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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

What Are The 6 Stages Of Grooming?

Learn the red flag behaviors all parents need to know about grooming

In all honestly, I’ve been putting this topic off. I can’t stomach stuff like this. I’ve met men and women in law enforcement who deal with much worse things than this and I don’t know how they do it.

So lets you and me be brave together and talk about it so we can protect our kids and the kids in our community.

Most resources will tell you there are 6 stages groomers use to control a child victim. While not every groomer will follow these exact steps, people smarter than me agree that they follow this general path.

Grooming Stage 1: Victim Selection

The first step in grooming is choosing a victim. We have at this point a person who feels they must for whatever terrible reason make sexual contact with a child. We can’t help that and we certainly can’t tell that by looking at someone. So we have to look for behaviors that indicate intent. That’s when we’ll see what a person is all about.

The groomer has to look for a child they feel attracted to, that they can manipulate, and eventually control. Some general characteristics they may look for are less parental involvement like a single parent or parents who are more “free-range” with supervision.

They also look for kids who have low-self esteem, seem isolated already, and are insecure or needy. I think we can see that we as protector parents need to raise, strong kids who can think and act for themselves. They’ll be a hard target for a groomer and be able to stand up for themselves.

Grooming Stage 2: Gaining Trust

In the second stage, the victim is selected so it’s time to gain trust. The best way groomers gain trust is to appear to be friendly and open. This does not mean that every nice person has evil intentions, it just means that groomers may not act like groomers immediately.

The goal of gaining trust is to help parents and the child let their guard down. They’ll ask questions and really try to get to know the child in order to help build a profile they can exploit. In this stage, you may see the person give small gifts, take the child on small outings, play games, and ask for secrets. When targeting older kids, groomers may provide drugs or alcohol.

And once the secrets are told and the gifts are given, things ramp up. The groomer will begin to ask for small favors, like attention and hugs. It may seem small at first, but it will get worse.

It’s also important to know that groomers may not work alone. Maybe their spouse or child who is under their influence will help to bring another victim into the fold. So couples can work against you too, not just single people.

Grooming Stage 3: Fulfilling Needs

In stage three the groomer starts to fill the unique needs of their target. They will try and create dependence for their victim by giving the child something they can’t get anywhere else like a cell phone, a place to stay, or emotional support. If you notice a person giving your child this kind of attention, support, and gifts you may want to report their behavior and discontinue contact with this individual.

Grooming Stage 4: Isolation

With stage four we see the groomer begin to isolate the child from their parents and friends. Detaching them from their support network will help the groomer gain more control over the child in ways their young minds can’t understand. And if anyone questions the level of their relationship, the groomer will say to the child that those people are jealous or just being overprotective.

Also, in this stage isolation is physical too. The groomer will try and get the target to an area where they can’t be seen by anyone else, to keep witnesses down. These locations may include the child’s bedroom, a camping trip, an unoccupied room in a church, or in a car.

Grooming Stage 5: Sexual Contact

Stage five is where sexual contact occurs. At this point, the hugs, tickles, kissing on the cheek, and physical contact all increase to desensitize the child to touch. This will seem acceptable to the child as this is something that occurs regularly even in front of other people.

I’m not going to go over the types of sexual contact here, but to the victim, it won’t seem odd or out of place. It may just seem a like natural progression of affection. They may not even realize that something bad has happened at first. So if a child expresses some sort of feelings about contact with an adult you need to listen and ask questions.

Grooming Stage 6: Maintaining Control

The final stage is maintaining control. Victims will be led to believe that what’s happening with the groomer isn’t unusual. They will still be asked to keep the contact secret so that no one ends their special relationship.

If victims begin to question what’s happening to them, then the groomer will resort to intense psychological tactics like blaming, shaming, instilling fear, and giving them false information to retain secrecy. They’ll make the victim believe that no one will listen to their story and that no one will believe them. They’ll also leverage any dependency the victim has like the gift of a cell phone or a place to stay to maintain their control.

Exploitation can last from hours to days to years. Please make sure you know who your children are talking with, especially adults that have close relationships. Not every adult in your child’s life will have evil intentions, so remember the behaviors as red flags to act on.

If you found this helpful, please consider sharing it with your friends and family because we are all in this together.

Watch The Podcast on Grooming Behavior


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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