Online Grooming 

Online grooming is where someone makes contact with a child with the motive of preparing them for sexual abuse either online or offline. It’s one of those things you don’t want to think about as a parent and it’s unlikely that your child will be approached in this way, but it does happen so it’s something you need to be aware of.

What do I need to know about online grooming? 

Online grooming is an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in the UK and many organisations, including the leading internet and mobile providers, government, children’s charities and law enforcement agencies, are working together to minimise the likelihood of grooming and to take action against the perpetrators.

Children and young people are often very trusting so, as a parent, you need to know what online grooming entails and how to take action if you’re worried that your child – or another child – could be in danger.

According to the Home Office Good Practice Guidelines for Social Networking, abusers use a range of techniques to make contact and establish relationships with young people, such as:

  • Gathering personal details online (eg age, name, address, mobile number and school), from social networking sites, multi-player games and other Web forums
  • Offering opportunities for modelling, especially to young girls
  • Promising meetings with celebrities and offering gifts, such as computer games or tickets to pop concerts
  • Gaining the child’s confidence by offering positive attention or providing a sympathetic response when they discuss problems they’re having
  • Masquerading as a child themselves or assuming another false identity in order to gain their trust
  • Bullying, threatening or blackmailing them

Children can be exploited online without an actual meeting or physical contact taking place – for example, the abuser could ask them to send naked photos or perform sexual acts via a webcam and pass the images on to other people

Once the abuser has gained the child’s trust online, they might suggest meeting up in real life.

Whatever form the grooming takes, many young victims feel responsible for, and guilty about, it happening and find it difficult asking for help. In some cases, they might not even realise that what’s going on is abuse and they might believe that they are in a relationship with the abuser whom they have come to trust and feel close to.

What action can I take? 

Discuss the potential risk of online grooming with your son or daughter. Don’t wait for something to happen – talk to them now and on a regular basis

Visit the Thinkuknow website together, which has lots of information split by age group

Remind your child that the internet is a public place and that not everyone online is who they say they are

Set up Parental Controls and Safe Search based on their age and maturity – but remember that they might not be 100% effective and aren’t a substitute for parental supervision

Explain to them that they should never give out their personal details (eg name, address and school) or share personal information (including photos and videos) with strangers on the internet or via their mobile

Encourage your child to set their online profiles (eg on social networking websites) to “private” so that only friends and family can see them

Set rules for the use of webcams, digital cameras and camera phones

Don’t forget that your child could be vulnerable to online grooming in a number of places – multi-player gaming websites, chat rooms and social networking websites are all public spaces, for example

Encourage your son or daughter to talk to you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable online or on their mobile, such as a stranger making contact, and to save emails, texts and other evidence

Look for any unusual signs, such as your child hiding their emails or texts or unknown adults contacting them or sending gifts, or a dramatic change in their behaviour

Report any incident of online grooming to the relevant law enforcement agency in your country – in the UK, report it to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre

If you think your child – or another child – could be in immediate danger, report it to the local police too

If anyone in your family comes across child abuse images on the internet, report it to the internet hotline in your country – in the UK, report it to the Internet Watch Foundation. You can learn more about illegal content here

If your child would like to speak to someone in confidence, you could recommend they contact Childline on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk in the UK

Where can I go for more information and support?