What Does Grooming Mean Sexually?
Grooming is a crime that often goes unnoticed because of how subtle it can be. Victims oftentimes don’t realize they’re victims until they get older.
A child groomer is someone who builds a strong and trusting relationship with a minor under the age of 18 for the purpose of committing sexual assault against them. With that said, groomers are typically a family member, teacher, employer, or any other adult who can easily access the child. The offender may keep in close contact with the minor online or in person and introduce the minor to pornography to allude to future sexual abuse.
With this in mind, the purpose of grooming is to:
- Manipulate the perceptions of other adults who are close to the child
- Manipulate the child into cooperating with the sexual abuse and keep it “secretive,” increasing the chances of the child returning to the offender
- Lower the chances of the child being believed if they tell other people
- Reduce the likelihood of other people noticing the abuse
Is Child Grooming a Federal Crime?
Yes, child grooming is a federal crime.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines grooming as “a method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with them. In extreme cases, offenders may use threats and physical force to sexually assault or abuse a child. More common, though, are subtle approaches designed to build relationships with families.”
Under Section § 2422 of the US Criminal Code, known as the federal enticement statute, the government has made it a crime to attempt or to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce any individual under age 18 to engage in prostitution or any criminal sexual activity.
If convicted of federal coercion and enticement against a minor, an offender could face 15 years in prison and/or a fine to be determined by the judge.
How Do You Prove Grooming?
The federal enticement statute does not require a defendant to demonstrate an intent to actually engage in illegal sexual activity with a minor. A person commits federal enticement, or child grooming, by merely attempting to persuade a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.
As such, a prosecutor must show that an offender intended to complete the crime and took a “substantial step” toward its completion. The federal government must also prove that the defendant intended to get approval from the minor, NOT that they “acted with the specific intent to engage in sexual activity.”
What Are Examples of Grooming?
Before we describe some examples of sexual grooming of a minor, it would help you to first understand the key factors of this offense. Elements of sexual grooming generally include:
- Targeting the minor
- Accessing and isolating the minor
- Building trust with the minor
- Controlling the relationship
- Keeping the relationship a secret
How does a person identify grooming behavior? Well, several acts and behaviors could lay the foundation for grooming by an adult, including:
- Seeming too interested in a child
- Spending excessive amounts of time alone with a child
- Fixating on a child
- Giving special privileges to a child
- Befriending a family and showing more interest in a child rather than the adults
- Showing favoritism towards a child in a family
- Buying gifts for a child
- Demonstrating age and gender preferences
As you can see, grooming takes many shapes and forms. It is not always easy to detect because of how subtly it can be carried out, as we mentioned before. To get a better grasp of this crime, see specific examples of child grooming below:
- Bathing a child
- Walking in on a child changing on purpose
- Intentionally walking in on a child using the bathroom
- Asking a child to watch the adult use the bathroom
- “Accidentally” touching a child’s genitalia by tickling them
- Removing a child’s clothes through certain activities, such as swimming and massaging
- Playing games that involve sexual touching (i.e., playing “doctor”)
- Teasing a child about puberty
- Showing pornography to a child
- Taking photos or videos of a child in minimal clothing, such as underwear, swimsuits, gym wear, etc.
Keep in mind that many of the above examples are not always considered grooming. It comes down to the adult’s intentions to commit the crime. Of course, bathing your own child or a family member’s child is common, but when a person goes out of their way to bathe a child for grooming purposes, they have committed a crime. Similarly, accidentally walking in on a child changing wouldn’t be considered grooming, but doing so intentionally would be considered a crime.
If you are facing sex crime accusations, our criminal defense attorney is your first line of defense. Your freedom and future are at stake, so choose a lawyer who will fight tooth and nail for the best possible outcome in your case. Contact us at (805) 467-6060 to learn more!