Anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person's family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative.
Any child is at risk of being groomed. Children who are groomed online could be abused by someone they know. They could also be abused by someone who commits a one-off act or a stranger who builds a relationship with them. Some children are more at risk of grooming, particularly those who are vulnerable. Children in care, with disabilities or who are neglected can be targeted by groomers. Groomers will exploit any vulnerability to increase the likelihood a child or young person will become dependent on them and less likely to speak out.
Children and young people can be groomed online, in person or both. This could be a stranger, a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them – like a teacher, faith group leader or sports coach. When a child is groomed online, groomers may hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this'll be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a "peer". Groomers might also try and isolate children from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them and giving the groomer power and control over them. They might use blackmail to make a child feel guilt and shame or introduce the idea of 'secrets' to control, frighten and intimidate.
It's important to remember that children and young people may not understand they've been groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty, admiration, love, as well as fear, distress and confusion. Indicators of Grooming aren't always obvious and may be hidden, some of the signs you might see include:
- being very secretive about how they're spending their time, including when online
- having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
- underage drinking or drug taking
- spending more or less time online or on their devices
- being upset, withdrawn or distressed
- sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that's not appropriate for their age
- spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
CEOP make reporting online grooming easy. Whether you're a parent, carer, worried adult or young person, you can make a CEOP report online. You can also contact your local child protection services or the police to report your concerns about any type of grooming - whether it's happening online, in person or both. Call 999 if the child is at immediate risk or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed; you can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.