The Shapes and Sizes of Boundaries: Part 1 – Grooming

Dr. Michelle Yep-Martin

Psychologist Dr. Michelle Yep-Martin began the day by explaining how a sex offender works to weaken and eliminate the boundaries of their victims through a grooming process. Abusers frequently target students who don’t have adequate support or are emotionally vulnerable.

Grooming methods include becoming a confidant, giving extra time to a student to make them feel special, giving gifts, complimenting a student to appeal to their lack of self-esteem, grooming parents to avoid suspicion, and introducing non-threatening touch. 

The offender gradually increases the amount and types of touch, and may encourage contact outside of school, such as discussions on social media. As boundaries are steadily invaded, the child becomes desensitized to inappropriate behavior, and more dependent on the attention and approval of the offender, causing embarrassment and confusion about their own sexual identity. When boundaries are eventually eliminated, sexual touching increases.

Once sexual abuse has occurred, the child’s fear of reporting the offender can lead to self-blame, damaged self-esteem, damage to current and future relationships, self-harm, anxiety, depression, and suicide.

In a recent survey 99% of people who reported inappropriate sexual boundary violations said that if they had to do it over, they would not have reported, because of the social stigma that occurred afterwards with their family, friends, school, and community. This alarming statistic is why boards and districts must be actively involved in addressing child sexual abuse and changing school culture.

Dr. Yep-Martin advised paying close attention to the privilege boards, administrators, and school staff carry with students, which could allow getting away with inappropriate behavior. Respect your role and responsibility as a leader, mentor, and authority figure by making situations clear. Pay attention to your “gut instinct” and if something doesn’t feel right, change it.

The #1 rule for appropriate boundaries, she said, is to never have an “unclear situation.” For example, being alone with a student in a room can put you in a position where your motives could be questioned. When in doubt, have another professional in the room with you and a student.

Dr. Michelle Yep-Martin Slides | Handout | Inappropriate Boundary Invasions | List of Questions


The information provided by presenters during the 2020 AASB Law & Policy Day, and included here, is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If related legal advice is desired, please contact your attorney.