If you need help right now contact Netsafe on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), email help@netsafe.org.nz or by completing an online report form. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, contact the Police on 111.  

About “grooming”

Understandably, online grooming is one of the biggest concerns for parents of young people on the internet. Digital devices and the internet are now a part of everyday life for most young people, so it’s important that parents understand online safety risks, and educate young people so that they are able to navigate the online world safely. Netsafe does receive requests for help from young people and the parents of young people who have been groomed online. Talking to strangers online and grooming is something that you should talk to your child about. This article talks about how grooming works, and what parents can do to educate kids about it.

What is grooming?

Grooming is when an adult tries to build a relationship with a young person so that they can sexually exploit them in some way. This doesn’t always have to be physical – sometimes they are trying to get nude or nearly nude images or videos of the young person or have a sexual conversation with them. It is possible that 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.

Tip: Have conversations often with your child about online safety. Talk about the ease of being anonymous on the internet, and how easy is it can be for someone to pretend to be someone else.

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 online. This could be adding or messaging them on social media, chatting in a forum, chatting in an online game or another place online. 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 that 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 private or direct message, they’ll often try to move the conversation somewhere private online where others can’t see. The groomer will try to get close with the young person and will sometimes spend a long time doing this before trying to do anything sexual.   

Tip: Talk often to your child about the types of things they do online and the people that they chat with. If they talk to or interact with people online they don’t know in real life, ask them how they would work out if the person is who they say they are – start to teach them how to think critically about it.

How do groomers get close to young people?

 There are lot of different ways that groomers will try and get close to a young person. They can be very tricky and manipulative when doing this. 

 Here are some examples of how groomers try and get close with a young person: 

  • Pretending they are someone that they aren’t (using a fake photo, fake profiles). 
  • Pretending to have a shared interest (e.g. a sport, music or other hobby). 
  • Starting a friendship or an online relationship with the target.
  • Offering advice and being overly understanding about something the young person is going through. 
  • Sharing their own difficulties and problems. 
  • Giving lots of attention and giving a lot of compliments.
  • Buying gifts online or offline. 
  • Sharing secrets or private information and encouraging the other person to as well. 
  • Some groomers will just try to turn things sexual straight away. Sometimes offering gifts or money for images, videos or naked webcam chat. 

Tip: Talk about online friendships and what to do if things start to become uncomfortable in the conversations. Talk to them about some of the early signs that an online friendship might not be quite right.

Early warning signs that something might not be quite right: 

  • The person tries to keep the friendship/relationship a secret from others – asking for it to be low-key or kept as something “special” just between the two people. 
  • The person wants to talk or video chat online when no one else is around. 
  • The person starts to act nervous or strange when it’s mentioned that parents or another adult is in the room or close by. 
  • Trying to isolate the young person from friends and family.
  • The person wants to know a lot of information about the young person quite quickly after meeting, and asks a lot of questions about personal information.

How do groomers turn things sexual?

Once the groomer has gained the trust of the young person, they’ll start to move the situation towards something sexual.   

 Here are some common examples of how they might do this:

  • Asking if they’ve had sexual experiences and asking for details about it. 
  • Talking about their own sexual experiences. 
  • Talking about sex in general, 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. 
  • Trying to get them young person to “sext” (or “talk dirty”) over messages or in a call. 
  • Sending pornography to the young person or getting them to visit porn sites  
  • Saying that they are sad or depressed, and asking for nudes to make them feel better. 

Tip: Talk to your child about appropriate relationships online, especially about friendships with people that are older than them. Talk about safe relationships in general, and that pressuring someone or feeling pressured to send nudes or do something else sexual is not part of a healthy relationship. 

How do groomers keep control?

Once the groomer has started to make things sexual, they’ll try to keep control of the situation. At first, this might be asking to send more photos or videos, or to keep doing sexual things online. If the young person tries to stop doing what they they want, they may then start to be more manipulative or aggressive.  

 Here are some common examples of how the groomer will try to keep control of the situation: 

  • Trying to make them feel bad if you want to stop the sexual activity. 
  • Saying that the young person would do it again if they really cared about them. 
  • Bullying them and making them feel worthless or 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. 
  • Threatening to release information, photos, videos or messages if they try to get help. 
  • Trying to make 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. 

Tip: Let your child know that they can ask you for help with something online no matter what. Talk to them about what they would do if something went wrong online, or if it’s easier, ask them how they would help a friend. 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. 

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, alienated from immediate family, are not easily believed by adults or have been abused may be targeted by groomers. This is because people who have physical and or psychological challenges might find it more difficult to report abuse.

Will taking away technology prevent grooming?

No, this is not likely to work. Digital technology is everywhere, and young people will be using it with or without permission at some point. Younger children do need more monitoring on devices and the sites/apps they are using, but open communication and education needs to be happening from a young age. If a young person has been told not to communicate with a stranger because of the potential dangers and does it anyway, then they might not tell a parent/caregiver as they don’t want to get into trouble and have their devices removed. It’s important to keep talking to kids about their online experiences.

Signs that grooming might be happening

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 to get help

If you suspect your child is being groomed online you should contact the Police. You should try to capture all the evidence to help 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, but you should talk to the Police or Netsafe first, as reporting them to the website or app may make it more difficult if the Police wish to investigate. 

You can also contact the Netsafe helpline for information and advice about online grooming on 0508 NETSAFE, email help@netsafe.org.nz or using our online report form.

You should provide help and support for the young person who has been affected, and make sure that they are feeling safe. Let them know that what has happened is not their fault, and the only person in the wrong is the groomer.

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