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 abuse.
Signs of grooming
The signs of grooming aren’t always obvious and groomers will often go to great lengths not to be identified.
If a child is being 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, 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.
How grooming happens
Grooming happens both online and in person. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining a child’s trust. Groomers may try to gain the trust of a whole family to allow them to be left alone with a child and if they work with children 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 attention
- using their professional position or reputation
- taking them on trips, outings or holidays.
How common is grooming
We don’t know how common grooming is because often children don’t tell anyone what is happening to them.
Children may not speak out because they are:
- feeling guilty
- unaware that they’re being abused
- believe they are in a relationship with a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.
Who is affected
Grooming can affect any child. However, vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities, may be more at risk than others.
Groomers will exploit any vulnerability to increase the child or young person’s dependence on them, and reduce the likelihood of the child speaking out.