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What is it?

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.

Children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional.

Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age.

Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abused.

What are the signs of grooming?

The signs of grooming aren't always obvious and groomers will often go to great length not to be identified.

If a child or young person is groomed they may:

  • Be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
  • Have older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • Go to unusual places to meet friends
  • Have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
  • Have access to drugs and alcohol.

In older children (teenagers), signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age. (LINK TO HSB)

If you're worried that a child or young person is being abused, watch out for any unusual behaviour, including:

  • Withdrawn
  • Suddenly behaves differently
  • Anxious
  • Clingy
  • Depressed
  • Aggressive
  • Problems sleeping
  • Eating disorders
  • Wets the bed
  • Soils clothes
  • Takes risks
  • Misses school/college
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Nightmares
  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts about suicide

How does grooming happen?

Grooming happens both online and in person. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining a child or young person's trust. Groomers may try to gain the trust of a whole family to allow them to be left alone with a child or young person, and if they with children or young people they may use similar tactics with their colleagues.

Groomers do this by:

  • Pretending to be someone they are not, for example saying they are the same age online
  • Offering advice or understanding
  • Buying gifts
  • Giving the child or young person attention
  • Using their professional position or reputation
  • Taking them on trips, outings or holidays.

Secrets and intimidation

They may also use secrets and intimidation to control children. Once they have established trust, groomers will exploit the relationship by isolating the child from friends or family and making the child feel dependent on them. They will use any means of power or control to make a child believe they have no choice but to do what they want. Groomers may introduce 'secrets' as way to control or frighten the child or young person. Sometimes they will blackmail the, or make them feel ashamed or guilty, to stop them telling anyone about the abuse.

Social media

Groomers can use social media sites, instant messaging apps including teen dating apps, or online platforms to connect with a young person or child. They can spend time learning about a young person's interests from their online profiles and then use this knowledge to help them build up a relationship. It's easy for groomers to hide their identity online – they may pretend to be a child/young person and then chat to become 'friends' with those they are targeting.

Groomers may looks for usernames or comments that are flirtatious or have a sexual meaning. They may also look for public comments that suggest a child or young person has low self-esteem or is vulnerable.

Groomers don't always target a particular child. Sometimes they will send messages to hundreds of young people and wait to see who responds. Groomers no longer need to meet children in real life to abuse them. Increasingly, groomers are sexually exploiting their victims by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity. 

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