Validation of the Sexual Grooming Model of Child Sexual Abusers

J Child Sex Abus. 2020 Oct;29(7):855-875. doi: 10.1080/10538712.2020.1801935. Epub 2020 Oct 2.


Sexual grooming has been deemed an integral part of the child sexual abuse process. However, there has yet to be a universally accepted model for this process and, as a consequence, there is no clear understanding of which behaviors constitute sexual grooming. One proposed model of in-person sexual grooming outlined five stages of the process: 1) victim selection, 2) gaining access and isolating a child, 3) trust development, 4) desensitization to sexual content and physical contact, and 5) maintenance following the abuse. The present study sought to validate this Sexual Grooming Model (SGM) and identify behaviors that may be employed during each stage of the process. First, a thorough review of the literature was conducted to generate a comprehensive list of sexual grooming behaviors (n = 77). Second, 18 experts in the field completed a survey which asked them to rate the extent to which each of the five stages and potential grooming behaviors were relevant to the sexual grooming process. Results provided support for the SGM and produced 42 behaviors that were considered to be grooming tactics within these stages. From this, the first validated, comprehensive model of in-person sexual grooming is proposed. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications and future directions in the field.

Keywords: Sexual grooming; child sexual abuse; child sexual abuser; sex offenses.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Minors / psychology
  • Minors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Young Adult