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National Human Trafficking Hotline Call 1-888-373-788 (TTY:711) Text 233733


Grooming & Trafficking

'is to prepare or train someone for a particular purpose or activity'.

What's the definition of grooming?

"to prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity."

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What is online grooming?

Grooming is about building a relationship with a child in order to later abuse them. This is usually done online, but can also happen in other ways. Online games, social media, webcams, live streaming and chat-rooms provide people (usually adults) with a way to make contact with kids to try and groom them. These people (groomers)  will often make multiple online identities and even pretend to be kids to trick real kids into chatting with them, gaining their trust and then pushing the boundaries to get what they want from the kid they are grooming.

These people can find out a lot about a kid they potentially want to groom before they make contact with them just by looking at the things the kid has posted on social media. Using this information they carefully plan what they will say to gain the kids trust. These people make contact with lots of kids just waiting for the right one to respond.

As a kid, life is all about friends, being liked and fitting it. It's not uncommon for kids to feel pressured into doing things they may feel uncomfortable with just to feel accepted by their peers. Wanting to fit in is a very normal feeling to have. The "princess syndrome" I call it, where the girl is rescued by the handsome prince and they live happily ever after, is drummed into our heads from childhood, so it makes sense that girls thrive on compliments and those "feel good moments". Groomers search for just that girl looking to be "rescued by the prince", sending compliments and making her feel special & loved, then he sets his trap. Before long he asks her to send nude pics and eventually meet.

Grooming is a process that can take a long time to complete. Groomers can be patient, waiting for just the right moment to pull you in. Grooming is all about building a relationship with you & making you think that sex with them is normal or that you have no choice. Groomers do this by building a relationship and emotional connection with you. This can takes weeks or even months. A groomer can be very patient.

The grooming begins:

  • The groomer will try to convince you that you are in a loving relationship as boyfriend or girlfriend
  • The groomer might become your mentor, making you think they are someone who can help you or teach you things
  • Sometimes the groomer will become a dominant figure in your life, perhaps by having a relationship with your parents or guardians
  • The groomer may also build a relationship with your family, making you think that they are someone who can be trusted
  • A grooming relationship so closely mimics genuinely positive relationships. This can leave you very unsure of who to trust

Gaining power over a you is what the groomer wants:

  • The groomer will be looking to gain power over you. This enables them to manipulate or coerce the you into sexual activity
  • If you believe you are in love, this gives the groomer power. The groomer can then emotionally blackmail you by threatening to withdraw their affection or say something like this, ‘if you loved me you would", to get you to comply
  • Groomers also blackmail you by threatening to share secrets that you have told them and may even tell you there will be terrible consequences for refusing to do sexual things
  • Groomers will use any means they can to exert power over a you
  • Groomers are good at making you feel like there is no way out

As the groomer molds you into thinking you have a loving relationship, the groomer will do the following:

  • Have sexual conversations online or by text messages with the you
  • Ask you or even tell you to send naked pictures
  • Ask you or even tell you to send sexual videos
  • Ask you or even tell you to do something sexual live on webcam
  • Ask or tell you to meet up with them in person
  • A groomer can be young or old, male or female

The Grooming Process

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According to the FBI, there are five stages in the grooming process. These can happen online or in-person:

1. Identify the possible victim

2. Collect information about the intended victim

3. Fill a need the victim has

4. Lower victim's inhibition

5. Initiate abuse

Identify the kid they will target:

Kids make ideal victims. They are naturally curious, easily led by adults, need lots of attention and affection, and are seeking to establish independence from their parents. kids from broken homes and troubled families are easy targets. The more unlovable the kid feels and appears, the less likely the kid is to tell on someone who displays love towards them because they crave the affection & they may easily believe that no one would believe them if they told, so they don't.

Gather information on the kid:

A groomer will learn all they can about the kid & how they respond to attention and praise. The groomer displays a superficial sympathy and charm whenever the kid discusses problems and concerns, assesses the kids strengths and weaknesses, taking special note of how the kid interacts with friends and other adults. All of this information will be used to control the kid and manipulate the people around them.

The groomer will fill a need: 

The groomer exploits the kid's emotional needs by freely offering love, friendship and support. Parents may even feel relieved that the kid has found a responsible friend, mentor or role model. Whatever the kid needs or wants, the groomer is happy to provide, with or without the parents knowledge or consent. Some groomers will even instigate a sexual relationship with a single parent just to gain access to her children. The greater the family need and the groomer's position of trust, the less ability a kid has to say, “NO!”

Groomers work to lower the kids inhibitions:

Once trust is established and the kid is emotionally vested in the relationship, the groomer may begin offering gifts or money to the kid to see how well they can keep secrets from their parents and to make them feel special and loved. Loving gestures will begin to invade the kids personal space and might include more “acceptable” kisses and hugs, increased touching of the kid's hands, shoulders, arms and legs, and “accidentally” brushing up against private areas.

Grooming process completed:

Gradually, the “accidental” touching to private areas may linger and include professions of love and hints of sexual desire. By the time the touching crosses clear boundaries, the kid is too afraid they might lose the relationship to object, and too ashamed of their own perceived part in inviting the abuse to tell. 

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is one specific type of human trafficking, It occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. Adults or children can be victims of sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking includes any child involved in commercial sex.

Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people with histories of abuse, or the young, naive or gullible. Pimps (traffickers/groomer) lure kids with talk of being their "boyfriend or girlfriend", showering them with gifts, compliments & affection. Once they have"hooked their prey", with false promises of making lots of money, their undying love & forever happiness, the pimp (trafficker/groomer) will ask to meet. At first, the pimp (trafficker/groomer) will be like a dream-come-true, romantic, loving and attentive. Once the pimp (trafficker.groomer) has you under their control, they then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, physical beatings or other forms of control and manipulation to keep you trapped with no way out.

Many people are unaware that sex trafficking isn't just an international problem. Sex trafficking is happening in our own backyards – whether you live in rural America or in a big city, you might be surprised to learn that it’s happening in your neighborhoods and communities.

The commercial exploitation of kids is a growing problem in the U.S.

Places Online Grooming Can Happen

websites - instant messaging apps - chat rooms - dating apps - online gaming site - photo sharing apps - streaming apps

Signs of Possible Online Grooming

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Online groomers can be really good at lying about who they are, making it difficult for you to know if they are an online friend. It's important to remember that there isn't one 'type' of groomer. Many different kinds of groomers have used the internet to trick, force or persuade kids into sharing sexual images of themselves. It's not uncommon for a groomer to pretend they are a kid when interacting with real kids online.

Here are a few potential signs that someone you are communicating with online may actually be a groomer:

  • Sends lots of messages to get you to chat 
  • Asks you to chat in a private chatroom
  • Asks you to keep the conversation secret
  • Tells you that you are so mature for your age
  • May ask if you are alone in your bedroom
  • Sends you sexual messages, icons, or jokes
  • Asks you questions about your body
  • Asks you personal information
  • Asks you to meet 
  • Asks you to share about your sexual experiences
  • Sends you links to graphic videos
  • May act like they have the same interests or problems as you
  • They might send you a photo or video they say is of themselves when it isn't actually them

It can be difficult to understand when grooming is happening, the signs aren't always clear to spot, that's why it's important for you to talk with your parents/guardians or a trusted adult about your concerns. Remember, if something doesn't feel right - even slightly - then is probably isn't.

Grooming doesn't always Happen Online

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Groomers can be anywhere & could be someone a kid has already met in person through their family, school or at a club they go to.

A groomer will use any of the following to gain the trust of the kid they are targeting:

  • Be very nice to the kid
  • Pay extra attention to the kid
  • Ask the kid personal questions about their family
  • Buy the kid gifts
  • Tell the kid they are pretty
  • Tell the kid that they care about their problems
  • Will create opportunities to be alone with the kid
  • May push the boundaries
  • May want to spend time with the kids family to gain their trust
  • Works hard at being liked
  • May offer to help the kids family with things to spend more time with the kid
  • May rub the kids shoulders & arms to get them used to being touched
  • May try to tickle the kid in a playful way
  • Tell the kid a secret & ask the kid to tell them one to create the sense of a special, secret bond
  • May make the kid feel guilty
  • May blame the kid for things to cause them shame

When the groomer is satisfied that the grooming is complete, the sexual contact begins. The groomer will use threats and blackmail to ensure the kid keeps the secret. Threats such as the kid will go to jail if they tell and they will never see their family again, that no one will believe them and that they will destroy their family are just a few threats groomers will make to get a kid to comply. The groomer will work very hard to ensure the kid never tells.

Groomers can be very convincing and will try really hard to get the kid to do what they want. Be sure to tell kids that if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable because they're saying or doing sexual things, they should tell you what is happening right away.

Staying Safe when going about your Day

Grooming does not only occur online, in fact it can happen face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone you know - for example a family member, friend or professional. The goal of the groomer is to create an emotional bond with a kid & gain their trust . Groomers can be men or women, young or old. Grooming occurs over time without the kid realizing what has happened until it's to late.

Here are ways that a person may attempt to gain the trust of a kid & begin the grooming process & these can happen in person or online:

  • Tell the kid often how pretty they look & that they could be a model, then over-time asking the kid to pose for sexy pictures.
  • Tell the kid that their parents don't really care about them because they are too busy to do what the kid wants to do.
  • Find out what the kid likes & get that for them, then ask the kid to "pay-it-back" in a sexual way.
  • Isolate a kid from the group by asking them to help with "special projects" .
  • Threatens a kid with personal harm if they don't do what the person wants.
  • Tells a kid that they will harm their family if they don't do what the person wants.
  • An adult who asks a kid to babysit & tells them they can sleep over .
  • Slowly touching kid in a friendly, then not-so-friendly way over time.
  • Telling kids dirty jokes to lower their inhibitions.
  • Showing kids pornography.
  • Learning secrets the kids have & use that against them.
  • Following a kid home so they know where they live.
  • Giving or providing alcohol & drugs to a kid.
  • An adult who asks when your parents are home.
  • Tells a kid that they are the only one that really cares about their problem.

Homeland Security Warning Signs of Grooming

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  • Does the kid appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has the kid stopped attending school?
  • Has the kid had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is the kid engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the kid disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the kid have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the kid fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the kid show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the kid often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the kid appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the kid living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the kid lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the kid have freedom of movement? 
  • Can the kid freely leave where they live? 
  • Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of trafficking.

What to do if you Suspect Grooming

Call the police and if possible remove the child from the situation.

Report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888 (TTY:711) Text 233733

© 2020 You Can't Groom Me, INC.

Located in Scottsdale, Arizona

501(c)(3) EIN 831725532

Mailing address:

28150 N. Alma School Pkwy #103-436

Scottsdale, AZ 85262