As I sat on my couch watching the latest edition of
, 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. Sports
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.