As young people become 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. Our advice explains how unwanted contact works including grooming and what whānau can do to educate their kids.

How does unwanted contact work?

Some people will 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 old themselves. 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.

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’s positive and encourages a child to disclose personal information or their interests to try to build trust in their relationship.

Catfishing is an act of online deception where someone creates an online presence to lure people into a relationship. Online grooming is when a person tries to create a sexually abusive situation (including nude or nearly nude content and sexual conversation) with a young person using digital technology. Sometimes the line between the two becomes blurred.

How can you prevent unwanted contact?

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. 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
  • 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 and that pressuring someone or feeling pressured to do something sexual is not part of a healthy relationship
  • Netsafe offers a free service for everyone in New Zealand and can give them advice if they ever need it

If you suspect your child is being groomed online, it’s important you contact the Police and try to capture all of the evidence.

How does online grooming work?

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. 

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 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 often try to get close to a young person in different ways. 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
  • Asking for the friendship/relationship to be kept secret from others
  • Wanting to talk or video chat online when no one else is around
  • Acting nervous or strange when it’s mentioned that parents or another adult is close by 

Some groomers will try to turn things sexual straight away by offering gifts or money in exchange for images, videos or naked webcam.

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.  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

Where to get help

If you suspect your child is being groomed online, try to capture all of the evidence.

  1. Police: If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111.
  2. Netsafe: We can provide you with guidance support seven days a week. You can fill out an online contact form, email help@netsafe.org.nz, text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282 or call us 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).
  3. Social media sites: If grooming has happened on a social networking platform, you can report what happened using the  reporting system. It’s important that before you do this that you talk to the Police or Netsafe as reporting may make it more difficult if the Police investigate.

Netsafe’s Online Safety Parent Toolkit

Netsafe has created the Online Safety Parent Toolkit to get parents and whānau talking about online safety. As young people spend more time online, it’s important that parents and whānau can teach their child to have a safe online experience.

While there might be a digital technology gap between what you know and what your child knows, you can still help. You have life skills, maturity and experience your child hasn’t developed yet especially when it comes to safety and security behaviours.