Grooming is a term that is used to describe how a person builds a relationship with a child or vulnerable adult in order to manipulate, exploit or abuse them. The exploitation is often sexual, and people can be “trafficked” during this process.
Groomers use different ways of building trust and sometimes befriend the parents and family of a child in order to have access to them, or they may already be a figure of authority and use their position to target the child.
Grooming can be carried out in person or online. When groomers use the internet, they frequently pretend to be someone they are not. For example, an adult may pretend to be a child or young person so that they can chat with the young person online. They may even share photos of someone much younger, pretending to be that person.
Groomers like to isolate their victims so that they feel dependant on them; they may shower them with affection and gifts in order to control and have power over them. Grooming can happen over a short period of time or may take years. Sometimes groomers use threats to coerce their victims into doing things, like engaging in sexual activity.
Both children and adults can be groomed without knowing what is happening to them. They may even have respect or adoration for the perpetrator, which can result in many different feelings, including shame and disloyalty.
What are the signs someone is being groomed?
It is not always easy to recognise if a person is being groomed. Some of the behaviours are perfectly normal behaviours, particularly in teenagers. Some of the signs might include:
- being secretive, particularly about who they are talking to online
- being isolated from friends and family
- having lots of new things, without being able to explain how they got them
- spending more time than usual online, particularly late at night
- using drugs or alcohol
- not spending time with their usual friends and having a new (often older) friendship group.