Development of an Online Training for the Identification of Sexually Deviant Grooming Behaviors
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Research shows that some sex offenders who commit child sexual abuse (CSA) engage in a type of “seduction stage” prior to committing the abuse. These behaviors, commonly referred to as “grooming,” are generally understood as the methods that perpetrators use to gain access to their future victims and prepare them to be compliant with the abuse. However, there is a lack of consensus in the field regarding exactly what this process entails and how it can be clearly distinguished from normal adult-child interactions. It is important to devise an accurate definition of grooming for scientific, clinical, and forensic purposes. This dissertation reviews the problematic heterogeneity across grooming definitions as well as what is known about the varied topographies of grooming behavior. A functional definition that would allow for better assessment and identification of grooming behaviors is proposed. A training (Bennett & O’Donohue, unpublished) that was shown in pilot study to improve participants’ judgments of grooming behaviors was adapted to an online format and evaluated in the current research. Study 1 examined if undergraduate participants could be trained to more accurately differentiate grooming behavior. Participants were randomized to one of three training groups: 1) an experimental presentation (adapted from the previous training) which trained participants to focus on the behavior’s function and context; 2) a treatment-as-usual (TAU) presentation which was designed to mimic what an average person would find out about grooming behaviors on the internet; and 3) control (no training). Study 2 tested the feasibility of disseminating the experimental presentation to a sample of professional participants. Results showed that participants’ accuracy in identification of grooming behaviors was not significantly improved after the experimental training, although other differences were found (e.g., the TAU group performed significantly worse than the other two groups at post-test). The need for such training was demonstrated as the overall accuracy of participants’ judgments was around 66%, including in the professional sample. All participants generally reported finding the training useful. Potential reasons for the findings, limitations of the studies, and future directions for research are explored.