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Introduction: Sexual Grooming - Definition

‘Sexual Grooming’ is often described as the preparatory stage of child sexual abuse and exploitation. This offence can be found under the Children’s Act of Trinidad and Tobago Chap 46:01 which defines ‘sexual grooming’ as– ‘gaining the trust of a child, or a person who takes care of the child for the purposes of sexual activity with the child’.

Sexual Grooming: The first stage of child abuse and exploitation

According to the Maryland coalition against Sexual Assault, the process of grooming involves six stages:

  1. Targeting – The perpetrator identifies a vulnerable victim to be exploited; for instance, a child who has a fragmented family structure where the parents are separated or where the child lives in difficult financial circumstances.
  2. Access and Trust - The perpetrator establishes a relationship with the victim which starts as a casual friendship and develops trust over time to remove any suspicion.
  3. Filling a need – The predator will supply the needs of the victim for example, by providing financial assistance or attention.
  4. Isolating – The perpetrator isolates the child from family and friends to strengthen their influence over the child and lessen the available options to report the inappropriate behaviour.
  5. Sexualizing or Desensitizing – The predator may normalize sexual behaviour for instance by creating situations where the parties rub bodies or engage in close touching. 
  6. Maintaining Control – The perpetrator maintains control over the child to continue the abuse and to avoid detection for instance, by threatening to withdraw support, whether financial or otherwise. 

Online Sexual Grooming: An enhanced risk

It is critical to note that targeting, access and building trust through communication can take place in an online environment via WhatsApp© or other social media. Thus, the parties may never meet during the grooming stage. This presents an enhanced risk to the child as the perpetrator can access the child’s personal information whilst never divulging their own.

In 2022 Glen Pounder, the liason for the United States based Child Rescue Coalition (CRC) noted the growing appetite for child sex abuse footage in Trinidad and Tobago. According to Pounder this statement was justified by the CRC’s use of technology which allowed the organization to identify the IP addresses of individuals who stream online child sex abuse.  This research reflects that the use of technology in the distribution of child sex abuse footage is growing within Trinidad and Tobago.

The difficulty in recognizing sexual grooming

Sexual Grooming is often difficult to recognize in practice and may not become apparent until the perpetrator makes his sexual intent clear. Firstly, the trust built over time between the perpetrator and the victim (sometimes even the victim’s family) disarms suspicion. Secondly, many of the stages considered above, occur in every-day relationships without any sexualizing. For instance, a coach may see a child in provocative sportwear revealing the contours of their body including private areas, or a family member may encourage play fighting where bodies rub intimately. In both cases, the child unwittingly gives arousal to the perpetrator.

The law relating to Sexual Grooming in Trinidad & Tobago

The Children’s Act of Trinidad and Tobago Chap 46:01 defines a child as a person under the age of eighteen years, and also gives a definition of sexual grooming, mandating severe penalties if found guilty of the offence.

Although sexual grooming has been reported in the media as a criminal offence in Trinidad and Tobago, in reality, it is not a stand-alone offence. Section 25 of the Children’s Act creates the offence of meeting with a child following sexual grooming.

This offence occurs where a person has on at least two occasions, met or communicated with a child by any means including the internet, for the purposes of sexual grooming and then he meets, attempts to meet, or travels for the purpose of meeting the child with the intention of doing anything with the child during or after that meeting which would constitute an offence for instance, sexual penetration, sexual touching, or engaging in any sexual activity in the presence of the child.

Clamping Down: Severe Penalties

Parliament recognizing the need to protect children, imposed stringent penalties on anyone found guilty of this offence. Any person found guilty can serve up to twenty (20) years imprisonment and a fine of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000). On the other hand, where the perpetrator is a family member or holds a position of trust for example a guardian, mentor, or coach, a finding of guilt can carry up to twenty-five (25) years imprisonment.

A word to the wise: Adults who take a chance

It is not impossible to envisage a scenario where an adult strikes up a friendship with a child, particularly one who is under but close to the age of eighteen (18). It might be difficult to tell the age of the child due to mature physical features or, the child may dishonestly present themselves as an adult, to continue receiving attention.

Despite an innocent start, the friendship may progress to flirting and sexting.

The adult may then ‘take a chance’ to meet the consenting child for the purposes of engaging in sexual behaviour.

Despite the adult not initially intending to engage in sexual activity, the entire relationship from the outset and its development and maintenance over time would be scrutinized by the Court as sexual grooming.

Moreover, it is immaterial whether the child initiated, encouraged or consented to the sexual advances of the perpetrator.

The law is absolute in its intent to protect children from the worst parts of society, whilst further realizing that children through their relative immaturity may not appreciate the implications of engaging in sexual activities with adults.

Submitted by:
Ravindra Rajah
Public Defender 11 Senior
Public Defenders’ Department 
Legal Aid and Advisory Authority,
23 Stanmore Avenue, Port of Spain.
Contact: 638-5222 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.