What is grooming? Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked. Anybody can be a groomer, no matter their age, gender or race. Grooming can take place over a short or long period of time – from weeks to years. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person's family or friends to make them seem trustworthy or authoritative. Types of grooming Children and young people can be groomed online, in person or both – by a stranger or someone they know. This could be a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them – like a teacher, faith group leader or sports coach. When a child is groomed online, groomers may hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this'll be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a "peer". They might target one child online or contact lots of children very quickly and wait for them to respond. The relationship a groomer builds can take different forms. This could be: a romantic relationship as a mentor an authority figure a dominant and persistent figure. A groomer can use the same sites, games and apps as young people, spending time learning about a young person's interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Children can be groomed online through: social media networks text messages and messaging apps, like Whatsapp email text, voice and video chats in forums, games and apps. Whether online or in person, groomers can use tactics like: pretending to be younger giving advice or showing understanding buying gifts giving attention taking them on trips, outings or holidays. Groomers might also try and isolate children from their friends and family, making them feel dependent on them and giving the groomer power and control over them. They might use blackmail to make a child feel guilt and shame or introduce the idea of 'secrets' to control, frighten and intimidate. It's important to remember that children and young people may not understand they've been groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty, admiration, love, as well as fear, distress and confusion. Signs of grooming It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren't always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be "normal" teenage behavior, masking underlying problems. Some of the signs you might see include: being very secretive about how they're spending their time, including when online having an older boyfriend or girlfriend having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can't or won't explain underage drinking or drug taking spending more or less time online or on their devices being upset, withdrawn or distressed sexualized behavior, language or an understanding of sex that's not appropriate for their age spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time. A child is unlikely to know they've been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If a child reveals abuse If a child talks to you about grooming it's important to: listen carefully to what they're saying let them know they've done the right thing by telling you tell them it's not their fault say you'll take them seriously don't confront the alleged abuser explain what you'll do next report what the child has told you as soon as possible. Effects of grooming Grooming can have both short and long-term effects. The impact of grooming can last a lifetime, no matter whether it happened in person, online or both. A child or young person might have difficulty sleeping, be anxious or struggle to concentrate or cope with school work. They may become withdrawn, uncommunicative and angry or upset. Children, young people and adults may live with: anxiety and depression eating disorders post-traumatic stress difficulty coping with stress self-harm suicidal thoughts sexually transmitted infections pregnancy feelings of shame and guilt drug and alcohol problems relationship problems with family, friends and partners. Who's at risk Any child is at risk of being groomed. And it's important to remember that both boys and girls can be groomed. Children who are groomed online could be abused by someone they know. They could also be abused by someone who commits a one-off act or a stranger who builds a relationship with them. Some children are more at risk of grooming, particularly those who are vulnerable. Children in care, with disabilities or who are neglected can be targeted by groomers. Groomers will exploit any vulnerability to increase the likelihood a child or young person will become dependent on them and less likely to speak out.