Understanding the grooming behaviours of child sexual abusers can lead to strategies for better detection and prevention a new report has found.

The report was released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and authored by Griffith University’s Patrick O’Leary, Head of theSchool of Human Services and Social Work,with Royal Commission staff Emma Koh and Andrew Dare.

“Grooming behaviour is not well understood in the community, given persistent stereotypes about child sexual abuse and perpetrators,’’ Professor O’Leary said.

Professor Patrick O'Leary

Professor Patrick O’Leary

“Misconceptions include most of the perpetrators being strangers to the victim, the child as a ‘willing’ actor in the abuse, or that most grooming occurs online.

“There may also be a perception that children are safe in institutions and that perpetrators can be easily identified.”

He said the research found parents may have also been groomed and that grooming techniques were sometimes difficult to identify and distinguish from normal caregiving behaviours.

The report identified three main types of perpetrators and how they may affect grooming techniques.

Predatory perpetrators: most likely to have a diagnosis of paedophilia, persistently and exclusively sexually attracted to children. They actively seek and manipulate environments in which to perpetrate sexual abuse. Grooming techniques by perpetrators in this group are likely to be more elaborate, involving ‘special’ treatment of the child, gifts and enticements.

Opportunistic perpetrators: less likely than other types to be fixated on sexually abusing children. Indiscriminate in their sexual and moral behaviour, engaging in criminal behaviour outside the sexual abuse of children. Grooming likely to be prompted by the vulnerability of a child, lack of supervision or cognitive distortion of perceived ‘provocative’ or ‘seductive’ child behaviour.

Situational perpetrators: do not have a sexual preference towards children but could, for example, sexually abuse a child in the absence of adult relationships. Perpetrators may see a child’s playfulness, openness, shyness or physicality, as a prompt or opportunity to abuse. These individuals are otherwise law-abiding and will generally have no other criminal involvement. Abuse may occur with or without prior grooming.

The research found grooming to be an incremental process that can involve three main stages — from gaining access to the victim, initiating and maintaining the abuse and concealing the abuse.

“But grooming does not inevitably lead to sexual abuse, and child sexual abuse can also commence in the absence of grooming,” Professor O’Leary said.

He said the best way to identify and prevent grooming and child sexual abuse was the development and implementation of policies and procedures and codes of conduct, as well as developing an organisation culture that prioritises child safety.

The report will assist the Royal Commission’s understanding of how grooming in relation to child sexual abuse may be better identified and addressed.