What is Grooming?
Grooming is a word used to describe how people who want to sexually harm children and young people get close to them, and often their families, and gain their trust. They do this in all kinds of places - in the home or local neighbourhood, the child's school, youth and sports club, the local church and the workplace.
Grooming may also occur online by people forming relationships with children and pretending to be their friend. They do this by finding out personal information about their potential victim e.g. their likes and dislikes, their family circumstances with the aim of identifying a need in the child which they will attempt to fill. For example, if a child is lonely a potential abuser will give the child attention and develop a 'special relationship' which then might make it easier to manipulate the child. The abuser will also try to find out what the likelihood is of the child telling. The abuser will seek to find out as much as they can about the child's family and social networks and, if they think it is 'safe enough', will then try to isolate their victim and may use flattery and promises of gifts, or threats and intimidation in order to achieve some control.
It is easy for 'groomers' to find child victims online. They generally use chat rooms which are focussed around young people's interests. They often pretend to be younger and may even change their gender. Many give a false physical description of themselves which may bear no resemblance to their real appearance - some send pictures of other people, pretending that it is them. Groomers may also seek out potential victims by looking through personal websites such as social networking sites.
Did You Know?
1/3 of 9-19 year olds who go online at least once a week report having received unwanted sexual (31%) or nasty (33%) comments via e-mail, chat, IM (instant messenger) or text message. Only 7% of parents/carers think their child have received such comments.*
*Livingstone, S., Bober, M. (2005). UK children go online. London: London School of Economics.
How is the grooming of children different online?
In many circumstances, grooming online is faster and anonymous and can result in children trusting an online 'friend' more quickly than someone they had just met 'face to face'. Abusers intent on sexually harming children can easily access information about them online and they are able to hide their true identity, age and gender. People who groom children may not be restricted by time or accessibility to a child as they would be in the 'real world'.
Keep your children safe online
Teach your children the five key Childnet SMART rules which remind young people to be SMART online. You should go through these tips with your children.
- S - SAFE Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information - such as your name, email, phone number, home address, or school name - to people who you don't know online.
- M - MEETING Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with your parents'/carers' permissions when they can be present.
- A - ACCEPTING Accepting e-mails, IM (instant messages) or opening files from people you don't know or trust can be dangerous - they may contain viruses or nasty messages.
- R - RELIABLE Someone online may be lying about who they are, and information you find on the internet may not be reliable.
- T - TELL Your parent, carer or a trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.
Positives and negatives of the Internet
Find out more about the benefits and risks for children and young people when using the Internet from our awareness video.