How to recognize signs of child abuse, grooming cycle

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SYRACUSE, Utah (News4Utah) – One in five Utah children will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Ninety percent of the time those kids are abused by someone they know and trust. 

Ashley Workman, a survivor of child abuse and current advocate, is bonding with her unborn child through literature. She’s excited to start this next chapter of life, now that she is in a really good place. 

“It’s pretty amazing to kind of be healing myself. I look forward to protecting my child, and educating her,” says Ashley of her unborn baby. The protection she is speaking of: protecting her child from the trauma she experienced for six years, starting at just 7 years old.

“When my dad came in to tuck me into bed, he had done that many times before in my life, but this time he proceeded to molest, sexually molest me,” Ashley explains.

She was able to push those memories to the back of her mind, until the day she took an online course by Prevent Child Abuse Utah.

“I learned that I was part of many statistics that aren’t fortunate at all, they’re terrible.” 

Ashley says this is when she realized what was happening to her was abuse, “I learned about the grooming cycle, I had never heard that word even before.” 

Ashley knew right away she wanted to help end that cycle. She now works at Prevent Child Abuse Utah, or PCAU. This organization teaches families and schools the warning signs of abuse.

According to PCAU, every parent should understand and be able to identify the grooming cycle. It has five stages. The first is selection.

“Selection is when a perpetrator will select a child that they want to target for abuse,” explains Gwen Knight, School and Community Outreach Administrator for PCAU. 

Next is engagement.

“That’s where they will build trust with the child, but not only with the child, often they’ll build it with the child’s parents. What we’re teaching parents–be aware of any adult who wants to spend alone time with your child,” Knight continues. 

Then the grooming begins.

“This is where the perpetrator tests boundaries with the child,” Knight says. 

Once those boundaries are pushed, the assault begins.

“That’s just so confusing for a child, we want to shut this down before it even goes there,” Knight asserts. 

Once the assault has happened, the abuser moves to concealment. This is when the perpetrator intimidates the child into keeping this secret. 

When a child is abused it can lead to depression, anxiety, and other serious problems later in life.

“If we want a healthy society, we need to prevent this abuse from occurring, or if it does, get children help just as quickly as we can,” Knight explains. 

“If we ever want our children to be protected from this, we have to know what we’re facing, and what it is, and what is happening. It is happening in our state,” Ashley says. 

Recognizing abuse, protecting kids to foster a happy, healthy environment from the moment they arrive. Ashley says that’s her goal for her baby girl.

Ashley adds, “She can know what’s out there, and still live her life and enjoy it, rather than having to worry about what I had to go through.”

Ashley ended up pressing charges against her father. He was sentenced to a California prison for 12 years, and will be a registered sex offender for life. There are free resources, including courses for parents and children, and more information about the various stages of grooming available here

Utah’s rate of sexual abuse is 28 percent, three times the national average.

If you suspect abuse, report immediately. Call the Division of Child and Family Services at 855-323-3237, or call 911. 

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