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Understanding Grooming Techniques Kelli Palfy

Understanding Grooming Techniques

by Dr. Kelli Palfy

Registered Psychologist 4675


         Grooming techniques are deliberate acts and gestures which offenders, especially preferential child molesters, often engaged in. The deeds, gestures and activities which are perfectly legal and not harmful in themselves, are later recognized as their offenders preparation process. They are specifically designed to win the affection, trust and loyalty of their potential victim and often the victim’s parents. They are devised with the intention of helping them seduce and prepare their potential victims for future sexual relations.[1]

         The grooming process begins when the predator chooses their target or goes in search of one. They will visit the places children are likely to go, including schools, arcades, shopping malls, soccer fields and parks. Sexual offenders typically study cultural trends, such as popular video games and television shows to learn about their victims interests.[2]  

         Perpetrators may be very attentive to both the child’s and the parents’ needs in order to gain their trust, affection and loyalty.[3] Kenneth Lanning, a former FBI agent with expertise in the area of child molesters, says, “Offenders who prefer younger child victims are more likely to first ‘seduce’ the victim’s parents/guardians to gain their trust and obtain increased access to the potential victim.”[4] Their actions are carefully orchestrated with the intent to fool, manipulate and exploit the immaturity of the victim[5] as well as those meant to protect them.[6]

         “The exact nature of this seduction depends in part on the developmental stages, needs, and vulnerabilities of the targeted child,” Lanning says. “The skilled offender will adjust his method of deception to fit the targeted child and/or the needs of the parent.”[7]

         They often befriend the parents and are deceivingly transparent about their intentions to befriend their children, hoping to mislead the parent into feeling at ease with them. If they are successful, the parent(s) may begin to think, “This guy’s okay. He just loves children.”  

         Many offenders go to extreme measures, including establishing a career or hobby within an educational institution or volunteer organization. Others befriend or even marry a single parent in order to gain easy access to unguarded children. In these environments abuse often goes undetected for several years.[8]

         Offenders are thought to have a radar for children in disadvantaged situations.[9] Vulnerable children include those who haven’t yet learned there are people who can’t be trusted, those with low self-esteem, or those in need of relationships. Rebellious teen, children and teens isolated by their peers , or those having problems with their parent(s) are easy targets. Offenders may try to win their target’s affection by using self-disclosure and empathy. For example, they may tell them they too went through the same things when they were young.[10] Offenders pay special attention to those they intend to abuse. They often fake having a common background or take an interest in what interests their potential victim. They will often allow them special privileges and treat them as if they are much older than their actual age.  

         Sexual predators recruit victims using a variety of methods. Many are charming and offer something the child needs. They prey on weakness and vulnerability in much the same way as predators in the wild.[11] They watch for the weak individual, separate them from the group, then attack. Offenders often work to separate a child by taking the target child away from their home on educational or recreational outings.[12] They lavish the child with attention and friendship, play games with them, help them with their homework, and even assist their parents by providing rides. 

         Although offenders do often target disadvantaged children, the reality is any child may be abused.[13] Predators target children in healthy/average families too. Once targets are established, sexual offenders will often shower their victims with gifts, opportunities, praise and affection.[14] They work hard to find and fill any voids, often moving mountains to gain access to their victims. Any child who feels lonely, unloved or unpopular will naturally gravitate toward someone who gives them attention, affection and praise.[15]


[1] Kenneth Lanning, Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis for Professionals Investigating the Sexual Exploitation of Children (Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2010); Matt Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Most Child Molesters Blend into their Background,” HALO Forensic Behavioural Specialists (blog), February 22, 2010,

[2] Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.”

[3] Lanning, Child Molesters

[4] Lanning, Child Molesters, 27. 

[5] Lanning, Child Molesters

[6] Joe Sullivan and Anthony Beech, “Professional Perpetrators: Sex Abusers Who Use Their Employment to Target and Sexually Abuse the Children with Whom They Work,” Child Abuse Review 11 (2002),

[7] Lanning, Child Molesters, 27. 

[8] Matthew Colton, Susan Roberts, and Maurice Vanstone, “Sexual Abuse by Men Who Work with Children,” Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 19 (2010): 345–64,; Lanning, Child MolestersLogan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”; Joe Sullivan and Anthony Beech, “A Comparative Study of Demographic Data Relating to Intra- and Extra-Familial Child Sexual Abusers and Professional Perpetrators,” Journal of Sexual Aggression 10, no. 1 (2004): 39–50,

[9] Lanning, Child Molesters.

[10] Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.”

[11] Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.”

[12] Sullivan and Beech, “A Comparative Study of Demographic Data.” 

[13] Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.”

[14] Ramona Alaggia and Graeme Millington, “Male Child Sexual Abuse: A Phenomenon of Betrayal,” Clinical Social Work Journal 36, no. 3 (2008): 265–75,; Karen J. Terry and Joshua D. Freilich, “Understanding Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests from a Situational Perspective,” Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 21, no. 4 (2012): 437–55,

[15] Logan, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.”


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