What is online grooming and exploitation?

Unfortunately not everyone online is who they say they are. This can be difficult for children to understand.

Online grooming is where someone befriends a child online, often by pretending to be someone they’re not. They spend time building a relationship with the child in order to build their trust with the purpose of exploiting them and causing them harm. They can spend weeks or months building this relationship, but sometimes it happens much faster.

The befriending can start out publicly on any site that has a chat function and will then often move to private chats. Internet Matter has a short video called Emily’s Story that helps make clear what this type of behaviour can look like.

Unfortunately this can happen to any child, regardless of age, gender or race. Groomers are very skilled at what they do, and often use fake accounts so that they appear to be of a similar age and to have similar interests. But some may pretend to be an aspirational figure like a sports coach, influencer or model scout etc. The harm caused can be sexual in nature, or be to lure them into committing illegal acts or be part of a radicalisation process. Children may not understand that they have been groomed or that their new friend may want to cause them harm.

How to spot and report online grooming

  • The NSPCC has information on signs of grooming to look out for, ways to try and prevent it, and advice on what to do if your child reveals that they have experienced abuse.
  • The most important thing you can do to help keep your child safer from grooming, is by having regular conversations with them about what they’re doing online and what friends they’ve made.
  • If you are at all concerned by the way someone is behaving towards a child online, particularly if you suspect this person to be an adult, it is important to report it straight away. Reports can be made to CEOP Command which is part of the National Crime Agency.
  • Further support for parents and carers of children who have been or are at risk of sexual or criminal exploitation can be found at Parents Against Exploitation (PACE), you can call them on 0113 240 5226. If you are worried about your own behaviour towards a child or someone else’s then you can seek confidential support from Stop it Now! UK.