Signs of grooming
It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be “normal” teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems.
Some of the signs you might see include:
- being very secretive about how they’re spending their time, including when online
- having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- underage drinking or drug taking
- spending more or less time online or on their devices
- being upset, withdrawn or distressed
- sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that’s not appropriate for their age
- spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
A child is unlikely to know they’ve been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If you’re worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations.
If a child reveals abuse
If a child talks to you about grooming it’s important to:
- listen carefully to what they’re saying
- let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
- tell them it’s not their fault
- say you’ll take them seriously
- don’t confront the alleged abuser
- explain what you’ll do next
- report what the child has told you as soon as possible.
Effects of grooming
Grooming can have both short and long-term effects. The impact of grooming can last a lifetime, no matter whether it happened in person, online or both.
A child or young person might have difficulty sleeping, be anxious or struggle to concentrate or cope with school work. They may become withdrawn, uncommunicative and angry or upset.
Children, young people and adults may live with:
- anxiety and depression
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress
- difficulty coping with stress
- suicidal thoughts
- sexually transmitted infections
- feelings of shame and guilt
- drug and alcohol problems
- relationship problems with family, friends and partners.
- NSPCC services can support children and young people who have experienced grooming to help them move on and receive the care they need
Who’s at risk
Any child is at risk of being groomed. And it’s important to remember that both boys and girls can be groomed.
Children who are groomed online could be abused by someone they know. They could also be abused by someone who commits a one-off act or a stranger who builds a relationship with them.
Some children are more at risk of grooming, particularly those who are vulnerable. Children in care, with disabilities or who are neglected can be targeted by groomers. Groomers will exploit any vulnerability to increase the likelihood a child or young person will become dependent on them and less likely to speak out.
CEOP make reporting online grooming easy. Whether you’re a parent, carer, worried adult or young person, you can make a CEOP report online.
You can also contact your local child protection services or the police to report your concerns about any type of grooming – whether it’s happening online, in person or both.
It’s important to remember that it’s against the law to make or share images of child abuse. If you see a video or photo that shows a child being abused, don’t comment, like or share it. Instead, you can report it to:
- the website it’s on
- the police
- or contact the NSPCC and they can report it to the police for you.
You can also report videos and images of child sexual abuse to the Internet Watch Foundation.
If you’re worried county lines and criminal exploitation, you can take steps to keep children and young people safe.
- Call 999 if the child is at immediate risk or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed
- Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.
- Contact your local child protection services. You can find their contact details on the website for the local authority the child lives in.