To groom, according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, means to get into readiness for a specific objective. Certainly that’s a straightforward definition that most people understand in their routine use of the English language. However, in the dark and horrific world of child sexual assault, the word “groom” has an entirely different meaning.

Grooming in that world describes how sexual predators prepare young victims by gaining their trust and, consequently, access to their minds and bodies. Grooming by a predator may take months, even years. Most child sexual molesters are either members of the child’s family or are well known by the family; in fact, research tells us that over 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by people who fall into one of those two categories. Consequently, the opportunities for predators to initiate grooming techniques are virtually unlimited.

An example of parental grooming is illustrated in the recent arrests made in a multi-nation child pornography case. In May of this year, police arrested Michael Arnett of Roeland Park, Kan., for possessing shocking child pornographic photos and explicit chats about child abuse on his computer that allegedly he produced. According to an article published Aug. 5 in the Maine Sunday Telegram and titled, “Even seasoned investigators disturbed by child porn case,” police found detailed descriptions and online dialogue on Arnett’s computer about abducting, torturing and killing young children. Investigators said the suspect made photos of children he allegedly sexually abused.

The most telling part of the story was the reaction by the mother of one of the boys who was sexually molested. She initially refused to believe the accusations against Arnett; then she saw the photos that he had allegedly taken of her son. Arnett had been a trusted friend of the family for 15 years, and had complete access to her son. “I had no idea,” she said. “It’s depressing.”

Sexual predators will systematically create a level of trust, making the child and parents feel totally confident in the relationship. Carefully groomed parents will not only allow unsupervised access to their children, but even better — they will actually assist in providing access to their child.

Grooming a child victim may include buying gifts, demonstrating kindness and caring to both the child and members of the family, and becoming a “reliable friend” to the victim — someone the child can depend on and trust. A child’s loyalty is critical in the grooming process, especially if the predator becomes a suspect. Sharing trusted “secrets” between the predator and the victim serves as a safety net, of sorts, for the predator.

The calculating predator will analyze and evaluate the targeted family, then, through cunning and deliberate methods, move in with determination and patience getting closer and closer to his prey.

In a sense, we as a society have groomed ourselves to resist reading and learning about the tragic and heinous details of sexual assaults on children.

“Oh, I can’t read that — it’s too awful, too sad, too graphic,” is the common reply.

Over the years, the media has responded to the subtle pressure of their audiences by avoiding the nauseating and heart-wrenching specifics of these stories. As a result, the real issues are not discussed and the needed support for change goes unachieved.

We need to change our culture to accepting new levels of tolerance and a willingness to know — really know — what’s going on in the world of child sexual assaults. Child pornography is the feeder system, and now more than ever, children are being subjected to rape and torture, all for the purposes of sexual gratification and, of course — money. This is a multibillion-dollar industry supported by those who will pay to see the online production of children being sexually abused and, in some cases, killed.

It’s time for a new acceptance that not only tolerates knowing the truth, but insists on it — as unsettling as that may be. We are making progress toward change, as illustrated in the aforementioned article. That story describes some of the most horrible details reported by the media to date; as disturbing as the specifics were, the facts were still told.

It’s time we as a society groom ourselves so we can accept reality and address what has been all too commonly referred to as the unspeakable facts about child rape and assault. Maybe then we will insist that reporting suspected child abuse is our highest priority — definitely higher than protecting institutions, power and our buddies.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is the former chairman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee.