What do I need to know about online grooming?

Are the people you’re contacting online on your phone paying you compliments, buying you gifts or messaging you all the time? Sadly, you can’t trust everyone you meet. Work out what’s going on – and how to stay safe.

girl looks down at her phone

Something not feeling right? Trust your gut.

What is online grooming?

It’s 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
  • 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 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 Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – they might contact you through chat rooms, online communities, gaming sites 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. 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, someone on our discussion boards or one of our support team. Sometimes other people can see things we cant.

What’s the problem with sharing a few pictures?

As soon as you send a picture you lose control of it.

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.

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.”

  • 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).

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.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Clare Foster

Updated on 21-Feb-2017