What is grooming?

Grooming is when a person engages in predatory conduct to prepare a child for sexual activity at a later time. Grooming can include communicating and/or attempting to befriend or establish a relationship or other emotional connection with the child or their parent/carer.

Sometimes it is hard to see when someone is being groomed until after they have been sexually abused, because some grooming behaviour can look like "normal" caring behaviour.

Examples of grooming behaviours may include:

  • giving gifts or special attention to a child or their parent or carer (this can make a child or their parent feel special or indebted)
  • controlling a child (or that child's parents) through threats, force or use of authority (this can make a child or their parent fearful to report unwanted behaviour)
  • making close physical contact or sexual contact, such as inappropriate tickling and wrestling
  • openly or pretending to accidentally expose the victim to nudity, sexual material and sexual acts (this in itself is classified as child sexual abuse but can also be a precursor to physical sexual assault).

What is online grooming?

Online grooming is a criminal offence and occurs when an adult uses electronic communication (including social media) in a predatory fashion to try to lower a child's inhibitions, or heighten their curiosity regarding sex, with the aim of eventually meeting them in person for the purposes of sexual activity.

This can include online chats, sexting, and other interactions. Any incidents of suspected grooming must be reported by following the four critical actions.

Online grooming can also precede online child exploitation, a form of sexual abuse where adults use the internet or a mobile to communicate sexual imagery with or of a child (via a webcam). Any incidents of suspected online child exploitation must be reported.

What are the behavioural indicators of child grooming?

Behavioural indicators that a child may be subject to grooming include (but are n​ot limited to):​

  • developing an unusually close connection with an older person
  • displaying mood changes (hyperactive, secretive, hostile, aggressive, impatient, resentful, anxious, withdrawn, depressed)
  • using street/different language; copying the way the new 'friend' may speak; talking about the new 'friend' who does not belong to his/her normal social circle
  • possessing gifts, money and expensive items given by the 'friend'
  • being excessively secretive about their use of communications technologies, including social media
  • being dishonest about where they've been and whom they've been with.​