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Child Abuse Prevention
About Grooming

Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world. This can be done by a stranger, or often can be by someone they know and trust.

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.

Anyone 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.

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Types of Grooming

Children and young people can be groomed online, in person, or both - by a stranger or someone they know and trust. This can be a family member, a friend, or someone who has targeted them - like a teacher, faith group leader, or a sports coach.

When a child is groomed online, groomers may hide who they are by sending photos or videos of other people. Sometimes this will be of someone younger than them to gain the trust of a "peer". They may 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, social media, gaming platforms, and apps as young people, spending time learning about a young person's interests and use this to build a relationship with them. Anyone can be anyone on the internet - this is why teaching your child about online safety is a very important step in keeping your child safe from predators.

Stages of Grooming

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often individuals known to the family; they may be acquaintances, influential members of the community, trusted friends and even family members. There are 6 steps these perpetrators typically follow to gain the youth's trust and confidence, and/or to create the fear that enables the perpetrator to coerce the child or youth.

Identifying and targeting the victim.

Any child or teen may be a potential victim. Some predators may be attracted to children and youth with certain characteristics or may target youth with certain co-existing factors—such as vulnerable parents—to facilitate the crime.

Gaining trust and access.

The perpetrator may observe the child and assesses his/her vulnerabilities to learn how best to approach and interact with the child. Perpetrators may offer the victims special attention, understanding and a sympathetic ear, and then engage the child in ways that eventually gain their friendship and trust (they may play games with victims or give them rides, provide them with gifts and/or special treats).

Playing a role in the child’s life.

The perpetrator may manipulate the relationship so that it appears he or she is the only one who fully understands the child or meets the child’s needs in a particular way. A perpetrator may also exploit a youth’s empathy and convince the young person that s/he is the only one who understands the perpetrator and reinforce that the perpetrator “needs” the child or youth.

Isolating the child.

Offering the child rides and/or taking the child out of his or her surroundings is one way that the perpetrator may separate the child from others and gain access to the child alone, so that others cannot witness the abuse. (Note that in other instances, perpetrators have been successful in molesting victims without detection while other adults were in the room.)

Creating secrecy around the relationship.

The perpetrator may reinforce the special connection with the victim when they are alone or through private communication with the victim (such as letters, emails or text messages), and strengthen it with admonitions against telling anyone, lest others be unhappy about it. The perpetrator may threaten the victim with disclosure, suicide, physical harm to the child or loved ones, or other traumas if he or she tells.

Initiating sexual contact.

With the power over the child victim established through emotional connection coercion or one of the other tactics, the perpetrator may eventually initiate physical contact with the victim. It may begin with touching that is not overtly sexual (though a predator may find it sexually gratifying) and that may appear to be casual (arm around the shoulder, pat on the knee, etc.). Gradually, the perpetrator may introduce more sexualized touching. By breaking down inhibitions and desensitizing the child, the perpetrator can begin overtly touching the child.

Controlling the relationship.

Perpetrators rely on the secrecy of the relationship to keep it going, and to ensure that the child will not reveal the abuse. Children are often afraid of disclosing the abuse. They may have been told that they will not be believed, or that something about the child “makes” the abuser do this to them. The child may also feel shame, or fear that they will be blamed. Often, the perpetrator threatens the child to ensure that s/he won’t disclose the abuse.

1 in 9 girls & 1 in 20 boys

experience sexual abuse or assault

Signs & Effects

It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed - the signs aren't always obvious and may be hidden. A child or young person who has been a victim of grooming can have lasting impact on their mental health, even if it doesn't progress to sexual abuse.

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Signs of Grooming

The signs of grooming are not always obvious and may be hidden. Groomers work to build trust and secrecy making it difficult to tell if a child is being groomed. Older children may also behave in a way that seems to be "normal" teenage behavior, masking underlying problems.

Some of the signs you may 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 use.

  • 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 or are being groomed. They may be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult, even one they trust.

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. Even if the grooming stops before progressing to sexual abuse, the psychological toll the manipulation and violation of trust can be very detrimental to a child.

A child or young person may 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 who are victims may live with:

  • anxiety and depression

  • post-traumatic stress

  • self-harm

  • suicidal ideation

  • sexually transmitted infections

  • feelings of shame and guilt

  • relationship problems with family, friends, and partners

  • eating disorders

  • difficulty coping with stress

  • pregnancy

  • drug and alcohol abuse

Learn more about abuse, trafficking and exploitation.

The first step in helping a child who is a victim of abuse, neglect, or child sex trafficking is to recognize the warning signs. 

Find out more about what human trafficking is and the types of trafficking that exists in our communities.

About Human Trafficking

Learn about our Child Advocacy Center and how we support children and their families who are victims of abuse.

About Child Advocacy

Learn ways to keep yourself safe from exploitation and other resources to combat human trafficking.

Safety Tips & Resources

Get in touch

Catskill Location & 24hr Support Helpline

Call our REACH & Child Advocacy Center helpline anytime, 24 hours a day at 518.943.4482. Trained staff provide crisis counseling and support services.

Located at 455 Main St., Catskill, NY 12414

Hudson Location

Our Child Advocacy Center in Hudson is available for Columbia County cases. Call 518.697.3320 for assistance. Please call our 24 hour helpline at 518.943.4482 if you need assistance after hours.

Located at 946 Columbia St., Hudson, NY 12534

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