‘Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children –
Institutional, Internet, and Familial Dimensions
By Anne-Marie McAlinden
Oxford University Press – £65.00
Having recently written the Forward for Full Circle – a book on relentless sexual (child) abuse by Jane Hersey – during which I briefly quote from this altogether compelling, and perhaps at times, overtly cryptic analysis; I have to come clean by admitting that the subject matter herein, is as equally didactic as it is disturbing.
This ought hardly be surprising given the vexed terrain it seeks to uncover, as is mentioned in the book’s Introduction: ‘’This book aims to deconstruct the term, to challenge and confront common misunderstandings concerning grooming within academic, official, and public discourses, and to examine its actual role within the highly complex processes of sexual offending against children.’’
Not exactly bedtime reading for sure, but an interesting and very worthy read nevertheless.
In fact, Anne-Marie McAlinden’s ’Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children – Institutional, Internet, and Familial Dimensions is as idiosyncratically distinctive as it is possible to get, within the harrowing and perplexing parameters of child abuse. Especially since the more than troubling advent of Internet dating, which, like most things, has come to be horribly misappropriated beyond all reasonable measure (and doubt). Then again, given the media’s current obsession with so called celebrity culture – where the likes of Katie Price for example, is regularly seen to openly flaunt, abuse and misappropriate the meaning of marriage beyond all measure of common decency – what is reasonable? Perhaps Boring Joe from Rotherham, with a slight speech impediment and a few social problems, thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to pretend to be someone else on Internet Chat Rooms.
It’s only when said behaviour begins to manifest by way of the ‘grooming’ of innocence’ that society itself ought to be alerted, if not concerned. One of the prime reasons being, as McAlinden mentions immediately prior to the above; ‘’there are a range of stereotypes and assumptions surrounding grooming as encapsulated in the introductory quotation (‘’After creating at least eight fake ‘profiles,’ Michael Williams targeted youngsters he met on his post round, on school runs as a taxi driver, and in his role as secretary of a football club. He dyed his hair different colours to hide his identity and pretended to be a young boy called ‘James’ and a teenage girl called ‘Gorgeous Charlie’ to meet children aged between 11 and 16. Many victims were tricked into performing sex acts on a webcam but he convinced others to meet him in parks, on beaches and at his home, where he abused them’’).
Again, as the authoress so rightly says, ‘’a range of stereotypes and assumptions’’ can so very easily be taken out of context, and more often than not, distorted beyond the truth, let alone what is reasonable. And herein lies the unequivocal potential for danger, that, given today’s myopic media, can itself, be so very easily abused and taken out of all considered context.
The premise and the fundamental power of this first inter-disciplinary, thematic, and empirical investigation of grooming in a multi-jurisdictional context, draws from over fifty interviews with professionals, who themselves work in (sex offender) risk assessment, management and treatment; as well as child protection/victim support, in the four jurisdictions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. As Lucia Zedner of the University of Oxford has noted: ‘’Throughout, this book provides insightful analysis of the construction of sexual grooming, political debates, and the development of policy and legislative responses […]. It furnishes illuminating data on the nature, forms and extent of grooming that make clear just how serious are the challenges faced by legislators, policy makers, and, not least, by professionals working on the ground […]. It’s findings are of considerable importance to students and scholars of criminology, as well as to criminal justice and child care professionals.’’
Broken into three very distinct parts; ‘The Theoretical Context,’ ‘Grooming
Processes and Preventive Policies and Procedures’ and ‘Future Policy Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,’ ’Grooming’ and the Sexual Abuse of Children covers a nuanced conceptualisation of the term ‘grooming,’ to such a degree that it would appear to be without peer.