Sexual Grooming of a Child: A Silent Crime That Needs To Be Criminalized in Pakistan
In majority of cases relating to child sexual abuse, the accused is known to the child and there is some form of relationship between the child and the accused. Sex offenders target children and develop a relationship with them in order to gain sexual access to the child. This is known as the “grooming” process. The grooming process provides the tools for manipulation through the offering of gifts, fulfilling the child’s basic need for attention, praise, affection and closeness and reworking these needs into an inappropriate sexual relationships. The manipulation of the child is viewed as the first step on the path to sexual abuse, which is the reason why it needs to be criminalized.
In general terms, grooming has been defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:
“To prepare or train for a particular purpose or activity”.
In the framework of sexual abuse, the “grooming” of a child would therefore refer to preparing and/or training a child for the purpose of sexual abuse or sexual activities with the child
Sexual grooming of a child is described in the legal framework as the use of an article, pornography, publication or film with the intention to facilitate the commission of a sexual act with or by a child. Sexual grooming of children in the legal framework is also seen as any act committed by a person with the intention to encourage, persuade, facilitate and/or diminish or reduce any resistance or unwillingness of a child, in order to ultimately engage the child in a sexual act.
Grooming can therefore be defined as the premeditation of the eventual sexual abuse of a child.
According to a Police assessment report by the UK Police, sexual grooming of a child means that children have been groomed and sexually exploited by an offender, having initially met in a location outside their home. This location is usually in public, such as a park, cinema, on the street or at a friend’s house. Offenders often act together, establishing a relationship with a child or children before sexually exploiting them.
Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act (2003) UK deals with this subject. According to it, communication with a child under the age of 16 with the intention to meet for a sexual purpose is illegal. Furthermore, meeting a child following the grooming process is also outlined as a criminal offence.
Section 18 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007 South Africa deals with grooming. Grooming is a new crime in South African law and is specifically aimed at providing additional protection to children who are increasingly becoming exposed to the risk of a person known to them.
Section 18 creates two offences: the offence of promoting the sexual grooming of children and the offence of the sexual grooming of a child, itself.
Within common law, the clearest definition of sexual grooming to emerge from our courts was that laid out by Satchwell J in S v Muller, namely that grooming is, “a psychological process used by the pedophile to access his victim(s).”
The Court also referred to Duncan Brown’s definition of sexual grooming, being that:
“Grooming is explained as an ongoing process aimed at the child accepting sexual activities. It is generally seen as a cycle of abuse, and can include for example befriending a potential victim to allow the child to acquiesce to sexual activity. The grooming aspect involves an aspect of deceptive trust created by the offender and manipulation of the child by the adult. It is the fact that one of the parties to the relationship is in such a position of power over the other that renders such sexual activity morally wrong and punishable within the realms of the criminal law.”
Cameron JA in Marx v S defined grooming as:
“The phenomenon of domestic sexual predation requires like any other crime, special understanding, appropriate to its distinct characteristics. The domestic or familial predator’s means are not violent, he exploits the opportunities that initiate engagement offers, and the physical spaces the home affords, to prey upon his victim. And he uses the ties that bind him to her – often both emotional and material – to secure both compliance and concealment.”
When the victim is less than half his age and subject to his influence and authority as an elder, these factors operate with acute force. When she is a child craving affection and attention her peculiar susceptibility to abuse and exploitation must be appreciated.
In Pakistan, sexual grooming of a child is wide spread. There is no legislation in Pakistan addressing sexual grooming of child. The proposed Criminal Law Amendment Act 2015 is also silent on this subject. The response of the criminal justice system to sexual offences has been severely curtailed by antiquated legislation and conservative attitudes, both elements of which are borne out by the paucity of convictions for sexual offence crimes.The criminal justice system needs to be improved and legislation pertaining to sexual violence needs to be strengthened. As a result of the long delay in the promulgation of the sexual offences legislation, the judiciary itself has been struggling to ethically and constitutionally reconcile the decisions they have to make regarding sexual offences.
Pakistan needs a law to control this offence like Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 UK or Section 18 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007 South Africa. Without effective legislation, there will be no effective prevention of this offence.
“EXECUTIVE SUMMARY CEOP thematic assessment”
Sexual Offences Act (20003) UK
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007 South Africa
S v Muller 2007 (2) SACR 60 (W) para 35
JD Duncan Brown ‘Developing strategies for collecting and preventing grooming evidence in a high tech world’ (2001) 14 American Prosecutors’ Research Institute: National Centre for Prosecution of Child Abuse Update No. 11
Marx v S  4 All SA 267 (SCA) paras 203-204