been a growing backlash to the idea of young people coming out as trans. This backlash often comes from people who have misinformed or just wrong ideas about what it means to be trans. They might think that young people coming out as trans are doing it because they’ve been groomed by older trans people. They might even think that trans people are more likely to groom children than cisgender people (people who aren’t trans).
It’s important to know that this idea is transphobic. That means it’s based on negative and untrue stereotypes about trans people. The fact is that trans people are no more likely to be abusive to children than cisgender people are!
There’s nothing wrong with telling children that it’s okay to be true to themselves, even if that means coming out as trans. In fact, groomers are more likely to tell children that it’s wrong to be true to themselves! They might want to take children away from family members who support them. They might discourage children from standing up for themselves and talking about their feelings. Or they might tell children that they should feel ashamed of how they feel inside and try to change it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time in history that people have accused members of the LGBTQ+ community of being a danger to children. Accusations of gay people being inherently abusive have been used to justify discrimination of all kinds. For many years, these ideas made it hard for gay people to get jobs working with children. It also led to discrimination against gay people in child custody and adoption cases. And, it’s contributed to harmful practices like conversion therapy.
It’s important to understand that there’s nothing automatically predatory about being LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ people are just people! Anyone from any background can be abusive, or a victim of abuse. It doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s sexual orientation or their gender.