This paper contends that law and society fail to engage with the gender aspects of ‘street grooming’ and the risk of harm posed by male gangs who groom adolescent girls for sexual abuse and exploitation. It will also consider ‘street grooming’ of adolescent girls in a context that reflects the recent legal and societal challenges posed by this phenomenon, within a discourse of gendered identities.
Understanding how a child sexual groomer may target potential victims, engage young girls in communication and build a relationship of trust, thus enabling the child’s sexual abuse and exploitation is vital to understanding the essence of the ‘street grooming’. Groomers can become adept at quickly identifying vulnerabilities that make certain children more susceptible to grooming and they can then manipulate their grooming technique in a way that is tailored to meet a particular child’s needs.
Attention needs to be placed not only on endeavouring to understand more about this harmful phenomenon, but also on ensuring that the social response to the problem does not exacerbate the ‘problem’. This paper will focus on the gendered aspects of the victimisation process with a view to establishing how gendered norms of sexual behaviour enable groomers to exploit ideas of ‘appropriate’ femininity and ‘appropriate’ sexuality by creating the perception that the relationship is akin to an ‘adult relationship’. This could result in a victim having a more exclusive, reliant bond with the groomer, therefore increasing the likelihood of subsequent sexual abuse and exploitation.