What's the definition of grooming?

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

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How does grooming occur?

What is online grooming?

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. 

6 places where online grooming can happen:

social networking websites

instant messaging apps

chat rooms

dating apps

online gaming sites

photo sharing apps

What are some signs of 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.

What to do if you think you're being groomed

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If you think you're being groomed don't worry about getting in trouble – you haven't done anything wrong. There are people for you talk to.

  • Ask the person to stop
  • Tell your parents/guardians or a trusted adult
  • Stay away for the chatroom or game you met in
  • Report them to the police

Homeland Security warning signs that a kid 

may have been groomed & now being trafficked

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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.