'I'm a victim-survivor. These are the signs of grooming everyone needs to know.'

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of child sexual abuse.

At the end of last year, a close friend called me wanting to ask about a situation her daughter disclosed to her.

Her daughter, who was 12 and went to a birthday party on a boat. At one point during the party, the children were watching a movie in one area, and the parents were on the upper deck drinking. The daughter said one of the fathers came down to where the girls were. He was wearing speedos and holding a bottle of alcohol and shot glasses, and was trying to get the girls to drink. 

"I don't know," the mother said to me, "Do you think there's something strange about that?"

Right now, we know from the World's Largest Child Sexual Abuse Perpetration Prevalence Study conducted by five highly regarded and respected bodies, that 1 in 10 men have engaged in child sex abuse in Australia. The stand-alone recommendation to stop this is a significant investment in early intervention measures. And that includes encouraging everyday persons to see the signs of child sexual abuse (CSA) and to be brave enough to act. This can be done either by removing the child from the danger immediately, or reporting the crime. 

My first experience of being abused was in stealth on the lounge room floor of my grandparents' house. There were people all around, but I was a small four-year-old child watching television when my grandfather lay down behind me and molested me.

Watch Grace Tame talk on the power of abuse survivors' stories. Story continues below. 

Video via ABC.

The abuse was so opportune; it was dumbfounding. This abuse continued until I was nine years old and happened often as I lived in a flat underneath the main house. I was accessible. Afraid. Mute.

As a child, I suffered from migraines, I often wet the bed, and I showed signs of fear - particularly a dislike for my grandfather. Yet, no one saw the signs.

If I threw a tantrum, I was belted and not asked why I was so emotional. My grandfather intimidated me into silence too - threatening if I ever tried to escape or tell someone, my cat would be killed, I would go to jail, or my father would be notified and would belt me.

But after five years, I managed to stand up. From that point on, the abuse ended for me. I only learned later on that he had turned his attention to my two younger sisters.

The signs of grooming. 

The grooming that is happening on a daily basis is unfathomable.

The sad reality is many guardians/parents are completely blind to it. As a survivor I am hypersensitive to the signals and signs by adults when it comes to sexual misconduct towards a child.

Over the last decade I have constantly heard the words, "If I'd only known the signs". It saddens me to the core. However, there are key signs to look out for.


Intuition and standing up.

Many would doubt their intuition however, I urge every adult to trust themselves and act bravely on their hunches.

In one instance at my daughter's day care, a carer was blowing raspberries on to a two-year-old's tummy. Firstly, workers are not allowed to have this contact with a child and secondly it was a man. When he stood up, he was visibly sexually aroused. I immediately notified a staff member, who had him arrested. The investigation saw him connected to a paedophile ring.

Warning signs from an abuser. 

  • They have a strong interest in the child, offering to babysit them or take them out to play.
  • They target a child who is passive, quiet, troubled, or lonely. Commonly, but not always, the family environment for said child has been fraught, making them potentially more vulnerable. 
  • Child predators will manipulate their target's family and friends, saying they are taking some of the load off the parent's shoulders by looking after the child.
  • Gaining trust with the child by giving lots of play, favourite foods, and other activities that the child is fond of.
  • Isolation: and this is usually when the abuse will start. The abuser will expose the child to various forms of sexualisation.

Warning signs from a child victim.

There are a variety, but what the experts mostly look at are mood swings, out of character emotions, bed wetting, biting nails to the skin, tantrums out of the blue, physical resistance, low self-esteem, distress, hesitation in being with a particular person who is the abuser, silence/muteness over a period of time.

An ex-prison officer's perspective.

Mel Watson is also a survivor advocate and lived experience expert in this space. She is a survivor of child sexual abuse and is an ex-prison officer who stood face to face with these monsters as they served time in jail and spent their days in court.

"A study done stated that paedophiles can easily see children they can abuse, by their characteristic of vulnerability, timidity and low self-confidence. I was already carrying the shame, guilt and blame from my previous abuse so I was easily identified as prey," she notes.


"Being a survivor, my awareness increased significantly as a parent. However, it wasn't until I started working as a Prison Officer and being exposed to some of Australia's most depraved child predators, that my hyperawareness intensified."

Mel says that isolation is often one of the biggest warning signs, as well as excessive interest and the abuser wanting to spend alone time with the child.

"93 per cent of victims know their abuser and your child is most at risk by someone they know. That's why it's important to know this information, be vigilant and trust your instincts."

As for what grooming is, Mel explains: "Grooming is like shaping or guiding a child's mind in a way that allows a child predator to sexually abuse a child without anyone discovering it or the child realising the gravity of the situation. Many times, the abuse can feel like love from the adult and being understood when other adults in their life have potentially (but not in all cases) been dismissive or absent."


Often, people want to turn away from these conversations. They're uncomfortable. They can be upsetting. But avoiding it only allows it to continue. We shouldn't treat speaking about grooming as taboo. Instead we should recognise that talking about it saves lives, as well as teaching kids about their body sovereignty. 

Because the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable.

Louise Edmonds is a survivor advocate and lived experience expert. She is the founding member of The Independent Collective of Survivors (ICOS), the only victim survivor led and run national organisation of its kind. She is also a member of Australian Women Against Violence Alliance, and the Founder of Men of Manners, a male teens academy that teaches modern masculinity. 

You can also see more from Mel Watson here.

If this brings up any issues for you, contact Bravehearts, an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, on 1800 272 831.

For help and support for those with complex trauma, the Blue Knot Foundation is there to help. Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service provides specialist trauma counselling to adult survivors of childhood trauma including child sexual abuse. 

Feature Image: Supplied/Image by Cybele Malinowski.