As a Safeguarding trainer I find that one of the most difficult things for people to grasp is the concept of ‘grooming’. Broadly speaking, the process of grooming entails building an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust in order to sexually abuse them. This means the abuser is ensured continued access to children as many don’t understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse. Grooming can sometimes take years, and can take place online, in person and by abusers of either gender and of any age.
But sexual abusers do not just abuse their victims. Sexual abusers can also groom adults to ensure that their activities are not recognised for what they are.
- In a recent TV programme, ‘Savile’, Louis Theroux revisited after fourteen years the subject of his earlier documentary – Jimmy Savile – with a new awareness that he had been in fact a prolific pedophile. Theroux was seen wrestling with the accusation by a victim that he had also been groomed in failing to recognise Savile’s menacing behaviour and comments at the time.
- In 2011, Nigel Leat, a primary school teacher from Weston-Super-Mare was convicted of sexually abusing a number of children in his class over a period of 15 years, despite there being over thirty written complaints about his behaviour. A Serious Case Review concluded that ‘Much of the behaviour exhibited by the teacher was typical of grooming activities pursued by adults intent on sexually abusing children. The failure of school managers to take action in response to the concerns raised was compounded by the failure of anyone in the school to recognise that the teacher’s behaviour might have constituted grooming for sexual abuse.’
- Jonathan Thomson-Glover, a House Master at Clifton College, was convicted of making, taking and possessing indecent images of children in his care. An internal report published in August 2016 concluded that: ‘throughout X’s career he displayed behaviour that could have indicated he was grooming groups of boys but, with the exception of the school’s education psychologist, no one recognised favouritism and the invitations for selected boys to go on trips as potential signs of grooming.’
People who wish to abuse children can sometimes seek to work in professions where they have continued access to them. It is therefore absolutely vital that all professionals who work with children need to be able to recognise the signs of grooming in colleagues. These include:
- Paying an excessive amount of attention to a child or groups of children, providing presents, money or having favourites
- Seeking out vulnerable children, e.g. disabled children
- Trying to spend time alone with a particular child or group of children on a regular basis
- Making inappropriate sexual comments
- Sharing inappropriate images
- Being vague about where they have worked or when they have been employed
- Encouraging secretiveness
Any concerns should be reported immediately to the Designated Safeguarding Lead of the setting, who should report all concerns to the Local Authority Designated Officer (in Bristol the DO is Nicola Laird, 0117 903 7795 or 07795 091020) – but anyone can make a referral directly to the DO.