Rector’s eNews – 17 August 2022/ Rector's eNews
Over the next few weeks in our eNews, I will focus on the issue of grooming and use some material put out by the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in the UK. I do this just to bring to the attention of parents once again the issue of grooming and to raise awareness of its existence worldwide, and to acknowledge that it can happen in schools or extended families or friendship groups. In our own “backyard” at Michaelhouse we take measures, as far as possible, to prevent it by engaging with our boys and staff on this topic. We have done this at the beginning of the year and last term, and it has been the topic on which visiting speakers have engaged boys and staff and the topic of tutor group discussions. For this week, there are just three topics circulated by the NSPCC to be considered: firstly, what grooming is, secondly the types of grooming and thirdly signs of grooming.
- What is grooming?
Grooming is when somebody builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so that they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked. Anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Grooming takes place over a short or long period of time – from weeks to years. Groomers may also build a relationship with a young person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative.
- Types of grooming
Children and young people can be groomed online, in person or both – by a stranger or by someone they know. This could be a family member, friend or someone who has targeted them – like a teacher, faith group leader or sports coach. When a child is groomed online, groomers may hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this will be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a “peer”. They might target one child online or contact lots of children very quickly and wait for them to respond.
The relationship a groomer builds can take different forms. This could be a romantic relationship, a relationship as a mentor, as an authority figure or as a dominant and persistent figure in the lives of the younger people. A groomer can use the same sites, games and apps as young people, spending time learning about a young person’s interests and using this to build a relationship with him/her. Children can be groomed online through social media networks, text messages in messaging apps like WhatsApp, email, text voice and video chats in fora, games and apps. Whether online or in person, groomers can use tactics like pretending to be younger, giving advice or showing understanding, buying gifts, giving attention or offering to take young people on trips, outings or holidays. Groomers may also try and isolate children from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them and giving the groomer power and control over them. They might use blackmail to make children feel guilt and shame or create the idea that they share special “secrets”’ to control, frighten and intimidate. It’s important to remember that children and young people may not understand that they have been groomed. They may have complicated feelings like loyalty, admiration and love for the groomer as well as fear, distress and confusion.
- Signs of grooming
It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed as the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be “normal” teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems. Some of the signs you might see include being very secretive about how they are spending their time, including when they are online, having an older boyfriend or girlfriend, having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones they can’t or won’t explain, underage drinking or drug taking, spending more or less time online or on their devices, being upset, withdrawn or distressed, sexualised behaviour, language and an understanding of sex that is not appropriate for their age, spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time. A child is unlikely to know they are being groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult, even one they trust.
This is a really difficult topic to consider, but the phenomenon of grooming has arisen in some South African schools and within extended families and, even though this would appear to be relatively seldom, it is an area about which schools and families cannot be complacent. This is why we have given “airtime” to it at school and why I raise it now.
On a different note entirely, I wish you a very happy half-term with your sons.