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The Subtle Tactics of Perpetrators

Finding Resources about the Manipulation/Grooming of Children

March 2018
David N. King, MS, PhD

The tactics used by child abusers take many forms, and rarely does a perpetrator rely totally on one specific tactic. Research has shown that perpetrators employ a myriad of means to achieve their goals, from romantic seduction to verbal abuse, from progressive touching to physical assault, and all the gradations in between.

Historically, the term “grooming” has been most commonly used to categorize the less violent techniques used by perpetrators. The other term sometimes occurring in the literature is “seduction,” which emphasizes enticement as opposed to more coercive techniques. The term used in testimony from the case of Larry Nassar, the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor, was “manipulation.” This term has been rarely used in the literature to date, although NCAC’s Executive Director posits it as a more appropriate descriptor than grooming and it may well become the preferred term going forward.

Unfortunately, these terms are not specific to sexual abuse. Grooming is a common word pertaining to physical appearance. Manipulation – well, we can manipulate any object or idea, and manipulation of data is its most common usage. Seduction is used primarily in the context of sexual and romantic conquest, but it is not used so often in the research literature.

So, how do we go about locating articles in the professional literature about this important current topic?

This blog post builds upon previous searching techniques discussed in my past blog posts. Even so, with a topic as diffuse and “squishy” as this, creating a successful search strategy will take us to a more complex level of search strategy than we have covered so far.

A reminder: You must be logged in to CALiO as a CAC registered user in order to search the research and professional journals. If you are unsure of your username or password, it may be retrieved here: https://calio.org/get-help/forgot-calio-login-information

Because of the complexity of this topic, I’ll review methods explained in previous blog posts.

First, to instruct the computer system to give you only publications that discuss A and B, you enter the search text as A AND B (with the AND capitalized). Since our professional literature databases include research on adults as well as children, we must always include some terminology related to children, so for example:

disclosure AND child abuse

Second, when instructing the computer to give us articles in which two or more terms of similar meaning or two types of the same thing, we would employ the OR operator (again, in caps). For example:

abuse OR neglect

For the topic we are discussing this month, we have several near-synonymous terms: grooming, manipulation, and seduction. So we will want to use the OR operator to instruct the computer system that we will accept any of these terms.

Previously, we have also considered the problem of the completely literal way bibliographic search systems process terminology. They don’t “think,” so we must do the thinking and give the systems options. So, for example, a search system will take exactly what you type in as what you want, and leave other articles out. You type in “child,” it gives you child. Not children, not childhood. You didn’t tell it you wanted those.

Rather than using the OR operator and typing out every variant of a word, we can instruct the computer to give us all variants. So, for example, for variants on child, we can simply add an asterisk after the last letter. For example, to get articles that use the terms child, childhood and children, we would type:

child*

And finally, we have discussed ways to instruct the system to look for specific phrases by enclosing the phrase in quotation marks. For example,

“child sexual abuse”

In the case of our current topic, we know we want variants on the concept of grooming, like groom, groomed, grooming, groomer. We know we want variations on the idea of manipulation, like manipulate, manipulated, manipulation, manipulator, manipulating. And we know we want variations on seduction, like seduce, seducer, seduction, seductive.

So let’s create our search strategy. First, let’s look at our synonymous terms:

groom* OR manipulat* OR seduc*

This instructs the search system to give us articles that contain any variant on these words.
We also need to include terminology related to children. But grooming habits of children is not really what we are after, nor do we want articles about how teachers use manipulation in teaching mathematics to children. So maybe we want to look for specific phrases, like

“child abuse” OR “child sexual”

But we can’t just slap all of that in a search box. Why? Well look at what we’ve got so far.

groom* OR manipulat* OR seduc* AND “child abuse” OR “child sexual”

How will the computer search system process all this? It could give us everything it has about grooming, even hair styles for debutants, and everything about manipulation, including how people manipulate data, plus the articles about seduction and child abuse, but then everything using the phrase “child sexual.”

How do we instruct the computer how to group concepts when processing. It’s actually pretty easy. We enclose conceptually similar concepts within parentheses. That instructs the computer to process the various manipulation terms together, then process the child terminology together, then look for articles that combine the two groupings.

Like this:

(groom* OR manipulat* OR seduc*) AND (“child abuse” OR “child sexual”)

Most of the things we need to search for pertaining to child abuse are pretty straight-forward. But some, like this one, can be a challenge.
Be sure to attend one of our workshops at the upcoming 34th International Symposium on Child Abuse  in Huntsville, AL. CALiO’s Digital Information Librarian, Muriel Wells, and I will lead you through strategies for getting the best results when searching the research literature and professional articles related to child abuse topics.
David King, MS, PhD

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