Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I see grooming behavior

As I sat on my couch watching the latest edition of Sports Center, I happened to catch a Kay Jeweler’s commercial.  You know the ones: “Every kiss begins with Kay.”  Well, this one was marketing jewelry for kids.  A handsome chap was presenting a little gem to, well, a little gem, and he told her “I’m so happy to be marrying your mom, and I’m really happy that you’re gonna be in my life, too.”  And, because it’s a commercial, the child absolutely loved the gift, and the mom looked on lovingly from the background. 

I wasn’t able to find this commercial on YouTube, so I can’t link to it.  But most people who watch this commercial will see a brilliant marketing campaign (after all, they’re opening up a whole new market for their product), or maybe the frivolous side of capitalism (does a child really need jewelry?), or maybe even a sweet moment (there’s no way this marriage will end in divorce).  You wanna know what I see?  I see grooming behavior. 

Grooming behavior is nothing more than normal behavior that prosecutors later transform into "evidence" to help them convict adults of child sexual assault.  Here’s how it works: Take, for example, a hypothetical child who gets a piece of jewelry from a soon-to-be step dad.  Then, after her mom and the step dad are married, the step dad does other nice things for the child, like giving her allowances, buying her Valentine’s Day gifts, and other similar acts of goodwill and kindness. 

But then, one day in the not-too-distant future, the child grows up to be an angry, rebellious, deviant, drug-using teen.  As part of her transformation, she decides that she doesn’t like taking orders from this guy who isn’t even her "real dad.”  Soon thereafter she makes a false allegation of sexual assault -- for example, "he touched my butt" -- to escape his draconian curfews and other unreasonable household rules.  The police get wind of this (probably through one of the growing number of “mandatory reporters”), and during their investigation they ask the now-teenager whether the step dad ever gave her any gifts.  She then recounts every nice thing that step dad ever did for her, starting with the gift of jewelry before he married her mom. 

So what?  Well, this information now finds its way into the criminal complaint where step dad is charged with child sexual assault, and the state will call an “expert” to testify about this at the step dad’s trial.  The expert will say that it is “very common” for child predators to give gifts and cash to their “victims” in order to gain their trust and lower their guard, thus allowing them to commit the sexual assault -- here, the butt touch.  (You gotta start slow, after all, so the child doesn't blow the whistle on you.)  This well conceived course of action by the defendant step dad is known as grooming behavior, and the gifts and “cash payments” to the “victim” are evidence that a sexual assault actually occurred, so says the prosecutor's “expert.” 

Now, step dad’s defense attorney will argue that this alleged grooming behavior is just common, non-predatory behavior, and happens routinely in households where no sexual assault ever occurs, which is the case here.  But, unfortunately, the court might not permit the defense attorney to use his own expert to substantiate this theory of defense -- after all, it’s “commonsense" which, by definition, means that the jury doesn't need an expert to explain it to them.  But this puts the defendant at a disadvantage relative to the prosecutor, who did have an “expert” who testified convincingly that step dad's apparently innocent actions were "consistent with" grooming behavior, and with sexual assault.      

Many defendants have been convicted of child sexual assault in large part based on grooming behavior "evidence," including gifts of jewelry and cash payments.  So the lesson for the soon-to-be step dads out there is this: Be nice, but not too nice, to your future step children. 


  1. You, yourself, know that no really good advice - short of not showing affection or giving gifts to children or teens - to fight this exists. Maybe people would be wise to just avoid any and all relationships involving children or teens.
    My God , radical environmentalists who worry about the "population bomb" couldn't have came up with a better system for discouraging reproduction and driving people -mostly men- away from children.


    1. That's right. And for people who love being around children, and want to have their own children, this poses a problem as there is always some risk. Sometimes the risk is higher depending on a multitude of factors, but anyone, regardless of race, income, social status, etc., can find themselves accused of child sexual assault, often years or even decades after it supposedly happened. And, without question, many of these allegations have been proven false. Controlled psychology studies even show that children under a certain age can simply hear about something, e.g., "bad touching," and then come to believe that it actually happened to them. I think psychologists attribute this to their lack of "source monitoring skills." It's a scary world, for sure.

  2. Holy sh*t.

    You know what I saw in that commercial?
    Something that would unsettle me if I were the fiancee/mom.
    The problem is not the act of kindness, but one of giving the girl a piece of romantic jewelry identical to what he gave the mother, rather than something age or relationship appropriate.
    it could be entirely innocent, but it also sets off alarm bells.
    The real problem is getting adults to notice and pay attention to this kind of behavior, and act to intervene, BEFOREhand.

    I'm troubled by your assessment that seems to imply that most of these cases are false,
    partly because, if true, that's awful.
    but particularly because the only four cases I experienced
    were all my peers, girls I knew who were ACTUALLY molested by their stepfathers (and in one case, father).
    No "bad touching." No borderline behavior, though if began that way.
    I'm talking about sex acts.

    And in two of those four, family members refused to believe, even after strong evidence (including medical) was presented. IN one case, the former stepfather's family harrassed the girl day and night to try to upset her before she had to speak in court.

    No doubt there are many cases where an innocent man is accused,
    but pedophiles DO in fact groom children in exactly this way sometimes.

    This is only a "half-truth" bomb.

  3. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I don't know what the mix is regarding false allegations to truthful allegations to partly-truthful allegations -- although many studies have proven that many allegations are false (risk factors include improper influence by a divorcing spouse, for example). But I think the problem (at least the one that concerns me) is partly evident in your comment: it is troubling to believe that allegations are false because, if they are, that's awful. Worse yet, if kids make false allegations, that means that WE can be falsely accused too. That is terrifying. (And that's why I would never be alone with a kid -- although from cases I've seen, having an adult witness in the room, even at the time of the allegation, can STILL result in a conviction.) On the other hand, if we convince ourselves -- and I'm NOT implying that you're doing this -- that while kids lie about other things, they would never lie about THIS, then we can rest easier because that means WE would never be falsely accused. The world then makes sense and is safe once again.

  4. Dear Michael, An interesting article, but fundamentally predicated on un-realistic assumptions. I think you've crossed a bridge too far with this> Quote: But then, one day in the not-too-distant future, the child grows up to be an angry, rebellious, deviant, drug-using teen Seriously? Well adjusted, non-abused children rarely grow up to be what you have described. If they do fall fall into the wrong crowd they typically retain an underlying sense of right and wrong that would internally prohibit them from making such a foul claim..
    However I strongly support your opinion regarding the gross 'Normalisation of grooming" by corporations whether it be child jewelry or little girls lingerie. It must be stopped.

  5. While I believe "some" stepfathers to be innocent I know for a fact not many of them buy their to be stepdaughters jewelry! What you don't seem to understand is that there are so many un-reported sexual abused children in this world. Right now I suspect my granddaughter is being groomed by her stepfather and because my son does not have the "proof" here we are, waiting and worrying. Another incident happened yesterday and I'm so upset. Instead of her mother checking out that her daughter lied to me and hre father she accused us of invading her privacy because we checked her text messages! When a stepfather calls a 16 yeaar old Baby and wants to take her to the movies alone I get worried! So I am sorry you have to defend yourselves but don't think I will stop watching out for my family!