How does grooming happen?
A groomer hides their true intentions and over time “gains the child’s trust and confidence" in order to abuse them (Sexual Offences Act 2003: explanatory notes). They may work to gain the trust of a whole family, to allow them to be left alone with a child. If they work with children they may use similar tactics with their colleagues.
The online grooming process can be much quicker than offline grooming (CEOP, 2013). There’s evidence that some online grooming chats can develop in less than 20 minutes (Lorenzo-Dus and Izura, 2017).
Groomers gain trust by:
- pretending to be someone they’re not, for example saying they are the same age as the child online
- offering advice or understanding
- buying gifts
- giving the child attention
- using their professional position or reputation
- taking the child on trips, outings or holidays
(Rigg and Phippen, 2016).
Once they’ve established trust groomers will exploit the relationship by isolating the child from friends or family and making the child feel dependent on them. Groomers will use power and control to make a child believe they have no choice but to do what the groomer wants.
Groomers may introduce 'secrets' as a way to control or frighten the child. Sometimes they will blackmail the child or make them feel ashamed or guilty to stop them telling anyone about the abuse.
Groomers use a range of strategies to entrap a child and manipulate the child into participating in both online and offline sexual activity. They present themselves as approachable, likeable and having shared interests with the child they are targeting.
Groomers will test a child’s compliance by persuading them to carry out inappropriate or abusive activities. They use tactics such as reverse psychology (for example, "I’m not sure about this, I think you might be too young") or strategic withdrawal (such as, "It was just an idea, it’s completely up to you") which give the child the impression they are in control of the situation (Lorenzo-Dus, Izura and Perez-Tattam, 2016).
Groomers can use social media, instant messaging apps (including teen dating apps) or online gaming 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 and then chat and become ‘friends’ with children they are targeting.
Groomers may look for:
- usernames or comments that are flirtatious or have a sexual meaning
- public comments that suggest a child has low self-esteem or is vulnerable.
Groomers don’t always target a particular child. Sometimes they’ll send messages to hundreds of young people and wait to see who responds. The online environment makes it easier for groomers to target several children at once (Lorenzo-Dus, Izura and Perez-Tattam, 2016).
Groomers don’t need to meet children in real life to abuse them. Increasingly groomers are sexually exploiting children and young people by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity.