Online issues and worries: online grooming
Grooming is when someone becomes friends with a child or young person, and builds a relationship with them, because they want to trick or pressure them into doing something sexual, or something that may hurt or harm them.
What is grooming?
Grooming can happen to any young person, regardless of age, gender, race or location. Online grooming is wrong and never the fault of the victim. It is a form of abuse. It can happen in real life but can also happen online in places that are popular with young people, like social media, group chats, messaging services, forums, live streaming and gaming platforms.
Groomers might target one person and spend a lot of time being friendly, caring and building up a relationship. Or they might send a message to lots of people at the same time and see who answers. It could start as a chat on a public platform before asking you to talk to them on private chat or sending you a friend request.
Once they think they have your trust, the conversation might change, and they will start asking sexual things and ask you to send nude photos or videos. They might even try to meet with you in real life.
Who does this?
They could be a stranger or someone you already know a little, maybe through friends or family, or with who you have friends in common. Male or female, young or old, friendly and funny – there isn't one type!
Perhaps they are pretending to be someone totally different. This is quite easy to do online. They could be using fake pictures, pretending they are the same age and have the same interests as you. It can be challenging to know who to trust when you are online.
How to spot if you're being groomed
Meeting new people online isn't always bad. It's a great way of making new friends. You just need to be aware of the risks to keep yourself out of danger. The excitement of meeting someone new, getting extra attention and being told nice things can make it difficult to spot if you're being groomed. You might even believe that you're in a proper relationship.
Take a step back and really look at the situation. It might help to think about a friend or a little brother or sister doing the same thing. Would you believe that this behaviour was safe then?
Here are some things to look out for that groomers might do:
- send lots of messages
- tell you to keep your conversation secret
- ask if anyone else has access to your phone/tablet/computer
- ask personal questions to find out more about you
- say nice things about you and comment on your body
- send virtual or real gifts
- chat in a sexual way – they might start softly by asking about kissing
- ask for nude or sexual images or videos
- trick you into sending images or videos
- use threats or blackmail to get you to send images or videos
- ask to meet up in real life
If someone is trying to talk to you about sex, asking for nude images, constantly asking to chat to you privately online, then this is not right. It is never okay for someone to pressure you into doing anything sexual.
They might threaten you or your family, blackmail you by threatening to share sexual images or content about you, tell you that nobody will believe you, or that your family would never forgive you. This is them trying to control you, and it is never okay. Take back the power and report to CEOP.
What if you don’t think it’s a problem?
You might not realise that you are being groomed and think that you're in a normal, happy relationship and that nobody is doing anything wrong.
But it is illegal to send, ask, save or share nude or sexual photos and videos if you are under 18. If someone is doing this, then they are breaking the law. Whether you think it's okay or not, it is illegal, and they are taking advantage of you, even though it might not feel like it right now.
They might try to tell you that your relationship is special, they love you, your family wouldn't understand or that they don't care about you. It's hard to think clearly when you're being made to feel special, but this is not ok. If you're unsure, talk to someone you trust about it. If you're not sure how to start a conversation with someone you trust, here are some tips.
How to keep yourself safe
Block, report and tell someone you trust if you're feeling uncomfortable. Here are some tips to keep safe.
- Don't share personal information with people you don't know – for example your phone number, address or school.
- Set privacy settings to high and accounts to private so that only your friends can see what you share.
- Choose online friends carefully – don't just add people to get your numbers up; try to make sure that you know who they are in real life.
- Join groups – make new friends with similar interests in groups then you don't have to add them as a friend to chat to them.
- You don't need to share where you are – switch location settings off and don't post your plans for everyone to see.
- If you’re meeting up with someone you met online, take someone with you and make sure you tell an adult where you’re going
- Report to CEOP if you think you or someone you know is being groomed.
- Tell someone you trust if anything worries you or makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Report any abuse through the platform that you are using (direct links to report on popular platforms below).
- Never share nude or sexually suggestive images or videos with someone online, even if you trust that person.
What if you've already sent a nude photo or video?
If you've already sent photos or videos, there are things you can do to help. It’s not too late to look for help, even if you've been tricked into trusting someone online, or if they are blackmailing you by threatening to share the images that you have sent. Being groomed into doing something like this is never your fault, and must be reported. Don't let embarrassment stop you from finding the help that you need. If you are under 18 and a nude or sexual image or video has been posted online, try the Report Remove tool to get it taken down.
Advice from other young people aged 12-16
You don’t have to do anything if it makes you uncomfortable, and don’t be afraid to say no. Cut off contact and remove yourself from the situation. If the person pressuring you is your 'friend', they should understand if you don’t want to do something.
Report and block the person pressuring you. Make sure you take screenshots and keep the evidence of what you want to report. Telling someone what’s happened can prevent something like this from happening again.
It’s okay to be scared to report something but you need to be brave. Speak to teachers, parents, or another trusted adult. The trusted people that you want to report to will understand and will not think differently, or scold you about it, they are there to help you.
Where to go for help
If you’re looking for help or information, but you’re worried about starting a conversation with an adult, here are some tips.
- App guides for families - Hwb's guide to the most popular apps, including age ratings, risks and things to do to keep safe
- CEOP – report to them if you're worried about online sexual abuse or the way someone has been talking to you online
- CEOP Education - advice for 11-18 years on the internet and relationships
- Childline – free, private and confidential helpline for children and young people in the UK where you can talk about anything. Call 0800 1111
- Internet Watch Foundation – report child sexual abuse content anonymously and confidentially
- Meic – free and confidential helpline for children and young people in Wales with advisers to help you find the support you need. Call 080880 23456, text 84001 or chat online
- Report Remove – report and remove nude images that have been shared online
- ‘So You Got Naked Online’ – a guide about what to do if a nude or sexual image or video of you has been shared online
- Shore - Confidential information and support for young people concerned about sexual thoughts or behaviour
Call 999 if you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger.
Gurls out Loud
Check out this film from the Internet Watch Foundation's 'Gurls out Loud' campaign, which includes some tips on how to handle inappropriate contact online.