*This post was written by a youth leader!*

What is grooming and how to identify it

Grooming- Online grooming is when someone befriends You online and builds up their trust with the intention of exploiting them and causing them harm. Harm caused by grooming can be sexual abuse, both in person and online, and exploitation to obtain sexually explicit images and videos of the you.

When thinking about predators of abuse, many people picture an image of a creepy stranger, Who preys on small children and tricks them with candy. But a predator can be anyone, even someone only 2-3 years older than you or 20-30 years ago. They use a process called grooming to convince and train you into trusting them, believing them and meeting them.

  • Groomers Choose Their Targets Carefully. Groomers don’t want to be caught, so they target people who they think won’t tell or say no. They try to pick people that they can eventually someday trick to spend time alone with.

  • Grooming Takes Time. Predators do not just walk up to you and say, “I am rich, I am a part of a big corporation or I'm a famous movie star.” These lies are little by little to make them more believable because they know that you will probably say “No!” When they start to move things to a more serious level. They want to abuse you, but they don’t want to scare you away too soon, and they don’t want to get caught, so they build invisible “traps,” kind of like spider webs, in the hope that you won’t notice until you’ve already been caught. Think about it like when you think of preying animals that people are watching on animal shows on TV. Think of an animal who sets up traps. It's like that sitting waiting watching and in this human case baiting you by dangling things they learn and know about you to get you to come over or continue talking to them no matter what your or your parents gut says.

  • Groomers Use Tricks. Grooming is a subtle (hard to notice), gradual (slow), and escalating (more and worse over time) process of building “trust” with you and your parents or other adults who care about you. Grooming tricks include:

  • Fake Trustworthiness – pretending to be your friend so you and or your family will trust them

  • Testing Boundaries – overly sexual jokes, “play” grabbing or “play” wrestling, back rubs, tickling, or “sexy” games (pants-ing, truth or dare, strip games, etc.)

  • Touch – from regular, mostly comfortable non-sexual touch to “accidental” touch of private parts, often over time or in an online since making subtle sexual compliments (that shirt makes you look so mature, your so smart i bet you can think up some creative activities, playing a game that makes you describe yourself.)

  • Intimidation – using fear, embarrassment, guilt or sexuality to keep you quit or unknowingly submissive.

  • Sharing sexual material – capitalizing on natural curiosity to normalize sexual behavior by showing pictures, videos, text messages, photos, websites, texts etc. that are openly or subtle in a sexual nature

  • Breaking Rules – encouraging you to break rules or do something out of character , which encourages you to keep secrets as part of the relationship and can be used as blackmail if they need it to.

  • Drugs and Alcohol – breaking the rules (see above) and/or making you less able to stop the abuse because they’re under the influence

  • Communicating Secretly – texting, emailing, or calling in an unexpected way (parents don’t know about it, it happens a lot, being told to keep it a secret)

  • Blaming and Confusing – making the you feel responsible for the what is happening or what could happen, to your family, or the abuser themselves if the you tells

How to stop Grooming and Who to turn to

  • Ask the person to stop. As a first step, you might want to deal with the situation yourself. For example, you could ask the person to stop - tell them you don't feel comfortable sending sexual images or not comfortable with the conversation.

  • Download this App Zipit app. This gives you lots of funny images you can send to someone if they are pressuring you to send naked or sexual photos or videos of yourself.

  • Tell an adult you trust If the groomer keeps talking to you, it may be best to tell an adult you trust or report them. Telling someone can seem really scary and you might feel like you'll get in trouble or hurt. It could also feel embarrassing. But telling someone can really help you start to get out of a bad or uncomfortable situation.

  • Report it. You can report an adult or stranger if they've sent you a sexual message, asked you to send them a sexual message, sent anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or asked you to meet up with them.

You can also contact your local child protection services or the police to report your concerns about any type of grooming - whether it's happening online, in person or both. It's important to remember that it's against the law to make or share images of child abuse.