Grooming is the precursor phase. Sexual grooming, or just “grooming”, is a preparatory process in which a predator gradually gains a person’s trust with the intent to exploit them. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult. The purpose of grooming is to manipulate the person into becoming a co-operating participant in their own abuse or exploitation, which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the victim will become attached and repeatedly return to the perpetrator.


It can! But, because traffickers choose their victims based on some level of vulnerability that can be overtly identified, the victims themselves are less likely to be the ones to notice the grooming behavior or be willing to disconnect from the person grooming them. The groomer works hard to build trust with their victim while simultaneously discrediting the trustworthiness of those closest to the victim. However, understanding the basic stages of grooming can make you and those around you less vulnerable.

Girl at the window


(1) Targeting a victim

Traffickers target victims who have some noticeable vulnerability: emotional neediness, low self-esteem, or economic stress. SOCIAL MEDIA AND APPS WITH PRIVATE MESSAGING FEATURES make it easier and faster for traffickers to identify their victims. It is also the hardest way for the authorities to identify and capture the perpetrators.

(2) Gathering trust and information

Gathering information about the victim is key. This can be done through casual conversations with the victim or with parents or friends. Many victims are first groomed and exploited by a family member. Traffickers skilled at grooming often mix well with other adults, gaining a trusted position as an honorary “family member” if they aren’t already a member of the victim’s family.

(3) Filling a need

The information gained allows the trafficker to fill a need in the victim’s life, making the victim dependent on them in some way: buying gifts, being a friend, beginning a love relationship, or buying soft drugs and alcohol. This is why many times a trafficker may look like a “boyfriend” to unsuspecting friends and family.

(4) Isolation

The trafficker creates times to be alone with the victim. The trafficker will also begin to have a major role in the victim’s life and attempt to distance the victim from friends and family. In isolation, the trafficker has more control over the messages the victim hears and is better able to manipulate them.

(5) Abuse begins

The trafficker begins claiming that a service must be repaid whether money is spent on cigarettes or drugs, car rides, or mobile phones. It may even begin with requests for illicit images(sexting) that are then used to threaten the victim. In most cases, the trafficker demands sex as payment for such services.

(6) Maintain Control

In many cases, the trafficker maintains control of the victim through threats, violence, fear, or blackmail. Many victims show loyalty to their traffickers even after they’ve been recovered because of the insidious nature of the manipulation and the trauma bonds that are formed.

Why are teens targeted?

Grooming tactics work most successfully when the victim is between the ages of 11 and 16 when a normal human brain is still developing. According to the National Institute of Health, a teen’s brain is highly sensitive to pleasure and reward as the nucleus acumens are nearly fully developed. But, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps us make major decisions and foresee consequences – is not fully developed in most humans until their mid-twenties.

All of this means that teens are more vulnerable to flattery, attention, affection, and gifts as means of coercion, especially if there is not a strong safe attachment at home. All human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Human Trafficking Rescue, Inc. is on a mission to equip teens and parents to spot the signs of trafficking and get out or get help as soon as possible.


Grooming Chart