As your child becomes more independent online, they can connect and communicate with people they don’t know. Often this is a positive experience, but sometimes your child could be being groomed or talking to someone who isn’t who they say they are. Netsafe’s advice equips you to talk with your child and have ongoing online safety conversations. It explains how grooming works and what parents can do to educate kids about it.
What is grooming?
Grooming is when someone tries to build a relationship with a young person so that they can sexually exploit them. It is not always physical – sometimes they are trying to get nude or nearly nude images or videos or have a sexual conversation with them. Sometimes the person doing the grooming is only a few years older than the young person themselves. However, even if the groomer is just a few years older – they are still taking advantage of a younger person.
How does online grooming work?
Online grooming is when a person tries to create a sexually abusive situation using digital technology. The groomer will contact a young person by adding or messaging them on social media, chatting in an online game or another place online. They might pretend to have an interest in common, or to have a friend in common by looking at the young persons’ friend list on social media.
Some people may even pretend to be a young person and use a fake profile (similar to catfishing), while others might use their actual profile if they aren’t that old themselves. If they aren’t already talking to the young person using direct messaging or text, they’ll try to move the conversation somewhere where others can’t see. The groomer will try to get close with the young person and may spend a long time doing this before trying to do anything sexual. Often, they use techniques and language that is positive and encourages a child to disclose personal information or their interests to try to build trust in their relationship.
How do groomers get close to young people?
Groomers will try and get close to a young person in different ways – they can be tricky and manipulative. Some examples include:
- Pretending they are someone that they aren’t (using a fake photo or profile)
- Claiming to have a shared interest (e.g. a sport, music or other hobby)
- Offering advice and being overly understanding about something the young person is going through
- Sharing their own difficulties/problems and encouraging the other person to as well
- Giving lots of attention and compliments
- Buying gifts either online or offline
Some groomers will try to turn things sexual straight away. They will offer gifts or money in exchange for images, videos or naked webcam chat
Are there early signs that something might not be right in an online relationship?
Sometimes a groomer will:
- try to keep the friendship/relationship a secret from others – asking for it to be low-key or just between the two people
- want to talk or video chat online when no one else is around
- start to act nervous or strange when it’s mentioned that parents or another adult is close by
- work to isolate the young person from friends and family
- want to know a lot of information about the young person soon after connecting with them
How do groomers turn things sexual?
Once the groomer has gained the trust of a young person, they’ll start to move the situation towards something sexual. Some of the common ways this might happen include:
- Asking if they’ve had sexual experiences and wanting details about it
- Talking about their own sexual experiences
- Speaking about sex or even joking about it
- Asking for nude or nearly nude images or videos
- Sending nude or nearly nude images of themselves or other people or sending pornography
- Trying to get them young person to sext (or talk dirty) over messages or in a call
- Saying that they are sad or depressed and asking for nudes to make them feel better
How do groomers keep control?
Once the groomer has started to make things sexual, they’ll try to keep control of the situation. If the young person tries to stop doing what they they want, they may then start to be more manipulative or aggressive. Some ways this might happen include:
- Trying to make them feel bad if they want to stop the sexual activity
- Saying that the young person would do it again if they really cared about them
- Bullying and making them feel bad about themselves
- Trying to distance the young person from family and friends
- Telling the young person that other people don’t care about them
- Threatening to release information, photos, videos or messages if they don’t keep going or try to get help
- Making them feel ashamed, embarrassed or guilty for doing it in the first place
- Saying that the young person will get in trouble with their parents or someone else if other people find out what’s been going on
- Making the young person feel like it’s their fault because they chose to take part or enjoyed it
- Threatening to physically hurt the young person, their family, friends and even pets
- Saying that they will hurt themselves if the young person don’t continue with the sexual activity
What type of people do groomers target?
Groomers can target anyone, but there are some types of young people who may be easier for them to target. Young people who seem neglected or alienated from immediate family or who have been abused may be targeted. This is because people who have physical or psychological challenges may find it more difficult to report.
What are the signs that my child might be being groomed?
Some of the signs that your child might be being groomed or something else is happening includes your child:
- Withdrawing from the family
- Receiving mail, gifts or packages from someone you don’t know
- Has pornography on their devices
- Is receiving phone calls from people you don’t know or is making calls to numbers you don’t know and they won’t explain who they are talking to
- Turning off their device quickly or changes the screen when you come into the room
How can I help my child?
It is important that your child knows that they can talk to you when something goes wrong online – no matter what happened or who caused it. Let them know that Netsafe offers a free service for everyone in New Zealand about online safety problems and can give them advice if they ever need it. Explain to your child:
- How easy it is for someone to pretend to be someone else online
- Reasons why people pretend to be someone else online
- Ways to safely manage online friends especially with people that are older than them
- What to do if someone they don’t know wants to chat or become a friend
- How to work out if the person is who they say they are
- What to do if things start to become uncomfortable when talking to an online friend
- how consent works in relationships and that pressuring someone or feeling pressured to send nudes or do something sexual is not part of a healthy relationship
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, contact the Police on 111.
If you suspect your child is being groomed online, try to capture all the evidence and report it to the Police. If grooming has happened on a social networking site or mobile app, you can report what happened using the website or app’s reporting system. Before you do this, talk to the Police or Netsafe as reporting to a social networking site may make it more difficult if the Police investigate.
You can also contact Netsafe for information and advice about online grooming on 0508 NETSAFE, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or using our online report form.