There are common signs to watch for of how abuse often begins and continues. By understanding these patterns, we can know where to take action to prevent abuse from happening or to stop it if it has started.
Commonalities of Abusive Situations
1. Victims are most often abused by someone they know.
The offender may be a family member or relative, such as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling, a family friend, or a neighbor. The offender can be any age. The offender is rarely a complete stranger.
2. Offenders may gradually gain the trust of the victim or their family members before the abuse occurs.
This is called “grooming.” Grooming most often happens to children or youth. Grooming occurs when someone befriends or attempts to create an emotional attachment with someone with the intention of abusing that person. Grooming behaviors can include requests for time alone, encouraging secrecy, talking about sexual topics, or showing pornography to or initiating physical contact with a child. Offenders will try to have extended one-on-one communications or contact. Grooming can also occur over the internet and through a child’s mobile device.
3. Offenders often begin by violating boundaries.
Boundaries are a person’s limits for the behavior or language that they think is okay or that keeps them safe. Abuse is a violation of someone’s boundaries. Abuse sometimes happens because there are no boundaries for proper behavior between two people. An offender may begin by stepping over boundaries in small ways to make someone feel more comfortable, desensitized, or used to the inappropriate behavior or language. An offender may also completely ignore boundaries.
4. Offenders often seek out those they can easily take advantage of.
Offenders will often seek out those who are vulnerable (such as the elderly, disabled, or children under age 18). They look for people who do not have the ability or understanding to give consent. They also look for those who may not be believed. Offenders also try to find those who they think will not fight back or are not able to tell other people about the abuse.
5. Offenders often try to isolate victims from others.
Offenders often try to keep those they are grooming or abusing from trusting or talking to others. They try to isolate the victim so he or she cannot or does not know how to reach out to others for support and help. They may also make threats against the victim’s family or use blame, shame, or blackmail to continue the abuse.
Understanding these commonalities can help you recognize or prevent situations that may lead to abuse. You can take action to stop the abuse before it occurs.
Community and Church Resources
(Some of the resources listed below are not created, maintained, or controlled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While these materials are intended to serve as additional resources, the Church does not endorse any content that is not in keeping with its doctrines and teachings.)
- “What Is Domestic Violence?” The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- “Grooming Behavior,” Monica Applewhite, director of Confianza, LLC
- “Grooming,” abuseandrelationships.org
- “Grooming: What It Is, Signs and How to Protect Children,” National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
- “Creating a Family Safety Plan,” parentsprotect.co.uk
- “Learn More,” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence