The latest inflammatory rhetoric being thrown around in the political culture wars has put a spotlight on child sexual abuse (CSA), with partisans using the term “grooming” to attack political opponents. This is very dangerous and harmful to the movement bringing awareness to the prevalence of CSA. Grooming is an important concept with a specific meaning in CSA research literature, but it has unfortunately been weaponized for political purposes.
A high-profile example of this rhetoric came from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently tweeted, “Democrats are the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophile politics.”
This dangerous line of political attack blurs the lines between trans rights activism and pedophilia – it’s disingenuous and immoral.
CSA prevention is, and should remain, a non-partisan issue. Debates around gender identity and/or sexual orientation must be kept separate from discussions of the tactics predators use to sexually exploit children.
We need to take a step back and focus on what CSA researchers have learned about grooming. Otherwise, we risk muddying the waters and making it harder for people in youth serving organizations and families to protect kids from CSA.
“Grooming” is a Firmly Established Concept in CSA Research
Researchers have defined grooming as, “antecedent inappropriate behavior that functions to increase the likelihood of future sexual abuse.” Examples include:
- Exposing a child to sexually explicit materials
- Inappropriate gift-giving
- Inappropriate isolation of a child
- Showing favoritism
- Boundary violations such as inappropriate bathing, clothing, or sharing of personal sexual experiences with a child
- Encouraging a child to keep secrets
- Violating a child’s privacy
CSA perpetrators utilize the grooming process to prepare a victim for sexual abuse by gaining their trust and gradually lowering their resistance to sexual engagement. Perpetrators also often spend time gaining the trust of a victim’s family and establishing their personal reputation in the wider community as someone who is trustworthy, respectable, and above suspicion.
Using “Grooming” to Attack Political Opponents Undermines Child Safety
The concept of grooming is critical in CSA prevention because it helps us understand why CSA is most often perpetrated by someone a victim knows and trusts. Diluting its meaning for political purposes is counterproductive and dangerous – it puts children at risk by spreading ignorance about child sexual abuse.
To prevent CSA, we need more education for parents and staff in youth serving organizations on what grooming looks like, how to interrupt these inappropriate behaviors, and how to talk to children about safely interacting with adults.
Instead of promoting child safety, fringe political actors are hijacking the term “grooming” for their own gain – fueling conspiracy thinking and reviving disgusting stereotypes about LGBTQIA+ individuals to rally supporters.
This latest salvo in the culture war is just another example of the current trend in politics of opinion and feeling over fact and science. As citizens, we must hold our lawmakers accountable to creating laws based on research findings and established facts. The safety of our children needs to be beyond scoring political points or generating outrage.
Public figures pushing the “groomer” narrative can’t be considered serious advocates for child protection. These people know what they’re doing, and it isn’t a benevolent campaign to save the children – it’s political theater.