What is grooming?

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.

Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abusedexploited or trafficked.

Anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Grooming can take place over a short or long period of time – from weeks to years. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative.

Types of grooming

Children and young people can be groomed online, in person or both – by a stranger or someone they know. This could be 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”. They might target one child online or contact lots of children very quickly and wait for them to respond.

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The relationship a groomer builds can take different forms. This could be:

    • a romantic relationship
    • as a mentor
    • an authority figure
    • a dominant and persistent figure.

A groomer can use the same sites, games and apps as young people, spending time learning about a young person’s interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Children can be groomed online through:

    • social media networks
    • text messages and messaging apps, like Whatsapp
    • email
    • text, voice and video chats in forums, games and apps.

Whether online or in person, groomers can use tactics like:

    • pretending to be younger
    • giving advice or showing understanding
    • buying gifts
    • giving attention
    • taking them on trips, outings or holidays.

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.

Signs of grooming

It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be “normal” teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems.

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.

A child is unlikely to know they’ve been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If you’re worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations. (Sourced: NSPCC)


What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. You may be given gifts such as drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities – this is exploitation and abuse of your trust. You may be tricked into believing you’re in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming.  You might trust this  person, and not understand that you’re being abused.

Many children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They’re moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited.

Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force young people, making them feel as if they’ve no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can’t be repaid or use financial abuse to control them.

It doesn’t matter what age, gender or race a person is, anybody can be a perpetrator of child sexual exploitation.  You may believe you have a relationship with that person, that is based on friendship or romance, or it may be someone you  look up to as a friend or family member, but many young people who are exploited may also be used to ‘find’ or coerce others to join groups.

Types of child sexual exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation can happen face to face or online. The reality is, an abuser will gain your trust or control through violence or blackmail before moving on to sexually abuse you, and this can happen in a short period of time.

When you are sexually exploited online,  they persuaded or forced you to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • film or stream sexual activities
  • have sexual conversations.

Once an abuser has your images, video or copies of conversations, they might use threats and blackmail to force you to take part in other sexual activities. They may also share the images and videos with others or circulate them online.

 If you feel you are at risk or experiencing this type of abuse,  don’t face this alone, you can contact us on 0330 0881 339. This number will take you through to our Telephone triage team, where we will listen and talk you through support that is available to you.  Alternatively, you can contact us via email on, or click on the Contact Victim Gateway Link.

Please remember, you are not alone; there are local and national services who can help you. For more Useful Links, see below.

Useful Links:

Staffordshire Police – 


Childline –