DULUTH, MN -- When cases of sexual assault are brought to light, they can come as a complete surprise to people who know the parties involved.
Mak Mars, advocacy coordinator at Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA), said warning signs are not always obvious.
In some cases, it starts with grooming.
"Grooming is a series of behaviors usually by an adult, or somebody older or in a position of power, where they gather information about whoever they're talking to, find out what their vulnerabilities are, and try to either provide them something or create a friendship between them and either that individual or their entire community, their entire family," Mars said. "It can go beyond just individual grooming"
Mars said grooming can include isolation, dependency, and sharing secrets.
"People are very different behind closed doors and just because they may have never shown anything to you as an adult or as the person outside the situation that would lead you to be concerned doesn't mean that behind closed doors they're not capable of something else," he said.
Even though grooming happens, it is important to know victims are not alone.
Mars said young people who think they are being groomed should tell someone about it.
"If anybody is just trying to isolate you, the best thing you can do is reach out to another trusted adult in your life, and that could be a teacher, a family member," he said. "Just let them know what's going on with this person and why you're concerned."
Parents who want to support and protect their kids should foster a non-judgmental environment for their children.
"Just reiterate to your kids that, if they do come forward with something to you, it's not their fault and you're there to support them."
There are resources available to families in the Northland needing help, such as legal advice, support groups, and counseling.
Click here to learn more about PAVSA's resources for youth ages 12 and up.
Click here for more information about First Witness services for families and children under the age of 12.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.