What is online grooming?

A girl looks down at her phone

What does grooming someone mean?

Are the people you’re contacting online paying you compliments, buying you gifts or messaging you all the time? Sadly, you can’t trust everyone you meet. Find out what grooming someone means, what online grooming is – and how to stay safe.

What does grooming someone mean?

Grooming is when someone builds up some kind of a relationship with a child or young person so they can manipulate and exploit them. The person being groomed might trust their groomer or develop an emotional connection with them, only for that to be used against them later. 

Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative, but online groomers can also often make contact with children or young people without their family or friends knowing about it.

Online grooming

When we’re talking specifically about online grooming, this is normally when someone makes friends with you online and then, when you trust them, tries to make you do sexual things. They might ask you to:

  • Send pictures or videos of yourself naked – online or in text messages (called sexting).
  • Send messages about sexual things.
  • Meet up in person.

Groomers could be someone you know or a random stranger. They might be adults or young people, male or female. They do all kinds of things to trick you into trusting them. For example:

  • Pretend to be someone they’re not.
  • Spend a long time chatting to build your trust – sometimes months or years.
  • Send a picture that isn’t actually of them.
  • Find out about you from your online profiles to pretend to be into the same things as you.

Am I safe from grooming if I don’t use social media?

If you don’t use the Internet AT ALL then you’re probably safe from online grooming. But groomers don’t just use social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – they might contact you through chat rooms, online communities, games and dating apps.

But they’re just being friendly… right?

We all need to be careful. Jennifer Chui from charity Childline says: “Online groomers can be really good at lying about who they are, which means it can be difficult to tell if they are a real friend or not.”

Lots of us make friends online or experiment with online dating. It can be a good place to meet people, especially if you’re feeling lonely or shy.

It feels great if someone seems to be into the same things, offers to help you out or asks to be your boyfriend or girlfriend. But sometimes it’s too good to be true. 

What are the signs of grooming?

If you spot any of these signs, alarm bells should be ringing.

  • They ask you to keep your conversations secret.
  • They send you loads of messages – even if you don’t reply.
  • They send you sexual messages – for example asking about whether you have been kissed or had sex, or telling you that you look good.
  • They offer to buy you things or do things for you.
  • They blackmail you or tell you that you’ve upset them. They might say: “I thought you cared about me.”
  • They are very persuasive and don’t take no for an answer.
  • It just feels wrong or weird. If it seems dodgy, it probably is.

If you’re not sure, you could talk to a friend, or one of our support team. Identifying groomers online can be tricky and sometimes other people can see things we can’t.

What’s the problem with sharing a few pictures?

As soon as you send a picture you lose control of it and it can be hard to stop someone sharing your photos.

They might show it to other people or blackmail you. They might tell you they’ll post it online, or send it to your parents unless you send more. They could do other things that make you uncomfortable or scared. You are protected by revenge porn laws, but emotionally it’s a horrible thing to go through. Remember, if you need support you can always talk to The Mix anonymously

I think I’m being groomed – what should I do?

Jennifer says: “The most important thing to remember is that you haven’t done anything wrong. It isn’t ever your fault.” The law is on your side and you can make them stop.

  • Ask them to stop – tell them you don’t feel comfortable and don’t want to talk any more.
  • Take some screenshots of conversations that worry you or make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Block them.
  • Tell someone you trust – most adults will be pleased you’ve opened up to them and happy to help you get out of a difficult situation.
  • Report them to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
  • The Revenge Porn Helpline can help you stop the reach of explicit photos. If you are over 18, ring them confidentially on 0345 6000 459. 
  • Internet Watch Foundation helps stop the spread of images and videos related to child sexual abuse online. Use their reporting form on their website or phone 01223 20 30 30 for support.

Next Steps

  • The Revenge Porn Helpline can help you stop the reach of explicit photos. If you are over 18, ring them confidentially on 0345 6000 459
  • Internet Watch Foundation helps stop online sexual abuse. Use their reporting form on their website or phone 01223 20 30 30 for support.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 31-Mar-2023