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Child Grooming


Child grooming is befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse.

​The first step is often someone befriending a young person to gain their trust and have control over them, this is called grooming. Child grooming is also regularly used to lure children and younger people into various illicit businesses such as child trafficking, child prostitution, cybersex trafficking, or the production of child pornography.

To establish a good relationship with a child and the child’s family, child groomers may do several things. Building a trusting relationship with the family means the child’s parents are less likely to believe potential accusations or they may try to gain the child’s or parents trust by befriending them, with the goal of easy access to the child.

A Child groomer may look for opportunities that allow them to spend time alone with the child, by offering to babysit or they may also invite the child for sleepovers. Commonly child groomers show pornography to the child or younger person and talk about sexual topics with the child, hoping to make it easy for the child to accept such acts, thus normalising the behaviour.

According to a 2013 report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, after the group’s initial contact with the child, offers of treats (takeaway food, cigarettes, drugs) persuade the child to maintain the relationship. One abuser might present himself as the “boyfriend”; this person arranges for the child to have sex with other members of the group. Children may end up having sex with dozens of these group members, and may be trafficked to connected groups in other towns. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre defines “local grooming” as follows:

Localised grooming is a form of sexual exploitation – previously referred to as ‘on street grooming’ in the media –where children have been groomed and sexually exploited by an offender, having initially met in a location outside their home. This location is usually in public, such as a park, cinema, on the street or at a friend’s house. Offenders often act together, establishing a relationship with a child or children before sexually exploiting them. Some victims of ‘street grooming’ may believe that the offender is in fact an older ‘boyfriend’; these victims introduce their peers to the offender group who might then go on to be sexually exploited as well. Abuse may occur at a number of locations within a region and on several occasions. ‘Localised grooming’ was the term used by CEOP in the intelligence requests issued to police forces and other service agencies in order to define the data we wished to receive.

Children can be groomed in the real world or online by someone they know, a complete stranger, faith leader or other and can lead to children being abused and raped. An abuser can be any age, even the same age as the child.

Grooming often involves the abuser providing something to a child which may be gifts, alcohol, drugs or even by showing a child affection, and victims are often tricked into thinking and believing their abuser is a friend or even a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Once an abuser gains the child’s trust and control over them, they will then move on to physically or sexually abusing a child.

Groomers may steer conversations towards sexual experiences, asking a child to send sexual photographs or videos of themselves which they may then use to blackmail the child, and often they threaten children by saying they will hurt their family or friends if they tell anyone what’s happening.

It’s important to spot the signs and if you suspect something is wrong don’t ignore it!

You can have restriction settings on mobile phones, computers or other online devices.

Let children and young people know they can talk to you about anything they want and let them know you’ll always listen and take them seriously.

Explain that it’s very easy for people to hide who they really are behind a screen and it’s also very easy to lie about their age, gender, hobbies and interests online.

Let children know under absolutely no circumstances should they agree or arrange to meet someone they don’t know. If someone does ask to meet them let them know the importance of telling you or another adult family member or adult they trust straight away.

Make sure children and young people know that they must never share personal details online, including pictures, birthdays, addresses or any other personal information.

ALWAYS call the police if a child goes missing, even if this happens regularly, Do not wait 24 hours before reporting a missing child.

​If you feel your child Is in immediate danger, please call the police on 999 or 101 if you believe a child is at risk.

If you’re worried take steps to keep children and young people safe.

Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.

The Details

Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or someone they know.

What is grooming?

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.

Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abusedexploited or trafficked.

Anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Grooming can take place over a short or long period of time – from weeks to years. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative.

Types of grooming

Children and young people can be groomed online, in person or both – by a stranger or someone they know. This could be a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them – like a teacher, faith group leader or sports coach. When a child is groomed online, groomers may hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this’ll be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a “peer”. They might target one child online or contact lots of children very quickly and wait for them to respond.

{Call Out}

The relationship a groomer builds can take different forms. This could be:

    • a romantic relationship
    • as a mentor
    • an authority figure
    • a dominant and persistent figure.

A groomer can use the same sites, games and apps as young people, spending time learning about a young person’s interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Children can be groomed online through:

    • social media networks
    • text messages and messaging apps, like Whatsapp
    • email
    • text, voice and video chats in forums, games and apps.

Whether online or in person, groomers can use tactics like:

    • pretending to be younger
    • giving advice or showing understanding
    • buying gifts
    • giving attention
    • taking them on trips, outings or holidays.

Groomers might also try and isolate children from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them and giving the groomer power and control over them. They might use blackmail to make a child feel guilt and shame or introduce the idea of ‘secrets’ to control, frighten and intimidate.

It’s important to remember that children and young people may not understand they’ve been groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty, admiration, love, as well as fear, distress and confusion.

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
    • self-harm
    • suicidal thoughts
    • sexually transmitted infections
    • pregnancy
    • 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.

Report grooming

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.

Websites for further information and support

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