Childline defines grooming as when: “Someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.”


Grooming can take place online or in the real world; by a stranger or by someone they know.


Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age.


Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse.

Childline* outlines below how grooming happens both online and in the real world and how groomers manipulate young people to control them:


How grooming happens


Grooming happens both online and in person. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining a child's trust. They may also try to gain the trust of the whole family so they can be alone with the child.

Groomers do this by:


•  pretending to be someone they are not, for example saying they are the same age online

•  offering advice or understanding

•  buying gifts

•  giving the child attention

•  using their professional position or reputation

•  taking them on trips, outings or holidays


Using secrets and intimidation to control children

Once they have established trust, groomers will exploit the relationship by isolating the child from friends or family and making the child feel dependent on them. They will use any means of power or control to make a child believe they have no choice but to do what they want.


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.


Online grooming

Groomers can use social media sites, 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 will send messages to hundreds of young people and wait to see who responds.


Groomers no longer need to meet children in real life to abuse them. Increasingly, groomers are sexually exploiting their victims by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity.


Read Charlotte’s experience of online grooming by clicking here.


*Taken from For more information about issues that affect children and young people, visit