While the internet has made it easier for strangers to groom children they have never met, many sexual predators are already known to those they seek to abuse.
Far from being some scary stranger or someone they meet online the person who poses the biggest danger to a child is often already in their life – and is somebody they trust.
Groomers can be men or women of any age. Just because someone is in a position of trust or works with children doesn’t mean they do not pose a risk. In fact, some people with a sexual interest in children choose careers, jobs or voluntary positions which bring them into regular contact with young people.
What is grooming?
Grooming is a deliberate action undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child. The perpetrator wants to lower the child’s inhibitions for the purpose of sexually abusing them.
All children and young people can be at risk of grooming; however, disabled young people and young people in care or leaving care are particularly vulnerable.
The main difference between face-to-face grooming and online grooming is that the child or young person knows who the other person is from the outset (online groomers often use fake profiles).
The offence of grooming applies to anyone over 18 who grooms anyone under 16.
Broadly speaking, the approach to face-to-face grooming is the same as online. The perpetrator is usually subtle at first, only gradually showing more interest in the child.
As a parent or carer it is important you understand how this ‘grooming’ happens so you can protect your children. Common tactics include:
- Singling a child out for special attention, perhaps with excessive flattery or gifts.
- Testing the child’s comfort levels, e.g. with sexual jokes or games, entering their bedroom or the bathroom.
- Innocent, non-sexual touching, e.g. hugging, which gradually escalates to things like sitting the child on their lap, kissing them and ‘accidentally’ brushing against their private parts.
- Encouraging the child to keep secrets, e.g. playing secret-keeping games.
- Blaming the child for something simple to find out if they tell someone.
- Talking to the child about sex or sharing sexual images or messages with them.
- Threatening the child about what will happen to them or someone else if they tell someone about the abuse
- Telling the child that no-one will believe them.
Throughout the grooming process, the predator will be testing the child’s reaction to find out if they can continue to do what they want in secret without being caught.
Keeping your child safe
There are many steps you can take to make sure your child remains safe.
- Stay vigilant – be aware that sexual predators exist in all walks of life.
- Encourage your child to tell you if they are worried about anything.
- Explain what kind of behaviour and touching is acceptable – and what is unacceptable.
- Encourage your child not to keep secrets and to tell you if an adult behaves in a way that worries or frightens them.
- Set and respect family boundaries, e.g. your child’s right to privacy in the bathroom or bedroom, and make visitors aware of them.
- Take sensible precautions when leaving your child with another adult.
- If your child dislikes a particular adult, talk to them about their reasons for this.
How to report your concerns
If you are worried your child might be being groomed or has been a victim of sexual abuse, you should seek support.
Keeping children safe: Your right to ask is published by the Home Office.
National children’s charities offering advice about the grooming of children and young people include: Parents Protect, Childline, NSPCC and ThinkUKnow.