Grooming is when a person tries to ‘set up’ and ‘prepare’ another person to be the victim of sexual abuse. Although not all sexual abuse involves being groomed, it’s a very common (and tricky) process which can be done by strangers or by someone you know. Read on for more info about what grooming is and what you can do about it.
Grooming can happen on- or off-line. Online grooming involves a person trying to set up an abusive situation using cyber-technologies, like the internet and mobile phones to help them make contact with their chosen victim. Online groomers might find and choose their victims online, or might encourage an offline situation to go online (e.g. meeting you in the mall and asking for your email address, and then moving on to grooming you online).
Grooming takes quite a while (even months or years) and can be very subtle and sneaky. Victims of grooming often don’t realise that they’re being manipulated until after they’ve been sexually abused, and even then, some victims don’t see how the grooming led to their abuse.
How do groomers find victims online?
There are lots of ways that a groomer might try to make contact with you, using a variety of different cyber-technologies. Some of the ways might include:
- Groomers searching for targets in chatrooms - especially those ‘chats’ that are specifically focused around stuff that young people are interested in.
- Groomers having online profiles on websites where people meet each other (e.g. social networking sites, dating sites, gaming sites). The profiles might be real or fake. Photos of other people can easily be used in place of their own.
- Groomers hunting for potential victims by looking through personal websites, like your online profile, blogs, pictures, and even some school and sporting club sites.
- Groomers pretending to be younger than they actually are, or of a different gender, especially if they want you to think that they might be a good potential friend or girl/boy friend. However, many groomers don’t lie about their real age or gender at all, and still manage to find victims!
- Groomers manipulating you into contacting them. This can sometimes make them look more innocent and trustworthy, for example: “Any girls out there who can tell me where to buy pink lip-gloss cheap?”
How do I know if someone is trying to groom me online?
Online grooming is often quite difficult to recognise. Sometimes you might even think you are being groomed when someone is just trying to be friendly. However, because your safety (and that of those around you) is at stake, it’s always better to be over-careful. Prevention is far better than cure when it comes to online grooming.
The following are some 'clues' to look out for when someone might be trying to groom you online.
• asks you for information about yourself or someone else which could help them identify you (especially early on in your relationship with them)
• is interested in exactly where you are, and who is with you or near you
• wants you to keep your relationship a secret from others
• tells you things (or does things) which make you feel uncomfortable
• asks about your sexual experience, or how you feel about doing certain sexual things
• is interested in what you are wearing, or what you wear to school or bed
• wants to know if you have a boy or girlfriend
• is interested in your timetable or schedule, and when you will be alone or not with your parents / caregivers
• wants to know where in the house you are using your computer
• wants to communicate with you (using things like the phone, text, msn) at weird hours, like when everyone else is in bed or out
• is interested if you are unhappy or lonely, and whether you get 'enough attention' or get along with your parents or caregivers
• wants to meet with you alone or in secret
• wants to send you a mobile phone so they can talk with you
• wants you to send them pictures of you or of other people, and/or wants to send you pics of themselves
• wants you to go to websites that contain pornography (or sends you sexual pictures)
• is much older than you and wants to be friends
• gets angry at you and tries to get you to 'make up with them'
• wants to send you gifts that you think are over-the-top in value or are of a very personal nature
• asks you to move your webcam so they can see certain things
• somehow seems to already know things about you that you have not told them.
These are potential clues that the person you’re communicating with may be trying to groom you. Even if only one 'clue' applies to you, it should still be taken seriously. Talk to an adult you trust, or contact NetSafe.
What can I do if I think someone is trying to groom me?
- Don’t do whatever it is they are asking of you
- Immediately put a stop to the way the conversation is going. This might either mean that you make it very clear to the person you’re communicating with that you’re not happy with what they’re saying or doing online, or it might mean that you need to end the conversation completely. Be polite but firm in what you say. If you need some ideas about what you can say, click here to email NetSafe for some comments you can adapt or cut and paste to use.
- Tell an adult you trust (like your parent or caregiver, a teacher or school counsellor) about what you think is happening. Remember, if you think someone might be grooming you, chances are they have groomed other people too.
- If it’s happening in a chatroom, inform the chatroom moderators (some chatroom sites have a link you can email complaints to). You can also lay a complaint if it’s happening on a social networking site; click here to find out how.
- If you are being groomed by mobile phone or want more information, call NetSafe on 0508 NETSAFE
- If at anytime you feel your immediate safety is at risk, call the police straight away.