The first blog of this triad reported on the current situation in terms of sexual violence in a sporting context and putting certain aspects into perspective. The purpose of this blog is to share the understanding of such a phenomenon so that all players that evolve in the sports world can take preventive action. Specifically, today we are discussing the process of grooming by abusers and their manipulation strategies. A process which itself corresponds to the definition that we initially made of sexual violence, which is not limited to an aggression, but a continuum of acts which increase in severity.

Let’s talk about it!

Before going any further, it is important to say that we were reticent about discussing grooming and the manipulation strategies of abusers, since some people think that talking about it could have the opposite effect and give ideas to ill-intentioned individuals. However, since they will still find ways to do bad things, we have chosen to share this information with you by telling ourselves that we are going to raise awareness and help the general public to better understand the reality of the victims (i.e. respond to the frequent reaction of “why did he/she let it happen?”. We also think that talking about it openly will help adults and young athletes to identify improper and problematic behaviours and more quickly recognize the clues leading to sexual violence.

So, let’s get started. What is grooming? Despite a lack of consensus to define this phenomenon, the suggested definitions share some common aspects: (a) establish a relationship of trust with the child [1] and (b) the fact that the child keeps the secret and does not disclose the aggression [2]. We can therefore conclude that grooming is the process whereby the abuser manipulates the child by establishing a relationship of trust with the child and the adults around him or her in order to facilitate the abuse and maintain the victim’s secret over time. Grooming can also take place online (e.g. cellphone, Internet) [3] or in person. When it happens online, the abuser may want to obtain intimate pictures, in order to ultimately obtain sexual contacts [4]. When the grooming takes place in person, the aggressor can sometimes use violence, threats or force (aggressive type). The abuser can also act spontaneously on an unknown victim, or establish said relationship of trust with the know victim with the goal of committing the aggression and reducing the risk of disclosure – with this latter strategy occurring more frequently.

That said, what are the concrete steps of grooming? Abusers often select their victim (for example, have preferences, have a good relationship with the victim) in order to establish conditions, indeed circumstances favourable to an eventual aggression. Next, as mentioned a number of times, they will create a relationship of trust with their victim and this step is often very long: it changes from a friendship to an exclusive relationship by gradually increasing in intimacy (for example, offer privileges, material goods, services to loved ones, more attention, affection and/or favouritism). Once the trust is established, the strategies emerge: voyeurism, offer to help the victim get dressed, show up in the locker room or showers, talk about sexuality. In some cases, the initial contacts are established by touching the victim’s genitals and claiming it was an “accident”. Finally, the aggressor will attempt to keep the victim quiet using various methods: isolation, promises, guilt, threats (e.g. if you talk, think about your game time, your place on the team or say goodbye to your dream), blaming them and shame… even going so fare as to convince the victim that they consented or that “in any case, people won’t believe you”, etc..

Difficult and painful to report their aggressor

In a dozen lines, we just summarized, in general, the process leading to sexual violence by a person in a position of authority (e.g. coach, administrators, therapists). To be honest with you, it’s almost insulting to discuss this process in so few words. Our intention is to get you thinking, so that you get a better idea of what victims are sadly exposed to. To do this, we invite you to read, and reread this last paragraph so that you can imagine the hell that the victims experience when they go through this process. Why? To combat what we unfortunately hear all too often:

  • “Why did he/she let this happen?”
  • “Come on, that happened 10 years ago… if it were true, he/she would have said something sooner!”
  • “If he/she is saying that today, it has to be because they are looking for revenge.”
  • “It was obvious that there was something fishy about that man/woman!”

I could go on and on.

In short, it is essential to realize that the victims do not choose to be manipulated. What’s more, in the world of sport, it is important to remember that coaches have an enviable position among our young athletes as they represent a model for athletes to follow.  According to a study conducted by the Réseau de la Santé Sexuelle du Québec (RSSQ), 94% of young Quebec athletes admit that in general, they want to do what their coach thinks they should do. In order to illustrate this result, we can compare a 56% obtained for the same question for the father, 52% for the mother, 64% for teachers and 43% for friends. Therefore, in the presence of a coach with a great track record, it can be extremely difficult and painful for the victim to recognize, but also to report their aggressor who uses manipulation and grooming.

Naturally we must not conclude that all young athletes will inevitably fall into the trap of a person in a position of authority using these grooming strategies. Some people are more “fragile” than others and that is exactly what users are looking for. To this end, in the next blog we are going to discuss risk factors which predispose certain people to be victims of sexual violence (e.g. individual, social, environmental risk factors). Finally, we are also going to write a few lines – as a preventive measure – so that our sporting community continues to aspire and favour sports environments exempt from all forms of sexual violence.

P.S. To add to this reading and complete the reflection, we invite you to watch – or watch again – the interview granted by Geneviève Simard [5] a few years ago and the documentary Athlete A which is found on Netflix. These documentaries, based on real facts, allow for a better understanding of the grooming process.


[1] Berson, 2003; Craven et al., 2006; Gillespie, 2002; Salter, 1995

[2] Berson, 2003; Craven et al., 2006; Gillespie, 2002; Knoll, 2010

[3] Wolak and Finkelhor, 2013

[4] Whittle, Hamilton-Giachristsis and Beech, 2015