Stockholm Syndrome and grooming: Is it the same or is it different
Stockholm Syndrome and grooming: Is it
the same or is it different? The Social
Work Practice Implications
Dr Shirley Jülich
Dr Eileen Oak
Comparison of Stockholm Syndrome and Grooming
The subliminal messages
Exploitation of vulnerability and use of opportunity
Implications for social work practice
Victim denotes a victim of child sexual abuse
Survivor denotes a participant in my research
Abuser denotes a male or female perpetrator of CSA
Bystanders (Herman, 1997) are family members or close
family friends subjected to the complex family dynamics
• Outsiders (Graham, 1994) are those not subjected to the
• Assumed that child victims unable to report abuse
Lack of voice
Lack of power
Position in the family
Inability to frame experience as abusive
• But these are not the only reasons
• If they were then as adults victims would disclose/report
to an authority
• They don’t, survivors remained extraordinarily loyal and
silent (Julich, 2001)
• Attachment theories (Bowlby’s work)
• Child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (Roland
• But none of these explain why survivors persist in
maintaining the “Conspiracy of Silence”
Stockholm Syndrome and
Child Sexual Abuse
• Accepted that hostages can develop Stockholm
• Children not typically thought of as hostages – can be
victims and be held captive (psychologically)
• Children particularly those subjected to an ongoing
sexually abusive relationship, are very vulnerable to
Precursors for Stockholm
• Perceived threat to survival and belief the abuser if
willing to carry out that threat
• Victim’s perception of some small kindness from the
abuser within a context of terror
• Isolation from perspectives other than those of the
• Perceived inability to escape
(Graham et al. 1994; Julich, 2001)
Overview of Grooming
• “[G]rooming … is the steps taken by paedophiles to
‘entrap’ their victims and is in some way analogous to
adult courtship” (Howitt, 1995, p. 176).
• Three stages of grooming
1. Self grooming
2. Grooming the environment and significant others
3. Grooming the child
• Grooming can take 7 to 8 years
• Cyber grooming
• Cognitive distortions compel victims to:
Have narrowed perceptions
They don’t see themselves as abused
Minimise and rationalise the abuse
See the abuser as good, themselves as bad
See violence as a sign of caring and love
See small kindnesses as large kindnesses
Believe they love the abuser
Believe abusers will come back and “get them” (Graham et al.,
1994, p. 44)
• Grooming would say:
Victims feel they are to blame
They are bound to the abuser through secrecy
The abuser is the only one who understands them
Feel that the abuser treats them like a grownup
In some cases want to “protect” the abuser
Exploitation of Vulnerability
Use of Opportunity
• Both Stockholm syndrome and Grooming
target isolated potential victims
use coercion and kindness (carrot and stick approach)
focus on isolating the victim from social networks
pretend to develop victims’ autonomy and agency
develop a bi-directional bond
• Grooming targets vulnerable children
• Stockholm syndrome theorists would argue that anyone
subjected to the 4 precursors are at risk of developing
• Victim feels they are in control and making informed
decisions about the relationship
• Fail to see the relationship as abusive
• Development of pseudo-agency a popular grooming
tactic with young victims (Conte & Wolf , 1989)
Implications for Practice
• Victims will be in varying stages of the recovery process
• Will appear ambivalent and possibly contradictory – tell
their story then recant
• Access to an independent support person of their choice
• Need to be aware that this support person could be
subjected to influence of Stockholm Syndrome or
• Victims may not be confident that family members
(bystanders) or professionals (outsiders) can contribute
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