Those who sexually abuse children come from all backgrounds, racial groups, income groups and can be from any sexual orientation.

They can be peers, older or younger children or adults, who misuse power or trust in order to satisfy their own needs. Only occasionally is the abuser someone the child doesn’t know. More often it is someone the child, or the child’s family, knows and trusts.

Those who sexually abuse children will usually try to make the child keep the abuse a secret. Sometimes children are abused by threat, force or violence. At other times abusers will spend time charming and befriending the parents of a child in order to gain access to that child. This is called grooming.


Most child sexual abusers spend some time thinking and fantasising about sexual acts with children. They plan carefully to create opportunities to be alone with children (e.g. taking them out for drives, to the park or baby-sitting). This may come across as friendly and caring, however, the abuser’s aim is to make sure that the child and their parents trust him/her and allow them to spend time with the child.

This process allows the abuser to make sure that the child will keep the abuse a secret, and that nobody will be suspicious of their behaviour.

Grooming may take many forms and perpetrators aim to gradually desensitise the child and violate their boundaries.

This may include strategies like:

  • Favouring one child over others
  • Bribing the child by buying them presents or giving them money
  • Isolating the child
  • Repeatedly invading the child’s privacy
  • Spending a lot of time with the child including when he or she is bathing, dressing, or going to bed.
  • There may be ‘accidental’ sexual touching, or sexual touching as a game which progresses to more intimate boundary violations.

Because the nature of grooming means that a child is given special attention, affection and kindness, the child may not appear scared and may even appear to enjoy their time with the abuser. This can also lead to conflicting feelings post abuse for victims who enjoy some elements of the time spent together.