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Victim 101- Grooming


Katya Slater


April 14, 2018

Recently, we gave an overview of the main reasons why people don’t escape their traffickers. To help you better understand the psychological and environmental reality victims face every day, we’re going to zoom in on the specifics in a series called Victim 101. Our first topic is grooming.

What is grooming?

The act of ingratiating oneself with a victim and building an emotional connection for the purpose of future exploitation. 

Human beings are reluctant to surrender their freedom and independence. It’s a natural instinct to want to be your own person, in charge of your own life. So when someone violates that independence, a defensive “firewall” kicks in for self-preservation. People become suspicious. People withdraw. People refuse to cooperate until they feel their freedoms, their natural human rights, aren’t being threatened. 

In order to turn people into money-makers, traffickers must sneak past this firewall. One of the tactics they use is grooming. This is a bit like a psychological bait-and-switch. Traffickers gain a victim’s trust through gift-giving, advice, companionship, material aid, and a host of other behaviors that promote emotional closeness. Then, when the victim is dependent on them, isolated, and has no reason to suspect them, they abuse that connection for their own profit. Sometimes, that abuse begins subtly and quietly, and the victim doesn’t realize something is wrong until the demands and manipulation become extreme.


A trafficker poses as a youth on social media and befriends children, using a fabricated “friendship” to obtain personal details and photographs of a child victim.

A trafficker becomes romantically involved with a victim, leveraging that relationship to pressure the victim into making pornographic films.

A trafficker provides food, housing, and community for a migrant worker, preying on feelings of debt and gratitude to manipulate a victim into hard labor.

How it feels

Imagine you’re a lonely and misunderstood kid. Suddenly, someone befriends you, listens to you, and does nice things for you. It’s everything you ever wanted! One day, they tell you a secret they’ve never told anyone else, and boy, do you feel special. So when they ask you about your own secrets, you feel a little obligated to return the favor. Even if the things they’re asking about are a little weird…or a little dirty.

Victims of grooming are given the affection, help, or attention they crave. And because they aren’t getting it anywhere else, they latch onto the charmer immediately. In the beginning, it can be thrilling and wonderful. Inevitably, however, it turns into a nightmarish betrayal, wherein the former source of joy and peace becomes the gatekeeper of physical and emotional torment.