Groomers use proven tactics to win over their victims. They use healthy behaviors that have evil intentions behind them. Many of these behaviors are ways a normal person might treat a new friend. Women don’t always get pulled into sex trafficking by kidnapping or force. Kidnapping is a larger crime that most pimps won’t want to be involved with. Instead they lure the girls in with friendship, using fraud to ensnare their victims. Friendship can be one of the most beautiful things in life, that is why we all crave it. Grooming for sex trafficking uses good things to do bad. We can combat their evil with healthy loving relationships.
One of the first things a groomer does is ask questions. It is something we all do when getting to know a person, looking to relate as we ask and answer. With groomers, there is a dark side to their questions; they are looking for answers to inappropriate questions often asking about sexual experience. They want to know about sexual abuse, who it was by, what was done, did they like it, and so on. They also want to find out who the potential victim has that cares for them, if they are fighting with their parents or legal guardians. The fewer amount of people that might care, the easier the target. Groomers use this information to isolate and keep the victims in the life.
Groomers and healthy relationships both give compliments. We all like receiving compliments. But if someone is starving for a compliment, it can influence them even further. Again, there are appropriate and inappropriate compliments. Groomers compliment with far more sexual overtones, focusing on body parts and ignoring personality traits. After all, the groomer is far more interested in what their victims’ bodies will bring them, then in the victim’s personality. We need to model and teach appropriate compliments. We can teach our youth to stay away from those who are inappropriate with their compliments and teach them to respect themselves enough to walk away when someone is trying to manipulate them.
In getting to know a new friend’s story, if we are attentive, we will learn about things they like. You might buy a gift, something that reminded you about them as a way to bless your new friend. This is a great thing to do, but it too can be exploited. Pimps and his girls do this too, a way to deepen the bond with their new “friend”. Jewelry, clothes and makeup are just some of the things given. These are things that are advertised to improve your appearance. Instead of taking the girls interest into mind they are dolling up their victims to get them ready for the life.
Once we get a new friend, we enjoy spending quality and quantity amount of time together. We like to do things together, build new experiences that deepens the budding relationship. Particularly in new dating relationships the couple will spend a lot of time together because of the excitement of a new relationship. I think of when I first met my wife. We spent as much time together as possible and we were falling in love the whole time. The amount of time or quality of time can also be exploited by groomers to do bad. If a victim requires a bit more time they will give it, if they feel the victim is worth it. In spending this time, they are trying to develop trust and influence in the person’s life. Time, both in quality and quantity, is just another good thing that groomers use for evil.
One last thing I would mention is new friends give each other advise. We give and receive advise based on what the new friend’s skills and giftings. If I was becoming friends with a Starbucks barista, I would ask them all sorts of questions about coffee. I would seek how to make a better cup of coffee. I would take any advice they gave. I am a Pastor, when people meet me and find out my profession, they usually ask a spiritual question seeking advice for their spiritual life. These types of beginning conversations are good and natural. A pimp or those working for a pimp will offer advise as well. Generally, they will offer advice that will help alienate their victim from any sort of safety. They will befriend the unfriended and give foolish advice so the potential victim can become a victim.
Groomers use healthy behavior to exploit their victims. How often have we asked questions, given compliments or gifts, spent time with or offered advice to a new friends? I do this with almost every new friend; it is the way that friendships are built. We can help prevent sexual exploitation by building friendships with vulnerable people. We should work hard to have more friends as well as teach youth how to be and find good friends; this will save them from all sorts of pains in life.
I would beg that we don’t stop finding new friends. That we don’t stop developing friendship, especially with those who are on the margins of life. We can use all the good that we have to befriend others. Being a friend to someone who is at risk is the absolute best way of stopping sexual exploitation. We can live out and model healthy relationships. We need to be intentional about this in our community.
These new friends on the margins will not gain you power or position. They may not be influencers or leaders in the community. It may even cost you status if you start hanging out with them. However, I would offer this: there is a deep richness and reality in developing relationships with the most vulnerable in our community. Your lives will be greatly enriched. You will find wisdom and meaning in places you never thought possible. You will find yourself craving the sincerity of those you meet and befriend.
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