How does grooming happen?

In Part 1 of our series, we learned that grooming is a manipulative behavior that an abusive person uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse and reduce the risk of being caught. We shared education on the different types of grooming and warning signs that may appear when grooming is happening (or could happen). Once you recognize the signs, you may ask yourself, “How does grooming happen?” Here’s how.

Grooming behaviors are subtle but often follow the same steps. These actions are very similar to “love bombing” in that they seem innocent or fun at first but have an anterior motive that is not okay.

Grooming Tactics

1. Focus on a victim

Special attention or preference is given to a teenager or young adult by the abuser. Abusers exploit people, including teenagers and young adults with unmet emotional needs, like feelings of isolation, neglect, chaotic living environments, and a lack of parental supervision. This means that grooming can happen to anyone.

2. Bonding

To gain access to their victims, abusers provide seemingly warm and caring attention or support to gain the trust of parents and caregivers of teenagers and young adults. They win the young adult’s trust by gathering information about the teenager, becoming familiar with their needs, and addressing them.

Here is an example of an abuser grooming a victim:

  • Young adult or teenager: “I’m planning to go to the mall.”
  • Young adult’s parent: “I can’t take you to the mall because I have to work.”
  • Abuser: “I can take you to the mall if you want to go.”
3. Building trust and addressing needs

Gifts, flattery, giving money, and meeting even the most basic of needs are some of the tactics abusers use. Teenagers and young adults may also be influenced by techniques that include increased affection and attention they may not get from others.

Here are some phrases that an abuser grooming the victim may say:

    • “I know you love video games, so I bought you this game.”
    • “I see you like makeup. Let me take you out to shop.”
4. Isolation

By creating situations in which they are alone together (babysitting, coaching lessons, special trips), the abuser reinforces their relationship with the victim. Abusers may enhance their relationship with teenagers or young adults by cultivating the perception that no one cares for them like they do, not even their parents.

An abuser might isolate someone in the following manner:

  • “I’m the only one who really understands you. Trust me.”
5. Sexualized relationships

After the abuser establishes emotional dependence and trust, the relationship progresses toward sexualization. By stimulating the teenager or young adult’s curiosity and trust, the abuser advances the relationship’s sexual nature. The process occurs through conversation, photography, or creating situations where both people are naked or unclothed (for example, swimming). Other examples include:

  • Bathing or massaging a teenager or young adult
  • Walking in on a teenager or adult changing or toileting
  • Telling a teenager or young adult sexually explicit jokes
6. Maintaining control

Once sexual abuse occurs, abusers often use secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain participation and silence. They also manipulate the teenager’s emotions and material needs to keep control over the young adult. In this case, ending the unhealthy relationship may feel more embarrassing and damaging to the teenager than continuing it.

Are you being groomed? We can help.

Grooming can happen to anyone. If this sounds like something you have experienced or someone you know is going through, our advocates are here 24/7 to offer support and find resources that can help you feel safer. You are not alone.

Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), chat with us online at, or text “START” to 88788.