Grooming Behaviors and Sexual Abuse: When a Foot Rub Is Not Just A Foot Rub
On October 9, 2021, news broke describing criminal charges against a former Rhode Island public school administrator. Olayinka Alege was charged with misdemeanor simple assault for giving a teenage boy an unwanted foot massage. But make no mistake, there is nothing “simple” about the former public school administrator’s actions. If true, Alege’s actions were likely intended to “groom” the young boy in an attempt develop a sexual relationship with him.
Grooming is typically a precursor to sexual abuse. According to RAINN (the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) grooming is defined as “manipulative behavior that an abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, convince the victim to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.” Offenders use grooming as a method to select potential victims and slowly overcome natural boundaries. In targeting a potential victim, an offender will look for an exploit a child’s perceived vulnerabilities, such as isolation, neglect, lack of oversight, a chaotic home life, or a sense of emotional neediness.
In the early stages of grooming, the abuser will attempt to develop a level of trust with the victim. Often, the abuser will make the victim feel special, showering him or her with gifts and special attention. In doing so, the abuser attempts to convince the victim that he is the only one who really understands and cares for them. The abuser will also start to train the victim to keep secrets. For example, after giving the victim a gift, the abuse may instruct them not to tell anyone, otherwise people may become jealous. They will begin to isolate the victim from their family and friends, whether it be through convincing the victim that no one else is good enough for them, or perhaps giving them rides to different events.
During the grooming process, abusers will also engage in a pattern of touch to desensitize the victim. The touching will initially appear harmless, such as a congratulatory pat on the back or a hug that lasts a little too long. Over time, the touching slowly becomes more sexualize in nature, although many people may still consider the behavior to be harmless. This type of touching may include such activities as tickling or wrestling. The touching continues to escalate, with shoulder rubs, foot rubs, or massages. Ultimately, if the abuser is successful, the touching will culminate in some sort of sexual act. The gradual increase in the amount, type, and location of the touching allows the victim to slowly become accustomed to the behavior. It also allows the abuser to determine which victim is more susceptible to the manipulative behavior. Abusers may also introduce pornography or have conversations which are sexual in nature with the victim. They will also reinforce the need to keep everything a secret.
Remember, more often that not, a sexual abuser is not a stranger that abducts your child off the street. Instead, the vast majority of abusers are acquaintances. It is the neighbor, friend, family member, or coach that your child is expected to trust. It is the Richard Levine’s, Larry Nasser’s, and Jerry Sandusky’s of the world that use their positions of trust and authority to take advantage of children. It is the adults who might be giving just a little too much attention to your children, whose behaviors, while innocent-appearing, give you an uneasy feeling. It is important to set and maintain boundaries with all adults who interact with your children. It is equally important to talk to your children and let them know that secrets (not surprises) can make people scared or unhappy, and that your child should come to you if anyone wants them to keep a secret. A secret is something that an adult tells a child to never tell anyone, ever, while a surprise means to keep quiet until the right time, at which point everyone will know.
For more information on grooming red flags, check out https://www.d2l.org/child-grooming-signs-behavior-awareness/ and https://www.rainn.org/news/grooming-know-warning-signs.
If you or a loved one are a survivor of sexual abuse and would like a free confidential consultation, please contact Attorney Laura Mangini at (413) 781-0000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Mr. Alege is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.