Online grooming

Grooming is when someone builds an online relationship with a young person and tricks them or pressures them into doing something sexual. We're here to tell you what you need to know to keep you and others safe from online grooming.

Staying safe online

Online grooming is when someone uses the internet to trick, force or pressure a young person into doing something sexual - like sending a naked video or image of themselves. This is wrong.

If it's happening, or has happened to you, we can help you.

6 places where grooming can happen:

  1. social networking websites
  2. instant messaging apps
  3. photo sharing apps and sites, like Instagram
  4. chat rooms
  5. dating apps
  6. online gaming sites.

What's online grooming?

Anyone can groom someone. A 'groomer' is someone who makes an emotional connection with someone to try and make you do things like:

  • have sexual conversations online or by text messages
  • send naked images of yourself, which is sometimes called sexting
  • send sexual videos of yourself
  • do something sexual live on webcam
  • meet up with them in person.

They might be old, or young. And they can be male or female. 

Most of us talk to people online – it's a great way to stay connected. It can even be a good way of making new friends sometimes. But it's really important to understand the dangers of talking to someone you don't know.

If you send someone sexual photos or videos of yourself, you lose control over what happens to them. The other person may end up showing them to other people. They could even use images you’ve sent to blackmail you. For example, they may say that they'll post them online if you don’t keep sending more images.

If you're worried about photos or video you have already shared with someone, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) can help. Or speak to a Childline counsellor.

If you don’t know the person, it’s always safer not to send them a sexual image or video of yourself – even if they seem really understanding or it feels like you can trust them.

Signs of grooming

Every situation is different. And online groomers can be really good at lying about who they are. Which means it can be difficult to know if someone is an online friend, or if they're trying to get you to send them sexual images or videos.

If a groomer is trying to get you to share sexual images or do something sexual, often they'll:

  • Send you lots of messages
    This could be really often and they might message you in lots of different ways, for example through Facebook, text messaging and chat rooms
  • Ask you to keep your conversations secret
    They might ask you not to tell anyone that you're talking to them and say that it's your 'special secret.' They might also ask you if you trust them
  • Try to find out more
    Ask you who else uses your computer or which room your computer is in, to find out if they could get caught by your parents or carers
  • Start sending you sexual messages
    This might be really subtle at first. They could start to say nice things about your appearance or your body or ask things like "have you ever been kissed?"
  • Try to blackmail you
    They might try to persuade you to send sexual images of yourself by saying they'll be hurt or upset if you don't. If you've sent images of yourself already, they could threaten to post your images online or show them to people you know if you don't send them more.

It can be difficult to understand when grooming is happening, the signs aren't always clear to spot. If you want to speak to someone you can trust about grooming, you can speak to one of our Childline counsellors. We're here to listen and give you the support you need. And remember - you haven't done anything wrong. 

Sexting

If you send someone sexual photos or videos of yourself, you lose control over what happens to them.

The other person may end up showing them to other people. They could even use images you've sent to blackmail you. For example, they may say that they'll post them online if you don't keep sending more images.

If you're worried about photos or video you've already shared with someone, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) can help. Or you can speak to one of our counsellors for free.

How to tell if someone is a groomer

It's important to remember that there isn't one 'type' of groomer. Many different kinds of people have used the internet to trick, force or persuade young people into sharing sexual images of themselves. Often it's an adult pretending to be a young person – but not always.

Grooming online
When people are online, they can hide who they really are. They might send you a photo or video they say is of themselves when it isn't actually them. So it's important to be really careful and not trust people online if you can't be sure who they are.

Sometimes the person might pretend to be like you and have the same interests or problems as you. They could just be doing this to get you to trust them, so later on they can get you to do what they want.

Grooming doesn't only happen online
It can happen with people you've already met in person, for example through your family or at a club you go to.

If someone is an abuser, they might be nice to you, give you their attention and buy you presents. They could do this to try and make you like them. Once you start to trust them more, they might try to start to turn your relationship into something more sexual. They might try to give you gifts or even threaten you with violence so that you don't tell anyone.

People like this can be very convincing and will try really hard to get you to do what they want. If something doesn't feel right, it's a good idea to tell someone you trust.

If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable because they're saying or doing sexual things to you, you should tell someone what is happening. Talk to a Childline counsellor – they'll always try to help you.

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What to do if you think you're being groomed

If you think you're being groomed don't worry about getting in trouble – you haven't done anything wrong. There are people for you talk to – like our Childline counsellors. And there are ways that you can report your concern.

Ask the person to stop
As a first step, you might want to deal with the situation yourself. You can ask the person to stop - tell them you don't feel comfortable sending sexual images of yourself.

Download our App
You can also download our Zipit app. This gives you lots of funny images you can send to someone if they are pressuring you to send naked or sexual photos or videos of yourself.

Tell an adult you trust
If the groomer keeps talking to you, it may be best to tell an adult you trust or report them. Telling someone can seem really scary and you might feel like you'll get in trouble. It could also feel embarrassing. But telling someone can really help you start to get out of a bad or uncomfortable situation.

Report it
You can report an adult or stranger if they've sent you a sexual message, asked you to send them a sexual message, sent anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or asked you to meet up with them.