Grooming is the process through which abusers build a personal connection to a child. Their goal is to take advantage of the young person - this might be sexual abuse, trafficking, criminal exploitation or radicalisation. Online groomers are able to abuse a child even without meeting them in person - they might convince them to take part in sexting or to fulfil their instructions remotely.
Online groomers are typically active on any platforms that are popular with children and young people, specially those that allow private conversations. This includes:
A groomer will ask a child not to tell anyone about their relationship. This can create a feeling of isolation and make it harder for a child to ask for help. Secrets are one of the most important signs of a groomer. Tell your child that no adult and no stranger from the internet should ever ask them to keep a secret from their parents.
In order to increase chances of contact, a groomer might be sending out messages or friend requests to a large number of children in a short period of time.
They might also gather information about a child to tailor a specific approach based on their preferences and interests.
When a groomer recognises that a child might be vulnerable, lonely or suffering from low self-esteem, they might take advantage of these weaknesses.
A groomer may try to make a child feel special and admired by giving them gifts and compliments. Subsequently, they can use the gifts to make a child feel guilty if they don’t follow their requests.
Groomers use the anonymity of the internet to camouflage their real identity. They might claim to be a child, use fake profile pictures and pretend to have similar interests as their victim.
Some groomers might create several profiles in order to build a fake online community of children. This might attract real children and encourage them to join the conversation.
The groomer will put a lot of effort into gaining the child’s trust. They might be interested in the child’s problems and offer advice, pretend to be someone with a reputable profession and directly ask a child if they trust them.
Once a child sends sexually explicit pictures of themselves, a groomer might threaten a child to publish that material if they don’t fulfil their demands.
In some cases, a groomer might be someone from the child’s offline environment who uses the internet to discreetly build a closer relationship to the child. This person might not even disclose to the child that they know them personally and pretend to be a stranger on the internet. It is also possible for a groomer to make a child believe that they are someone whom the child knows personally, such as their boyfriend or girlfriend.
As mentioned above, groomers will convince a child to keep their relationship a secret. Some signs of grooming can also appear like normal teenage behaviour. That is why it can be difficult to notice the abuse.
Mood swings, secrets and an increase in sexual maturity can seem like normal teenage behaviours. But if you feel that something is not quite right, you should address your concerns.
A child might be unaware they have been groomed. They may be also unwilling to expose their groomer due to feelings of loyalty, guilt or shame. Therefore, you should help your child to recognise grooming tactics themselves. Explain to your child how groomers operate. Tell them that they can always confide in you if something seems weird to them.
If you still feel uncomfortable despite talking to your child, you should seek further help. You can contact NSPCC to discuss your concerns. To report grooming behaviour, feel free to contact the CEOP. If you think that your child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999.
Make sure that your child understands the importance of keeping personal information private. They shouldn’t share private details (name, age, gender, contact details, photos) with anyone whom they don’t know personally.
Show your child how to set their online accounts to private.
Children should be aware of the risks of talking to strangers online. Illustrate to your child how easy it is to create a fake identity online. Explain the tactics of groomers.
Show interest in your child’s online life. Review the apps, websites and games your child uses. Regularly talk to them about the things they do online and stay informed with whom they communicate online.
Let your child know that they can always talk to you if they are worried about people online. Tell them that they can also contact an organisation such as Childline if they prefer to talk to someone anonymously.
The SafeToNet Mobile App is there to help your child navigate the difficult interactions that might arise when exploring the online world. Its Intelligent Keyboard acts as a real-time safeguarding assistant that helps educate your child on how to become a safer and kinder digital citizen.