The internet can be a great place for children and young people to connect with their friends. However, it can be difficult for children to differentiate between friends they know in the offline world, and 'friends' made online.
Not everyone online is who they say they are, and this can be a difficult concept for children to understand.
What is ‘online grooming’?
Online grooming is where someone befriends a child online and builds up their trust with the intention of exploiting them and causing them harm.
Harm caused by grooming can be sexual abuse, both in person and online, and exploitation to obtain sexually explicit images and videos of the child.
Grooming techniques could also be used as part of the radicalisation process or to obtain financial information from the child or their family.
How does ‘online grooming’ happen?
Grooming can take place over a short or long period of time. It can start out publicly on social media and in games but will most likely move across to private chats.
Anyone could unfortunately groom a child online, regardless of age, gender or race. Groomers are very skilled at what they do and can often befriend a child by appearing to have the same hobbies and interests as them. Using fake accounts and photos, they may also appear to be the same age as the child. However, not all groomers will choose to mask their age or gender. Some groomers may impersonate an aspirational figure such as a modelling scout, sports coach, celebrity or influencer, whilst others may use their age and experience to develop a ‘mentor’ type relationship with their victim.
A groomer will use the same sites, games and apps as children in order to gain their trust and build a friendship. Children can be flattered at first by the attention given to them by this new ‘online friend’, particularly if they are offering support, showing understanding or giving validation. However, they may also seek to manipulate, blackmail and control the child, potentially isolating them from their friends and family.
It’s important to remember that children may not understand they have been groomed or see their ‘online friend’ as untrustworthy or abusive.
Who is at risk?
Any child can be at risk of being groomed, regardless of age, gender, race or location.
Some children may be more at risk due to other vulnerabilities and disabilities. For example, Children with SEND could be more at risk if they lack the necessary understanding and education needed to think critically about online contact. They may also lack the communication skills needed to access support from trusted adults and to use online reporting tools.
For more information and age appropriate resources for children relating to online grooming, visit CEOP’s Thinkuknow.
Find out more about how to support children of all ages: