Some people who want to sexually harm children and young people often use social media and apps to get close to them and gain their trust.
Grooming is a carefully planned process where the perpetrator is aiming to control the child or young person to ensure they do exactly what the perpetrator wants.
As a parent or carer it is important you understand how this ‘grooming’ happens so you can protect your children.
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.
Grooming can take place online or in the real world, by a stranger or someone they know, e.g. a family member, friend or even a professional. The internet has made it much easier for people to groom children from a distance.
In England and Wales, it is an offence to arrange a meeting with a child, for oneself or someone else, with the intent of conducting sexual activities.
How does online grooming happen?
Unfortunately, it is very easy for a ‘groomer’ to find their victims online. They often use social media, apps or chat rooms which attract young users.
Sometimes they pretend to be younger than they are, but not always. They often use a profile picture that isn’t actually them so they are able to hide their true identity, age and gender.
Groomers often send out multiple, random ‘friend’ requests to children hoping they will gain ‘friends’ they can then begin to groom. In chat rooms, a groomer will initially chat with a child openly, but will soon be asking for the chat to go ‘offline’ for a one-to-one conversation.
If the perpetrator gets hold of sexual explicit pictures the young person has posted online, they may resort to blackmail, threatening to share the images with the young person’s family, friends or even school.
It’s probably safe to assume that any site or chat room used by children and young people is likely to attract groomers too. It’s important not to panic though, as it’s more important that you and your child are aware of the online risks of grooming and know what to do if you have any worries or concerns.
Helping your child learn how to stay safe online
There are many ways you can help your child stay safe online.
- Ensure they are aware of the risks posed by people with a sexual interest in children online.
- Remind them to be aware that some people online are not who they say they are.
- Tell them not to share too much information with people online, and be careful about how much personal detail appears in their online profiles.
- Let your child know they can talk to you if anything is bothering them and that you will always be supportive.
- Remind your child that if things do go wrong, it is never their fault.
Concerned about someone your child is in contact with?
If you are worried your child might be being groomed or has been a victim of online abuse, you should seek support.
- Report it directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP).
- Ring the police on 101 or contact your local council’s Safeguarding Team.
- If you want to discuss your concerns with someone call the Stop it Now! Helpline on 0808 1000 900 or the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.
- If you believe your child is at immediate risk call 999.
Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse. You can find age-appropriate resources and further advice to help you start and continue conversations with your child to promote online safety.
National children’s charities offering advice about the online grooming of children and young people include: Parents Protect, Childline, NSPCC, ThinkUKnow and Kidsmart.