Child ‘Grooming’ is a subject with which many of us are becoming more familiar and parents more concerned for their child’s welfare, as time passes and social media flourishes.
Do we know enough about it and how to spot the signs it may be happening?
What is Grooming?
Grooming is when someone befriends a child or adolescent and forms a relationship with them built on trust and emotions and may even befriend the family to appear more trustworthy and believable. Groomers will go on to abuse the young victim, using manipulation and exploitation and can even lead to sexual abuse and child trafficking.
Who is at risk?
Grooming is generally directed towards children and adolescents. The groomer themselves could be anyone, any age, gender or race, there is not specific restriction on demographics of an individual. There are occassinons where grooming can be directed towards adults, via catfishing if online, and can happen in person too, leading to financial and/or sexual abuse.
How do they do it?
The act of grooming is well planned and can take place over months or even years. The groomer may work on becoming a family friend or begin an introduction online such as via a social network, which is the most dangerous for children. . The victim may already know the groomer as a family member, friend, sports coach, or a professional.
Grooming can happen in person, on social media sites, via text or instant messages, emails and gaming forums. Once the offender has targeted a potential victim, there are many actions they may take:
- If online, they can set up a fake profile and picture and pretend to be a similar age to the victim
- They will discover their likes and dislikes and use this to ‘bond’ with them and can identify a need and fill the gap by showing understanding and giving advice
- They will use certain words and make promises to gain their trust, building emotional connections
- The groomer will try to find out if parents can see their ‘chat, or if anyone else has access to the victim’s social media sites, and if they are chatting in private etc
- There may be promises of a romantic relationship to the older adolescents, to keep them interested
- The target may receive a lot of attention, charm and flattery and even gifts to make them feel special.
- The groomer could try to isolate the victim from friends and family making the victim more dependant on them and giving the groomer more control
- Suggestions might start, such as asking for photos or wanting to meet in person
- The final move, which comes much later, is trying to sexualise the relationship, asking for money to be sent for any number of reasons, or convincing the victim to join their ‘cause’, depending on the ‘relationship’ the predator has built
- The victim could be blackmailed over ‘secrets’ they have shared, in an attempt to control and intimidate the victim
What signs do I need to look out for if I have concerns?
It may not always be obvious that a child is being groomed and the child themselves may not be aware. A teenager may just appear to be going through a ‘teenage phase’. Some behaviours that can indicate grooming are:
- Becoming secretive about what they are doing, particularly with what they do online
- Spending much more time online
- Moods may become more volatile or withdrawn, or becoming more upset and distressed. They could become more clingy and have eating and sleep problems.
- Seeing your child or adolescent with new items, such as clothing that you’ve not bought, or having sums of money or a new phone that they can’t explain
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Underage drinking, with ‘new’ friends
- Spending much more time away from home or going missing a day or more
- Inappropriate sexual behaviour and language for their age
- Generally behaving out of character
- If confronted, the victim may even fight for the groomer, due to feeling a sense of loyalty or even misconstrued love
How can I help prevent it?
There are a handful of ways to help prevent this from happening and much of it is based around knowledge of teaching your child how to use social media safely.
- As soon as your child begins to use social media, ensure they know who is acceptable to be friends with and who isn’t. This may include limiting the pages etc. they choose to interact with, such as celebrities, until they are older and better informed.
- Not everyone that we come into contact with online is genuine and honest and children need to be aware of this very early on when using social media
- Teach them to be online friends only with people they know in ‘real-life’
- Alert them to dangers of sharing any personal information
- Regularly update yourself with the platforms they use and who they talk to. If necessary, join them yourself to get a sense of how they work.
- Use any parental controls available and invest in the McAfee Total Protection that you can get at a greatly discounted price with your Notty Account
- Explain at each step why you are doing what you do, encouraging transparency and honesty, and maintaining mutual trust.
- Educate your child so that they know not to reply to a stranger and how to block them. They need to know to never meet up with a stranger, and why- appropriate to their age and understanding of course!
- Your child needs to know that they can and must come to you if they have any concerns or issues. They need to know you will help them in any way.
What do I do if I suspect, or know, it is happening?
Many victims are unaware of being groomed, and particularly until it’s too late. Groomers are very clever and seduce their victim so well that many do not see, or ignore, warning signs. Once exposed, victims can experience an array of emotions, including anger, distress, disbelief, guilt, and shame, to name a few.
- If your child has a concern, listen carefully and assure them that they have done the correct thing by telling you
- Reassure them that it is not their fault
- Report it as soon as possible, but don’t confront the offender
- If your child is in immediate danger, report it to 999 as soon as you can, or 101 if not immediate.
Any concerns you have can be reported anonymously to CrimeStoppers or call 0800 555 111.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) are part of the National Crime Agency command and have Child Protection Advisors. There are handy links with further advice on this site too.
The NSPCC also has a wealth of information, including help for parents, carers and children, and can be called on 0800 808 5000.
And don’t forget to report any issues to the website owners of where it happened.